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April 7, 2019

there's nothing to lose and there's nothing to prove | april thoughts

I had such good intentions when I wrote my last post. I imagined I'd have weekends to myself, that I'd manage to find a nice, relatively easy job to earn enough to pay the bills. I imagined I'd have so much more time than I've been able to find. 

I never thought I'd find myself thinking or writing this, but I miss my focus last year. I miss having a clear goal and seeing the path towards it. I'm so surprised that I find myself missing my thesis. And I don't think it's the thesis I miss as much as I miss having a central purpose. 

I'm still waiting on examiner's reports. It's a strange interim time, where on the one hand you're incredibly proud of managing to submit a complete document, but on the other hand nothing is certain in terms of results - both what they will be and when they will come. It really is a strange waiting game, and one that's difficult to explain to anyone outside the bubble of academia. 

There was a time when I wasn't physically able to work; a significant additional stress during an already challenging time. I am just now realising how much I've sacrificed of myself, my ability to earn money and save money, in order to complete my PhD - and it's not even finalised yet. I feel so far behind other people my age. 

I rationally know that age is just a number; that 'progress' in terms of how society measures it is not something I should be measuring my success by. I rationally know that really not that many people start, continue, submit or complete a PhD, and I'm lucky to have had the opportunity to do so. But I've had to borrow more money from a wide range of supportive people in order to pay for the absolute basics - rent, medical care, food, heating, internet. I'm an independent person, and the psychological burden of this debt weighs on me. 

Now I'm able to earn money by tutoring and teaching, but all my hours are dedicated to work for other people. I only love my job if I truly feel valued; and I don't often feel valued in my current various employments. I constantly feel like I have to "hustle" to make enough money so I don't feel guilty for being a financial burden on people around me, and that means I prioritise paid work over everything else, including work on my own research, which doesn't currently pay. I feel like I'm working for everyone else, when all I'd like to do is work for myself.

These are the realities of life for many people my age, and I know there's advantages to my current situation. I have a lot of flexibility in my schedule - almost too much to truly enjoy. I constantly have dreams of getting out of Dunedin, of visiting other places, of adventures; but I can't see how to make those dreams a reality with all the practical circumstances preventing me. 

I think the main answer to all my current worries is time - time to rest, time to sleep better, time to do things I love with people I love. I am practicing patience, and being gentle on myself and people around me as I figure out what the next steps are. 


title from billy idol/tony james - dancing with myself. I think my favourite version is the Nouvelle Vague one, here

January 6, 2019

grass up to our waists | hello in 2019

The last post on this blog, which was in March 2016 so nearly 3 years ago, ends with me promising the recipe for croissants "if I ever get around to making them". 

I'll tell you right now, I never got around to making them. Why was that, you might ask. Let me tell you.

Firstly, the price of butter. In New Zealand the price of butter has increased recently, and particularly over the past 3 years. It used to cost around $4 for a 500g block, but now prices are around $6.50 per 500g. Croissants require quite a lot of butter, and quite a lot of attention. Attention I was willing to give, but part with $15 for butter just for a batch of croissants, as well?

Not only did the price of butter increase, but the amount of time I had for cooking and food, particularly labour intensive and perhaps frivolous food like croissants, exponentially decreased. The lab work I alluded to in previous posts consumed my life, as well as the teaching and tutoring hours, until all I did for the last couple of months of last year was work to earn money, or work on my thesis.

Although this was not a pleasant way to spend time, it resulted in the successful completion and submission of a document I was happy with. It's important to acknowledge the incredible support I had around me from my partner and my family which was instrumental in allowing me to work as hard as I had to. I will be forever grateful for their understanding, encouragement and support. The soft bound submission is a end-of-sorts, and because the examination process and second, hard-bound submission is still to come, that's all I'll say about it for now.

I submitted on the 20th of December, 2018; a mere two and a half weeks ago. Since then, I have been slowly unwinding into holiday relaxation mode, spent time with my family and my partner's family, slept as much as possible, and eaten all sorts of delicious holiday food. It has been a slow process, letting go of the anxiety-inducing deadline-driven thesis thought patterns and easing my brain into true holiday mode for the first time in a while.

I find myself with the desire to catalogue the coming months of my life as I unwind and reflect on achieving last year's milestones, and decide what direction I'll take towards the future. There are lots of career and life decisions to make in the coming months, which makes for an exciting time.

I hope to post here a bit more frequently during this time, to catalogue my thoughts as I reflect about all I learned during the process of completing my PhD, and as I determine the next steps in my career. There might not always be recipes, but I hope there'll be a few to share. I know I am looking forward to having more time to spend cooking this year.

