Monday, 30 April 2018

Recipe: Nostalgic sweet potato and and spinach curry

I wrote this, minus the recipe, without knowing whether it would be a blog post or a newsletter piece. I don't really know what goes where, and sometimes I don't know what this blog is "for" anymore, when most of my writing is in my newsletter, but sometimes it's nice to still blog.

I started university with a stack of green books, new and shiny with spines intact.
I don't remember buying them, but I'm sure they will have come from my Mum, from Borders, our favourite place, which Google tells me closed in 2009.

I didn't really know how to cook. Until I was 18 my speciality had been a concoction of kidney beans, microwaveable rice and pasta sauce.

I found my feet with those green shiny books.
Lentil bolognese and Quorn cottage pie and vegetable crumble in the days before I even thought to Google a recipe or read a food blog.
Everything was simple, but revolutionary. Lentil moussaka with a topping of cream cheese mixed with eggs and nutmeg. Easy versions of dishes, made cheaper and quicker for the amateur student cook.

And I learned a lot about cooking in those first few years of uni. Discovering why you wash spinach before use, and that bicarbonate of soda isn't the same as baking powder, and is a quick and efficient way to ruin a batch of cookies you've been salivating in anticipation of.
What my books look like now, after years of use and being used to lean on while doing my nails...

Those green shiny books sit in my loft. Piled up ready to go to the charity shop, ready for another student to educate on 15 ways with jacket potatoes, but I'm not quite ready to let go.
No longer shiny, but splattered with years of drips and splotches and spills.
While my shelves groan with the weight of Ottolenghi, and my cupboards fill with fenugreek and sumac and homemade baharat.
And tonight, I pick them up for the taste of nostalgia.

The sweet potato curry I used to make to impress my friends. That I made in a lonely kitchen in student halls, that I made for my housemates when we somehow managed to share the cooking every night for a year, that I made for my American housemate and her husband as a thank you for letting me stay over an alien-to-me Thanksgiving holiday, that I made in Minnesota and New Jersey, and of course, in Birmingham. Frozen in tiny, unidentifiable bags so that dinner was sometimes a surprise.

I've made hundreds of curries since. Dals and vindaloos and homemade samosas. I could make a sweet potato curry with my eyes closed.
But tonight  I turn to the book. Scared to get it wrong. Scared to miss out on the taste of nostalgia.
Remembering it eaten in a large pudding bowl, with carrots and broccoli lazily steamed to mush in the microwave at 9pm after two back-to-back dance classes.
Or splashing out on naan. Covering it in ketchup.

I must have made this curry thirty times. Eaten it sixty times more.
But tonight I make it for my fiancĂ© for the first time. Remembering all the times I made it before. And now making it for my soon-to-be-husband in a house that we own, after getting home from my 9 to 5.
I still love piling in the spinach and watching it wilt into velvet.
I no longer serve it with ketchup, but if I was home alone I would have microwaved the carrots and broccoli to submission, the way I did when I was 22. The way I did when I cried when the microwave broke because that's the only way I knew how to cook my vegetables.

It reminds me that delicious food need not be complicated, something I often forget. That it doesn't need every pan in the house or hours slaving over the stove. That I don't need to make something different every single night. And it tastes every bit as good as it did when I was 18.

Sweet potato and spinach curry
Serves 4
(adapted lightly to maintain as much nostalgia as possible, from The Vegetarian Student Cookbook. I've made this so many times this is more like a guide, and I was surprised how much of it was muscle memory, so I don't know quite how much olive oil I used or how long I cooked my onions for, but if you're any more advanced than 18 year old me in the kitchen you'll figure it out)
500g sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 tsp turmeric
1 large red chilli
400ml (1 can) coconut milk
250g baby spinach, washed
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook sweet potatoes in a large pan of boiling water for 8-10 minutes until cooked but not mushy. Drain and leave to the side.
2. Heat the oil in large pan, and cook the onions on a medium heat until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and chilli, and cook for a couple of minutes before adding the turmeric.
3. Add the coconut milk, stir well and simmer for 3-4 minutes until thickened
4. Add the cooked sweet potatoes and cook for a further 4 minutes
5. Stir in the spinach, and cook, stirring regularly, until it has all wilted
6. Season and serve!

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

March Life Lately

With the exception of December (Christmas! and now our engagement anniversary on Boxing Day!), March is my absolute favourite month. It's bookended with Phil's Birthday on the 1st and mine on the 30th, which means it feels like a big ol' month of celebrating, which is certainly what this year felt like!

