A New Normal, part 2

In my last post, I reflected on a “new normal” that I’ve been living since the beginning of this year. In this post I want to talk more about what that means in terms of cooking and eating. You’ll notice that posts have declined quite a bit since January, and that’s because I simply don’t try many new recipes anymore (that being said, now that we’re moving into summer months, I hope to change that).

My requirements for food during the week are as follows: meals must a) be fairly easy to prep, b) healthy, c) require a minimum amount of ingredients, d) within budget, and e) as leftovers, be able to be taken for lunch the next day. I don’t have a huge pantry of staples condiments/spices to turn to, so anything too complicated or time-consuming is out.

I try to follow a stringent meal planning system because without it I would waste a lot of food (and money). As I am hardly ever in Liverpool for more than 5 days at a time, I need to plan carefully to make sure I don’t leave a lot of perishable food that will be off by Monday evening. I’ve found this to be tricky because I want to eat as many fresh vegetables as possible, but this is also the stuff that goes off quickly.

I’ve found that I eat more vegetarian meals now than I did when living full-time with H., just because they’re often less complicated to prep and meat is of course pricier. I also have eaten more pre-prepared food than before, simply for the convenience factor (this was especially true during the first few chaotic weeks). I try to keep to a rough budget of £25-30/per week, though some weeks will be more if I am stocking up on basics. Some staple meals include risottos, pastas, fresh ravioli, salads, fish, and curries.

I miss a lot of my “London life”, including more adventurous meals and the luxury of cooking out of only one kitchen(!). But, things were always going to change post-PhD, as I am no longer able to set my own schedule as much as I once was. I also really miss cooking with H. regularly (though not necessarily having to plan around his schedule! 😉 ). When it comes down to it, I doubt I’ll ever have as much time to cook as I have over the past 6 years since I started the blog. Life gets in the way! But I hope to continue to share what I can until posting feels like a chore. 🙂

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.

Nova Scotia summer 2016

Nova Scotia, you never disappoint. Ever. The 2 1/2 weeks sped by and H. and I had a packed but fantastic time. The air, the scenery, the water, the sunshine (perfect weather), the food (and drinks!), the sunsets, the people, the space…. did I mention the people?

I’m so lucky to call this place home and to have been able to visit frequently since I moved away.

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Summer Bucket List

Inspired by Joy’s summer bucket list, I thought I’d do one of my own! I’ve split it into two, since I dream about Nova Scotian summers all year long. 🙂

London
Swim at Hampstead Heath
Peckham
See a jazz show
Go on a walk in the country
Visit at least one new gallery or museum

Nova Scotia
Hike Cape Split
MAVILLETTE BEACH (I’ve been saying this for years).
Kayak Shubie Canal

General
Read Fates & Furies and In the Unlikely Event
Make and/or eat as much strawberry shortcake as possible
Experiment more with makeup (maybe perfect a summer smokey eye?)

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The Guardian’s Kitchen Encounters

With me! (see the real ones here)

My kitchen is… in need of a complete gut and refurbishment. Space-wise it’s not huge, but it has potential that’s not being used. Alas, it’s a rental, and it’ll never be done while we live here. It’s (mostly) functional at least.

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My favourite kitchen tool is… our immersion blender. It’s a particularly good one and we seem to use it for everything. #2 is our nut grinder — one of those gadgets that you see in-store and don’t really think you’ll use much but it is very handy.

My cupboard staple is… canned tomatoes. I use them so much, particular in the winter when I don’t tend to buy many fresh ones.

When I’m starving I… always reach for something savoury: crackers and hummus, cheese, or (rarely, since I don’t usually buy them) chips/crisps with sour cream.

My culinary inspiration is… the simplicity of summer cooking in Sandy Cove. My other inspiration is my grandmother’s cooking which was so technically perfect and delicious and yet she did it so effortlessly.

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My best-kept kitchen secret is… when chopping a lot of veg, keep a container next to you for discarded bits. It saves having to run between the compost/bin and the counter, and eliminates a messy cutting board. Also, if all else fails: eggs. They are versatile, easy, filling, and healthy!

My current obsession is…  smoothies. And sparkling wine, now that it’s finally sort of summer.

Everything tastes better with… acid (in the form of lemon juice or a good vinegar). Always more.

When I go shopping I… am usually prepared with a list. But I always allow myself the flexibility of being inspired and going off-piste!