If you're still reading this, hello! Thanks for being here, I'm happy to have the inspiration and time for self reflection to write again here. See you soon.



title from 'been in bed' by Grawlixes

March 17, 2016

but it ain't really a picture | roast potato, haloumi and mushroom salad

This could have quite easily been another post about soup. A couple of weeks ago there were beetroot at the farmer's market, the long kind rather than the round kind, and as soon as I looked at them I thought 'it's about time I made borsht again' to myself. And that's just what I did, one cold and autumn-like evening, staining my fingers red and using the last of the lemons Mum brought from her tree when she visited.

However, heading into winter, there will be many more times to write about borsht and its incredible colour and ability to warm you up even on the coldest day. Maybe that will be next time! There will be less of an opportunity to write about substantial, season-change salads. I have to say, I never thought I'd be a salad for dinner person. Much like in my first flat where half of the flatmates didn't consider soup to be a "proper meal" no matter how many potatoes I included, or whether I baked focaccia bread to accompany it, I just didn't consider a "salad" to be a proper meal.

It isn't really a proper meal, if you just cut up some tomatoes and a cucumber, and add whatever leafy greenery you have lurking in your fridge or garden. But if you add some lentils, or bulghur wheat, or israeli couscous, or roasted kumara, you've got the beginnings of something more substantial. I've found such a salad a great way to use up the ends of things in the fridge at the end of the week. Cooking for one means you have to be especially attentive to ensure your produce doesn't go to waste.

The salad below ended up being dinner for three nights. The first night, I had it just as it was. The second night, I had it with smoked salmon and my parents down south in the Catlins, and the third night, I seared a lamb steak and sliced that over the top. I've been incorporating the occasional red meat in my diet to combat extremely low iron levels.

roast potato, haloumi and mushroom salad

3 medium potatoes, or the equivalent amount of small ones
brewer's yeast
2 lemons
olive oil
1 teaspoon mustard
1/2 cup almonds
cherry tomatoes
leafy green - I used baby spinach
1 cup mushrooms
1 shallot
haloumi (as much or as little as you have, I used about 100g)

Scrub the potatoes (and peel them if you want, but I usually don't), cut into small pieces and place in a roasting dish. Add some olive oil, salt to season, the zest of a lemon, and about one tablespoon of brewer's yeast. Toss potatoes until they are all covered in the yeast/oil, and then roast at 200º for around 30 minutes, until they are cooked through and brown around the edges.

In the meantime, dry roast the almonds in a pan on medium heat for about 5 minutes, giving them a shake every now and then. Set aside. In the same pan, heat a little oil, then fry the chopped shallot briefly before adding the mushrooms to cook. When the mushrooms have cooked, remove from the pan, and increase the heat a little before frying the haloumi. For this salad, I chopped the haloumi into small squares (to hide how little there was!) but if you like, you can leave it large.

In the last 5 minutes of cooking for the potatoes, add the cherry tomatoes to the roasting dish. Make a salad dressing with the juice of two lemons, an equal amount of olive oil (about one tablespoon) and a teaspoon of mustard. Give the almonds a bit of a bash in a mortar and pestle.

Add everything together and enjoy while the potatoes are still warm, though it's great cold too. It's a pretty forgiving recipe - you could add/swap the haloumi and mushrooms for just about anything - bacon, feta, zucchini... whatever you have in your fridge.

There's something quite delicious about the combination of sharpness and savoury from the lemon and yeast that the potatoes are roasted in, and I've made these roasted potatoes many times since. If you don't have brewer's yeast, I think that a good sprinkle of cumin could work in its place.

Lab work, and the semester starting, meaning the return of my teaching and tutoring schedule, have kept me pretty busy, but last weekend my parents came to visit and we escaped the city for the weekend - driving down the coast to the very desolate and very rugged Kaka Point. We drove down the long way, out to the coast, and stopped at Tunnel Beach on the way, where I assured M & D that the doc sign was inaccurate and it wouldn't be a 1 hour return walk (it was), reminiscent of times when I assured them that driving to Moeraki would only take 15 minutes from Dunedin. Estimating driving times has clearly never been much of a strong point. 

It was so good to get away - the first two photos are of Tunnel Beach, and Kaka Point respectively - to get out of the city and spend most of the weekend outside, looking out to sea, and of course, just spending time with my parents is a treat too. Next week when I'm in the lab over the Easter weekend I'll think of these beaches! 

I've been noticing leaves changing on the deciduous trees as I walk to work, and with each passing week more and more leaves drop onto the lawn outside the museum. Winter is on its way, and I'm finding that for now, I don't mind. Though I would appreciate our flat radiators being functional, it has been a chilly few nights on top of the big house recently! 


title from wild imagination - kurt vile. It wasn't easy to find a song because I've mostly been listening to instrumental music recently .. 