Here's what I've been up to in March...

What I've been doing
We took a couple of days off for Phil's Birthday and despite crazy weather, we had the best day in Liverpool to celebrate. After two failed attempts previously to go, we finally made it to the Anfield Tour which we both absolutely loved and then we went for the best ever pizza at our favourite pizza place in Liverpool. I bought him a jacket and a tshirt from Pull and Bear, the Scrubs boxset and a framed print of the bridge where he proposed.
I've mentioned before that we've been having work done on our house over the last few weeks and we are finally almost getting there! This month was a big one with the addition of our mustard yellow feature wall in the living room! Over the last year we've gone from saying we'll have a yellow chair, to a yellow sofa, to finally deciding on a yellow wall. It looks absolutely incredible and I love it. Now all we need is new furniture and the living room is done and the kitchen should be done in the next week or so!
In sad news this month, while out in Manchester I realised at some point my Fitbit strap had broken and the whole thing had fallen off my wrist and was lost forever! I was absolutely devastated, especially as I'd already had the strap replaced once, but amazingly Fitbit replaced agreed to replace it and I had a new one just a few days later! I'm thrilled with their customer service and am keeping an eye on my strap obsessively now!

I've been getting back into driving lately after having not driven for 7 years up until a few months ago, and this month I drove on my own for the first time! This was a huge and scary and exciting deal and it's totally boosted my confidence! I only drove to my parents' about 2 miles away to go to parkrun but it's so great to be able to drive myself now when Phil is away!
My friend Riven has started to knit and she's doing really well! She lent me her yarn a few weeks about and taught me to knit a bit and I'm starting to get the hang of it! I've wanted to learn for ages so I need to get practising!
This month also brought our first race of the year with the Poynton 10K. I'm in the middle of half marathon training at the moment but I'm having trouble with bursitis in my hip (which I've had before during my marathon training!) and some knee pain so I wasn't very excited for this race! It ended up being a really tough course and I started to feel pain after a few miles in so it wasn't my best time, but it was a nice local race I'm looking forward to tackling again next year!
When Phil's parents asked me what I wanted for my Birthday I asked for a really good vegetable peeler (theirs is great!) and Exploding Kittens. We've played this game so much in the week and a half we've had it and Phil has beaten me all but one time! We've already ordered a second pack so we can play it with more people!
And of course, this month brought my Birthday! I've had some amazing meals out, an amazing weekend away (more on that below!) and some incredible presents! From Phil I got two prints - one of the park where he proposed and an Arrested Development one, along with a Mo Salah Egypt national shirt. From my parents I got two bags, two jumpers and a board game, and from work I got the cutest teapot and teacups. I've been completely spoiled!

Where I've been
I was a little distracted because it was the night I lost my Fitbit but this month I finally made it to Grub Food Fair. I've wanted to go for ages and it was so much cooler than I expected! I had the most amazing aubergine pitta and masala chips which were absolutely incredible. It's the coolest little space and I cannot wait to go back.
Okay, so obviously the biggest thing that happened in March was that WE FINALLY SAW HAMILTON! We booked our tickets in January last year so it's been a long 14 months of waiting and 18 months of listening to the soundtrack over 100 times. I don't think I'd been as excited for anything in my whole life and it was honestly the best thing I've ever seen. I can't even begin to explain how incredible it was. I thought having listened to it so many times I knew it inside out, but seeing on stage was just... I don't even have the words. Seeing the acting and the costumes and the set and the choreography just absolutely blew my mind and it was almost a completely different musical. I'm going to stop going on about it now but it was a million times better than my insanely high expectations. I'm already desperate to see it again!

So Hamilton was on the Thursday with my Birthday on the Friday, so Friday morning we woke up and I opened the cards and presents that we could fit in our cases and after a lovely brunch we headed to St Pancras to get the Eurostar to Bruges!
Well our first stop was Brussels, and the one thing we wanted to do there was visit the Cantillon brewery. Phil's surname is Cantillon (and it will be mine in just over a year's time!) and we got off the train at 4.20pm when the brewery closed at 5pm, so we raced there just in time to buy matching Cantillon-branded sweatshirts (cringe!) and get a selfie outside, but didn't have enough time to get a drink (which is probably for the best because Cantillon is a sour beer and I'm not sure if I'd like it!). 
I should probably write an entire blog post on Bruges but if I don't get around to it, we found some amazing bars and I found a taste for Belgium beer, we had hot chocolate and waffles and mussels and chocolates, we climbed the 366 steps up the Belfry and took a boat tour and spent the weekend trying to find all the locations in In Bruges, and even went to Retsin's Lucifernum which completely freaked me out. We had the best weekend ever and it was the best way to spend my Birthday! 

