I wrote this for my newspaper column six weeks ago. Then I went into a very dark space in which I felt so overwhelmed that I couldn’t write my blog. What did I do? I gardened and baked (especially loaf cakes). I soaked pulses. I managed to keep up my instagram feed. I did yoga on zoom, and pub quizzes. I tweeted a lot, probably too much. I wept after the public clapping for the NHS. I spent money online shopping, draining my savings.
I felt useless, burnt out, washed up. Work gives us identity. As a self-employed person, I’ve had no income. Work hasn’t been great for the last couple of years, since the preparations for Brexit. And any money given by the government will be based on those lowered earnings. Will there be any work once all this is over? The hospitality industry has been wiped out, although many restaurants have pivoted to take-away. What use is a supper club when you can’t have contact? A supper club is ALL about contact.
But I’ve had time to think, to slow down, to do things better rather than quickly. I see other people in my industry react in quite a manic fashion. I wanted to say STOP. We are so reluctant to go within ourselves, myself included. And if I’m honest, I’ve felt envy, for the people with safe, salaried jobs, who get sick pay, paid holidays, and 80% of their salaries. Self- employed people are doing what the Tories want: being self-sufficient, not relying on the state, but when things are tough, we are excluded.
I’ve felt heart-sick and lonely. Not being able to see my daughter on her birthday. Being single isn’t ideal right now. Although it’s better than being in a shitty relationship. But sometimes, even if the person living with you is annoying, it feels easier than being confronted endlessly with yourself. But as the lockdown wore on, I went through ups and downs, eventually settling into myself, digging deep for self-motivation. My daily phone calls from my mum helped. She’d give me tasks: go for a walk and take 7 pictures of things beginning with ‘n’, or take 5 pictures of everyday items that could be magical. I did one walk on the heath.
It seems we are about to emerge from lockdown from this Monday coming (11th May), which is concerning. Does the government react to pressure from the media, rather than make sensible decisions? We locked down late and we are ending it early. Is this wise? I do believe there will be a second wave, which is frightening. I’m scared for my parents, in their 80s. Currently the UK has the worst death toll in Europe. Or are we just being more honest about the statistics?
As I write, the dark clouds of the Coronavirus are rolling in.
Italy and Spain are locked down and Twitter rumours say it will be us soon.
When I returned from Japan on February 8, I rang 111, as it was one of the proscribed countries, and I had some cold symptoms.
I was told to self-isolate for 14 days. To be entirely frank, as a single freelancer, this wasn’t exactly a stretch. Like all writers, I spend an inordinate amount of time on my own anyway.
My daughter has now left home, so I’m also an empty nester. That’s what concerns me: what if you are alone or in a house entirely populated by ill people, who does the caring and the cooking when you can’t get outside help?
I am attempting to think of the worst case scenarios. What should you buy? And what, should you have the odd moment of strength, should you lever yourself from your sickbed to cook?
When sick or recovering, you fancy that old-fashioned British staple, nursery food, soft on the palate and on the throat.
If you have pneumonia, fluids such as tea, soup or fruit juice may be the only things you can stomach.
I’ve done a stock-take of ingredients in my pantry. Years of collecting ingredients from my travels around the world, obsessively trying new things, and unused larder items from various supper clubs meant I was never going to go hungry. I may have the largest collection of flours known to mankind. I could open a museum of condiments, chutneys and sauces. I get a collectors thrill logging my ingredients.
What to buy:
Fresh: Apples, bananas and citrus (lemons, mandarins, tangerines): the latter for vitamin C and in hot drinks, likewise fresh ginger; cabbage, chicory, for greens that last; carrots, garlic, chilli and onions to help the immune system. Yoghurt and kefir. Eggs. Butternut squash is another vegetable that keeps. Cheese is basically a method of making milk portable and longer lasting; hard cheeses such as cheddar and parmesan. Jenny Linford is running a ‘Save British cheesemakers’ campaign, those small artisanal farmers really need help.
Frozen: veg such as peas, spinach, to drop into pasta or soups. Butter, bread (wholemeal pittas) cheese and milk can be frozen. Tortellini.
Tins: soup, beans, tuna, anchovies, tomatoes, olive oil, baked beans, rice pudding, macaroni cheese, soup.
Dried goods: pulses, pasta, rice, dried milk, ramen for quick soups, instant porridge, oatcakes, miso soup, mashed potato, large Israeli couscous, bulghur wheat to stuff vegetables and as a quick carb, sultanas/raisins to add interest to porridge or rice pudding. Flour and yeast. If you can’t get yeast start making your sourdough. Use the discard for pancakes and pizza bases.
Jars: peanut butter, tahini (both high in protein) marmite, jam, honey for drinks, pesto for an effortless pasta dish.
Preserved: pickles are great for your microbiome, add interest to foods as you recover your appetite. Kimchi helped the entire Korean nation survive the second world war.
Packets: tofu is high protein, is easy on the throat and can be cubed into soups and ramen.
With any luck, the worst will not happen and this column will only be useful for future, milder illnesses. God bless us all.
Hot Jam Tea
This is a Russian recipe, easy, effective, soothing, warming and high in Vitamin C. It's also something a severely sick person who is isolated may be able to make for themselves.
- 2 or 3 tablespoons of jam (any flavour)
- Just add 2 or 3 tablespoons of jam to hot water in a mug.
Lentil and tamarind soup
Use up those pulses you've had lurking.
- 250 g red lentils
- 3 tbsp tamarind paste
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 chilli, dried
- 1 tbsp sea salt, or more, to taste
- natural yoghurt for garnishing
Cover the lentils in plenty of water, add the other ingredients, with a whole chilli just to add a little spice, and the salt added a bit later, and cook until soft. About half an hour.