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
- 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
- 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.
Good blog ????. At least it has been sunny most days so that has helped ??
I’m so lucky to have a garden and yes sunny days have been great. I feel for those without gardens or any space outside.
Thanks for the comprehensive and honest post. I’ve been enjoying your insta, thinking you’re just a few blocks away cooking such amazing things. Looking forward to when magical things, like your supper club, can be restored. Stay well and safe.
I hope so. Thanks TJ
Loved your blog so honest and refreshing. later on This year you’re garden and house will be full again of happy people enjoying your supper clubs once more. Happy days
Vintage rose lady (your supper clubs book Derbyshire x)
Thank you Victoria. Lovely to hear from you and are you still doing supper clubs?
Dear Kerstin, your post was so refreshing despite the worrying issues and topic(s) you cover. I really ‘hear’ you as my husband and I are both self employed and were struck off any earnings with the Covid lockdown and spin-offs. I give Italian cooking classes and worked with a winery near where I live in Frascati and, pray tell, when are we going to see tourists visiting Italy from abroad? Not any time soon, I shouldn’t think. Ironically, there were times when I found the slowing down of pace a relief (going inwards as you wrote) and found the best thing to do was take one day at a time, keep in touch with friends and family via whatsapp or zoom etc – but even that got to be taxing on some days, because when one is feeling blue-ish it’s not that easy to engage in conversation. Also, we have three elderly parents to look after, one of whom has Alzheimers. But yes, as someone with not a few friends who are single, I do really understand that being totally on one’s own at a time like this is truly harrowing. Being away from your daughter likewise horrible, hers is a birthday neither of you will forget. We haven’t seen our son since January nor likely to see him any time soon. So, sigh, yes, ugh! BUT I do think that something beautiful will come out of this eventually. It might get worse before it gets better but something just has to change about how we live our lives. I remind myself that before Covid life was okay only for a small percentage of human beings – too many in dire poverty or struggling under regimes and oppressive cultural realities. So here’s raising a virtual glass of wine to your supper club’s future! Who knows? Maybe sooner than we think, I shall be able to fly over to London and take part in one of your lively dinner !
Does your son live far away?
I also think good will come out of this. I feel like the world needed a rest. This is a good moment to reset ourselves and our society. Capitalism has limits and we need to work on a more equal society. The vanishing pollution, the relentless traffic, the busy skies now blue and clear, it’s like Greta Thunberg was the prophet we needed, a kind of modern Joan of Arc, (although I’m uncomfortable with many aspects of Greta’s story, her self-promoting parents, her eating disorders). People will work from home: needless presenteeism will hopefully diminish.
Parents will be around their kids more.
But the isolation and loneliness, which is a huge problem in the west, is something we as a society need to work on. We need some ideas on how to combat that.
I believe in a universal basic income.It would be great if we gave that a try. Finland has tried it for the last two years and it’s reportedly a success.
Maybe one day I can visit you in Frascati. I’d love to meet you at my supper club.
Yup, freelancing can suck. You’re never ‘not working’, as when work dries up that’s when you have to be the most proactive for the least money. There also seems to be a misconception that freelancers lie on the sofa all day eating bonbons and that we lead stress-free lives. If only; as you point out, we’re at the back of the queue when it comes to perks and hand-outs so are always preparing for rainy days.
One of the positives of lockdown is how we might be viewed in the future. My husband is working from home now and finds it incredibly difficult to motivate himself. He misses the social interaction, feedback and support from colleagues, and hates that he can’t leave work behind him at the end of the day. (The evil part of me inwardly smiles at this). Still, I wouldn’t trade his daily commute on packed trains and tubes for sick pay (it seems that the first usually leads to the need for the second anyway).
I haven’t commented before but regularly read your blog, so please keep posting. Yours, a fellow marmite lover. What do you think of this peanut butter marmite concoction, by the way, genius or abomination?
Marmite hate me since I called them out on blog post appropriation. So they no longer send me samples of new products.
I reckon it would work though because one of my favourite combinations is tahini and marmite on toast.
Yes being freelance ain’t for pussies. Although I do spend some of my time on the sofa eating bonbons! What else can you do when there is no work…
I have been combining exercise sessions with shopping and foraging. I picked some wild garlic leaves in the park and made them into pesto by blitzing with chopped walnuts and extra virgin olive oil. Even though I say so myself, I was pleased with the outcome.
That sounds gorgeous Joan. I’m lusting after both walnuts and wild garlic. I should have some wild garlic in my garden next year, it’s being planted.
Thanks so much for this blog post which I have just enjoyed reading. I agree with everything. I too have followed your blog for years and even though I regard myself as a good cook your recipes are fantastic and you are very clever. I totally resonate with what you say about being self employed. I used to be a lawyer but hated it and gave up years ago to look after my three children. I set up a small business from home for income which has been totally wiped out by Corona so I too have no income now. I also have friends who are all being furloughed etc and I also feel jealous and resentful and I hate myself for feeling like this. Im not usually like this at all. Not only have I lost my income I cant really go back to what I did either due to this horrible virus. Like you I feel totally rudderless and lost as you are totally correct work gives us a purpose and boosts our self esteem. Im trying to stay positive but also worried about all the things you mention. Im trying to find a job/income source but its all pretty useless at the moment. Id love to work in food field but I haven’t had the confidence to ever do it professionally. Good luck and I hope your supper club starts up again soon Id love to come one day. What about delivering your supper club to people? Your post has inspired me to try and make some sourdough today so thank you for that and for your instagram posts! X
Thanks so much for commenting.I really appreciate it.Yes we are in a right pickle aren’t we? And I dropped my laptop yesterday so can hardly see the screen to reply… another calamity.But the most important thing is that our children, our parents, our family and friends are healthy.It puts things into perspective.