Comfort food, Food, food bloggers, food blogging, Pasta, personal, Recipes

Eating Your Feelings

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A Spanish Chip Butty from The Pen Factory in Liverpool. Unquestionably, one of the best things I’ve eaten this year.

I haven’t felt much like writing recently. I started 2017 with so many great plans and amazing intentions. This, I told myself, would be my year. But so far, things haven’t been going according to plan. Work has been slow and my many (many) hustling emails have mostly been met with a ‘no’ or – even worse – no reply. Numerous opportunities have fallen through. The sink is blocked. I broke a nail. I pulled my favourite necklace out of its box last week to discover that it had snapped in two. Trump is president and seems to be on a mission to cause as much damage as possible. And my Dad had a heart attack.

There was no prior warning, no prep time. Just an unexpected phone call from my brother one Friday night informing me that my Dad was in surgery. It’s not my Dad’s first medical emergency, or even his first heart attack, but no matter how many times you find yourself in this position, it still comes as a shock. As I write this, he’s recovering from a heart bypass and growing increasingly weary of being stuck in hospital. I can’t say I blame him. Thankfully, he’s recovering well. Hopefully, he’ll be discharged by the end of this week, but in the interim, I spend my time flitting between Liverpool and Manchester. The house I live in, the house I grew up in and the hospital adjacent to where both of my siblings were born.

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It would be a lot to deal with even if it wasn’t all happening during January, that long dark Monday of the soul. So, I cope with it in my own way. I switch Twitter off. I read. I go on long bike rides around the wild, ragged coastline near my house. I watch an unhealthy amount of ‘America’s Next Top Model’ (while simultaneously praising and cursing Amazon Prime). And I cook.

I read this Bon Appetit piece yesterday about the joy that can be found in cooking for others. One paragraph in particular really leapt out at me. Mincing onions, making stock, kneading dough, and setting a table with care shouldn’t, and can’t, replace volunteering, protesting, and other forms of activism. But building and caring for community is absolutely vital right now. My hope is that this kind of nourishment—real food, made with love, for myself and for my friends—will better equip me to engage in the long fight ahead.’

I tell myself that I am cooking for the people I love – lunch for my husband to take to work with him, dinner for my Mum so she has something warm and nutritious to eat when she comes home late from the hospital. But I am also cooking to heal myself. I cook because cooking is an all consuming process. You follow these steps and (usually) something delicious will result in the end. I cook because cookbook writing is an art, and because a good cookbook can be read in the bath like a novel and transports you to places you never even knew existed. I cook because butter always makes things better. And I cook because in the hardest of times, we need to look after ourselves and others. We need to nourish our bodies and minds for the struggles ahead, to provide ourselves with comfort and strength when the obstacles feel almost insurmountable.

It is easy to dismiss thinking and writing about food as being a frivolous act when huge events are taking place in the world. But I place just as much importance in ensuring the people around me are well fed as I do in other radical activities. We still need full bellies and comfort food in dark times, whether that be brownies warm from the oven, an enormous plateful of Shepherd’s Pie, or just a giant bag of Doritos and hummus to munch on while watching your favourite film. Today, I will be heading over to Manchester and making a pot of bolognese sauce for myself and my Mum – some for tonight, and some to freeze for later when the thought of cooking from scratch seems like an impossible task. Food is good. Food is important. Sometimes it’s OK to eat your feelings.

Some Comfort Food recipes I’ve been cooking recently:

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Anxiety, Eczema, It me, mental health, personal, tattoos

New Year, New You, New Danger

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I’m a bit of a sucker for a new start. I love the idea of each year being a tabula rasa filled to the brim with potential. I buzz off the excitement of new projects, the crisp lines of a new notebook, the opportunity contained within the pages of an empty diary. But, I’m also acutely aware that writing about new year’s resolutions is one of the worst lifestyle blogging cliches. And, before you say anything, I also know that reading about other people’s new year’s resolutions – many of which they’ll have broken by the second week of the year – is pretty boring. So, I’m (going to do my best) not to write about them here.

I’ve been thinking a lot about reinvention recently. I read this piece by Deborah Orr in the Guardian and was shocked by how much I related to her experiences of living with difficult mental health. Like too many people I know, last year wasn’t the easiest one for me. I was stuck in a job I hated (and was eventually made redundant from), experiencing some pretty nasty health issues, saw too many bad things happen to the people I love and – the cherry on top of this cake of shit – the return of the crippling anxiety and depression that has plagued me since my teenage years. At one particularly low point, I deactivated all of my social media accounts and almost deleted this blog because I was just so tired of seeing everyone else leading brighter, better, happier lives than mine. I hated the way I looked, I hated the way I felt and I hated logging on to discover everyone living it up while I was stagnating.

Of course, this is not a particularly rational way of thinking. Particularly for someone who works in social media and so should be totally aware of the glitter and artifice people sprinkle over their lives when discussing them online. Being alone with my thoughts only made them worse. I found it increasingly difficult to get out of bed and had to start working from home more to accommodate this. I was having panic attacks in my sleep and drinking too much. When I was at my office, I would repeatedly find myself bursting into tears and having to go and hide in the toilets. I had to finally face up to the fact that I needed help.

I went back onto antidepressants and discovered one that worked for me (I had been wary of them since a terrible experience with Citalopram in my late 20s.) I started seeing a therapist who helped me to unpick some of my ways of thinking and examine them in a new light. Being made redundant helped me to realise that one of the reasons I was so depressed was because I was in a job which wasn’t right for me and it provided me with the impetus (and money) I needed to finally go it alone.

I’m saying all of this not out of a desire to make people feel sorry for me, but more because I’m proud of managing to come out on the other side. I did some amazing work in 2016 – both professionally and personally. I’m entering 2017 happier, stronger and with much better hair. I’ve also acquired some awesome tattoos, but that’s by-the-by.

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My noble steed

Like many people, I have big plans for 2017. I want to write more, both for myself and for others. I want to make my freelance career a success. I want to be more careful with my money, not just because I am acutely aware of the precariousness of freelance life but also because I want to find methods of self care which don’t just involve purchasing things that I don’t really need.

My friend James came to visit me over the Christmas break and was kind enough to fix up the old Raleigh Shopper bike which had been gathering dust in my hallway for a number of years. Last week, I found myself going on a 13 mile bike ride alongside the River Mersey, enjoying the feel of the wind through my hair and feeling so incredibly lucky to live in such a scenic part of England. I don’t know what will happen to me this year. But I know that if I continue to take pleasure in the little things, I’ll be OK.

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