For dinner tonight…  I’m going to make this salad.

A Month of Meals (v. 2.0)

Three years ago (doesn’t seem that long!) I published a month of meals and decided it was time to do an updated version. I had the idea again in March, but as the two months three years apart were so similar (including a long weekend visit from my dad as well as 3 days at a conference), I decided to do April instead. You’ll see a few differences to 3 years ago — namely, I only made four new recipes the whole month (these are bolded). I started strong, but since the second half of April was taken up with finishing my thesis, I was rather distracted then!

Fri 1 April – Chilli con carne
Sat 2 April – Kale Caesar (V)
Sun 3 April – Roasted duck legs with roast potatoes and carrots
Mon 4 April – Vietnamese Cauliflower soup (V)
Tues 5 April – Beef & peanut stew
Wed 6 April – Leftovers (beef stew) + kale salad
Thurs 7 April – Leek risotto (V)
Fri 8 April – Nachos! (V)
Sat 9 April- Away (out – Black Swan in Suffolk)
Sun 10 April – Away (Pesto noodles) (V)
Mon 11 April – Kale Caesar (V)
Tues 12 April – Sweet & sour pork with rice
Wed 13 April – Homemade pizza
Thurs 14 April – Leftover pizza with ….guess what…kale Caesar
Fri 15 April – Bacon & leek pasta
Sat 16 April – Chicken enchiladas
Sun 17 April – Cauliflower soup (V)
Mon 18 April – Pad Thai
Tues 19 April – Leftover cauliflower soup (V)
Wed 20 April – Spinach salad (V)
Thurs 21 April – Out (Granger & Co)
Fri 22 April – Ramen noodle soup (V)
Sat 23 April – Mushroom & leek tart (V)
Sun 24 April – Skillet chicken
Mon 25 April – Leftover chicken + broccoli Greek salad
Tues 26 April – Thai Beef curry
Wed 27 April – Out (Wings Wednesday)
Thurs 28 April – Couscous salad with tomatoes, spring onions, and feta (V)
Fri 29 April – Takeaway curry
Sat 30 April – BBQ with friends in Manchester

5 YEARS OF MADE WITH LOVE

Birthday-Cupcake

5 years ago, in March 2011, I was living in Germany. I had been there for almost a year by that point. I was, for the first time in my life, really getting into cooking, because I had a kitchen of my own and someone to cook with and for. Since then, a LOT has changed. I still have the same H. by my side, but we have made two transatlantic moves in that time — back to Canada and then to the UK, both in 2012. We’ve now lived 3.5 years in a city I can only describe as dazzling, overwhelming, amazing, and challenging.

In five years, I have posted 381 times, 284 of them about cooking or baking, 25 on travel, and the rest a random assemblage. Things have come a long way since my first post (on fajitas!). I am surprised just how much I have learned in that time. I have pushed myself and gone outside of my comfort zone in terms of what I am able to do in the kitchen, and really quite astonished with my progress when I think back to five years ago.

I have never promoted this blog beyond sharing it with family and friends, and want to sincerely thank everyone who has read it along the way! Thank you for sticking with me!! 🙂

A look back at 2015

2015 was a very packed year. It had many highs and some rather low lows, particularly towards the end of the year as I took on way too many responsibilities work-wise, all of which seemed to have the same deadlines.

Travel-wise, as ever, I was very lucky this year. I visited two new countries, Latvia and Iceland. I traveled to new parts of countries I’d already been to: Barcelona, Milan, west coast of Scotland, and the epic road trip I just finished (more on that coming soon). I went home to Nova Scotia three times. Three times. All under different circumstances, but I feel very very lucky to have spent so much time in my beloved home province this year.

Work-wise, I taught my own class for the first time. I wrote drafts of six chapters of my thesis. I attended four conferences (including my first one in Canada!) and met lots of interesting people along the way. I had an amazing opportunity to observe EU cultural policy coordination “in action” in Riga. I transferred to ‘writing up’ stage and can FEEL how close I am to finishing. I continue to be challenged in what I am doing and enjoy what I am doing and thus know that this is the ‘place’ I am meant to be, professionally, even if it means living like a poor student for a little while yet.

Speaking of which, life in London continues to be equal parts thrilling/amazing and challenging. I have no savings anymore, my teaching jobs do not pay enough to cover my rent, and shudder how much I’ll owe in student loans when I finish this degree, but have to remind myself that this is temporary and that when I finally have a ‘proper’ job (fingers crossed), it will be worth it (at least I hope so!).