Maybe next time I'll tell you about making croissants if I ever get around to actually doing it rather than googling and youtubing it! 

February 8, 2016

some days I don't miss my family and some days I do | green bean, lemon & spinach soup

It has been a while. I'm not sure exactly what it is that has me writing here again, after so long. Perhaps it was making kefir yoghurt again from grains gifted by C, an ex-Melrose resident. Perhaps it was catching up with a fellow foodie friend A who reminded me of just how much I love food and cooking. Perhaps it was writing a bit about Maitland St and the food we made for the Triangle project of another now-ex-Maitland St resident, B. Perhaps it was J phoning me while in the midst of preparations for a dinner party to impress with a couple of guinness cake questions. Perhaps it is that I now have the challenge of cooking for myself each and every night, so the type of meals I make has changed quite a bit, and finding the motivation to cook can be even more of a challenge than it once was.

So many things have changed. I no longer reside at Maitland St, and neither does J. I'm now living on a different hill in a new but still old (1907) "house" that is really more of a mansion. I live in the old servants quarters with 3 other ladies, on the third floor of the original house; the lower two floors of which is kept as a museum/gallery and open to the public. As much as I love the new place, there are times I still miss Maitland St and my room with a harbour view from my bed. Maitland St was home for a wonderful and also challenging three years, and I'll always remember my time there with a certain degree of sentimentality.

So many things have stayed the same. I still work in a lab, which has taken over my life more and more with each passing month. I still sometimes need to remind myself to cook a proper dinner and eat proper meals. When you don't have the expectation or need to cook for someone else it is much easier to convince yourself that porridge / boiled eggs / cheese on toast is an appropriate dinner. And sometimes it is, but the habit of cooking is a good one to nurture.

I can't promise I will be posting any more frequently than sporadically or whenever I feel the need to write something that isn't scientific or poetry, but you might see a few recipes here over the coming year. Most likely focussed on easy but also delicious meals you can cook for one or two. As much as I miss cooking for six (the default amount as I first started cooking for my family when I still lived at home), when it's only you eating it's best to not let the leftovers situation get too out of control. Not to mention our fridge/freezer capacity is pretty much always at maximum. However, I'm still pretty fond of soups and other easily scaleable things, and so even if you cook regularly for a few more people than I, hopefully you might find something useful.

green bean, lemon & spinach soup

Of course it would be a soup recipe! I often find that it is difficult to use up produce before it goes bad, and soup is an excellent way to use up anything that is looking a bit past it (but not quite at the furry stage). This was inspired by the lemon, lentil and coriander soup I've previously written about, and is perfect for those unexpectedly cool summer southerly nights. 

300g green beans
1 onion
1 cup vegetable stock
1 cup water
2 lemons (or more), zest and juice
200-300g spinach
1 clove garlic
butter/olive oil
about half a can of coconut milk

sunflower seeds
flaxseed oil

Dice the onion and garlic, and trim the ends from the beans. Heat the butter or olive oil in a heavy fry pan and sauté the onions for a while until they start turning golden. Add the garlic and stir so it doesn't burn. Add the beans and lemon zest to the pan, and fry for about a minute before adding the vegetable stock and water in small amounts. You may not need all the water. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the beans are starting to soften a little. Add the spinach - I used baby spinach, but if you've got the big kind just rip the leaves off the stalks first, and remove from the heat while the spinach wilts. 

Blend in batches and transfer to a pot. Heat the soup through. If it's a bit runny, let it reduce on the heat for a while. When you are happy with the consistency, add the coconut milk and lemon juice. I used about 3 lemons because I like the flavour quite lemony. Don't be tempted to add a whole can of coconut milk, it's just there to make the soup more creamy, not add any flavour. Add salt to taste - I added about 1 teaspoon. 

To serve, toast some sunflower seeds, crumble some feta over the bowl, add a spoonful of herb paste and a small drizzle of flaxseed oil. All of these additions are delicious but not necessary. Eat with toast or just by itself. 

This soup freezes well and you can even freeze it before adding the coconut milk and just finish it off when you defrost it. The recipe's vegetarian already, and also appropriate for vegans if you use olive oil rather than butter, and omit the feta. The amounts I've used made enough soup for a dinner for three, with bread, or two dinners and two lunches just for me. If there's more of you, just increase the amounts. 


So, perhaps I will 'see' you again soon. The only recipe I half-wrote in the blog hiatus (really doesn't seem like nearly two years!) was for borscht, something I got mildly obsessed with over autumn, so perhaps that will be what I write about next. Though I have also been testing out our new-ish oven with a few kinds of baking, so, you never know..

The two photos at the top are of a particularly special beach not far from the city centre. 

title from the mountain goats - wild sage