One of the absolute best parts of 2015 is that I got to see all three of my best friends this year– one once, one twice, and one four times! All three live in Canada and our visits are very rare so seeing them all has been special.

Food-wise, some of my favourite things I made last year (in no particular order) were mozza and mushroom cakeschicken and leek pietahini cookiesroast shoulder of lambseafood chowder, buckeyesapricot crumble tartbaked satay chicken with millet, and haddock and leek risotto.

My favourite meals are too numerous to think of. Most of them are in Sandy Cove, where the seafood is right out of the sea and the vegetables out of the garden the same day you eat them, but there has also been opulence and extravagance (thank you B.A.!), and lots of wings Wednesdays.

In 2016, my goals are simple. Finish my PhD. Find a job. Keep the stress to a minimum (which will be difficult, given the first two goals!). Try to live well and remember the things that matter most to me: H., my family, my friends, being healthy, having fun, learning new things, seeing the world, and (how can I forget!) reading. 🙂 Happy 2016!

World of Chilis

Back in late October, H. and I and my mum had a nice visit to H.’s parents’ in Germany. One afternoon we visited the very impressive Herrenhäuser Gärten — a must-see if you’re in the Hannover area. They had a temporary exhibit on chilis — we were impressed! I knew there were loads of chili varieties but to see them all collected in one spot was very cool.

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Eating (well) on the road

Greetings from Nova Scotia!

The past three weeks have been a whirlwind, so much so that I lost myself a bit. I haven’t been cooking at all. My time has been taken up by working full time for 2 weeks, writing to very tight deadlines, flying to Ottawa to attend a conference, and over the past few days in Nova Scotia I’ve finally allowed myself a little break before I head back to London tonight! I hope to return to a semi-regular posting schedule as soon as possible. In the meantime…

I first had the idea for this post when I was in Sheffield at the end of March for a(nother) conference. One of the major challenges I find with conferences (work travel in general) is keeping a healthy and nutritious diet on a reasonable budget, since I am usually constantly on the go, with barely time to use the bathroom! There also tends to be a lot of coffee on an empty stomach, or sickly sweet cookies to accompany (I am not a fan), accompanied by mysterious-looking and dubious conference food.

Over the past couple of years I have developed some habits that I try to stick to when traveling, and I thought I would share them here. Although the offerings of UK supermarkets are pretty decent, I still find myself falling into the trap of wraps on the go which or grabbing chips (crisps) as a quick snack here and there. That coupled with lack of regular exercise (aka very little) is enough to make me feel out of whack. Not to mention that plane and train and especially airport food is often hideously overpriced and often full of bad stuff.

Here is what I do

  • I always try to stay at accommodation with a kitchen. However, this isn’t always possible or desirable depending on the nature of the trip. When staying at a hotel, I look for one with fridges in the room — it makes things so much easier.
  • I take teabags with me when possible (particularly herbal teas that don’t need milk added are quite good). Most cafes charge more for a cup than the cost of a whole box of tea. (Unfortunately this doesn’t apply to coffee, since I can’t stand instant).
  • I always try to bring food for train/plane journeys. Make a big meal the night before that can be eaten cold. (Pad Thai is a particular favourite of mine for this – bonus points if it’s something that tastes better the next day!).
  • Bring snacks that will last. When I went to Riga in early March, I brought muffins, and most recently in Sheffield for a conference and brought along more muffins, healthy cookies, and crackers. Nuts make very good snacks too.
  • In Sheffield, I even brought my own breakfast: homemade granola, a bowl and spoon, and then I bought a small jug of milk when I got there. My room had a fridge (see above) and so I was able to save £30 in breakfasts over 3 days and knew exactly what I was eating. Fresh fruit makes a good accompaniment to granola too.
  • Do some research ahead of time and make a list of suitable restaurants and cafes that are close to your hotel/conference venue. This is something I’m trying to get better at. When it comes to trips for pleasure, I do a lot of research — sometimes too much. But often for a business trip I do not put a lot of effort into research. I think this is important, because often you have to make quick choices on the go and if you already have a list of places that fit the bill, you’re ahead of the game.

Those are my tips. 🙂 I can’t wait to get back to cooking so expect an update or two over the next few weeks!

Hotel living
Hotel living
Sheffield
Sheffield