What I've been reading
Six books in March and some absolute bangers. Here's what I read:

Pages for Her
The Dark Circle
Three Things about Elsie

I absolutely loved Three Things About Elsie after loving The Trouble with Goats and Sheep and I read the whole thing in a weekend, but my absolute favourite book of the month was Beartown which I adored in every single way. It was a brilliant story with amazingly developed characters and it was beautifully written on a challenging subject. It's instantly gone onto my favourites list!

What I've been watching
Quite a lot of film this month! At the cinema we did a double bill of Game Night and The Greatest Showman. Game Night I absolutely loved and know it's one of those perfect "background noise" films I know I'll buy on DVD. 

We also went to a Mystery Screening at The Light which is the new cinema in Stockport which we LOVE but we're still currently cardholders at Cineworld. We were super disappointed when we found out it was Love, Simon as it had been a Cineworld Unlimited Screening the week before and we really didn't fancy it! However as we'd paid a fiver at The Light rather than it being free at Cineworld we decided to stick it out and I'm glad we did! It was not my kind of thing at all but I really enjoyed it!

But the best film we saw at the cinema this month was also at The Light. They were showing The Florida Project which we'd missed the first time around for a fiver and we were  so glad to have caught it! This was one of the best films I've seen this year.

At home this month we've watched Fantastic Mr Fox, There Will Be Blood (arghhhhhh so good!) and of course, we had to watch In Bruges in preparation for our trip!

Finally, we've been loving Queer Eye obviously, and we've just started The Assassination of Gianni Versace which I am super into!

What I've been eating
While we were in Liverpool we had the best pizza and garlic bread ever at American Slice. We'd been a few years ago and were relived it was every bit as good as we remembered!
A couple of new places have opened in Stockport which we enjoyed this month - falafel from Falafel  4 U was excellent before our film and ice cream at Creams was amazing afterwards (I got the black vanilla!). I also had a lovely brunch with my best friend at the newly-opened Berretto lounge. We also had a great Birthday dinner at Jack's which is just across the road from our house and the Vimto jelly was amazing!
Obviously we had some amazing food in Bruges! I'm not usually a fan of waffles at all but we had the best waffles in Bruges and the most incredible hot chocolate. I also found a love for fruit beer and wish we'd had checked luggage so we could have brought some back with us!

What I've bought
In two weeks we have our one-year-til-our-wedding date at the hotel we're getting married at and I wanted a new dress for the occasion. I bought four dresses online and just could not find what I wanted but when I was killing time in Manchester I fell in love with the most perfect bright pink lace dress in Oasis and bought it there and then! I absolutely love it!
Two new recipe books just happened to land on my doorstep this month! I preordered 15 Minute Vegan Comfort Food a few months ago after loving Katy's original book, and this month I was thrilled to receive Jack Monroe's Cooking on a Bootstrap after backing their Kickstarter about two years ago! The book is brilliant and so worth the wait - plus it's nearly all vegetarian!

As mentioned above I love my Cantillon sweatshirt from the brewery and I cannot wait to wear it lounging around the house.
I was dithering for ages over what I was going to buy from the merchandise stall at Hamilton and I'm so glad I decided to go for this amazing mug! We also get a mug from every city we visit (we have a lot of mugs!) and I love the Bruges mug we chose!

What I've been reading online
Yes and Yes - How to Choose a Goal 
Red online - Friendship breakups
Michelle - 10 Habits I've started to reduce anxiety
Biscuits and Blisters - Controlling the fall
Amy - On OCD
Yes and Yes - Is that self care or self sabotage?
Kate Leaver - The Joys of a new Grown Up Friend
Amy - The Mental Health Benefits of Knitting

What I'm excited about
So I am super excited for our "ante-versary" aka, our one-year-til-our-wedding stay at the hotel we're getting married at! We're getting a free night's stay, breakfast, dinner and use of the facilities and I cannot wait!

For Christmas I bought Phil tickets to see Jaws with a live orchestra and it's on Friday! It's going to be so much fun!

And hopefully we're going to get some wedding planning done this month! We've been so busy with the house stuff we've not really done much this month but April means one year to go so we need to get those save the dates out! I've also got a date in to go dress shopping with my Mum and maid of honour in May - eeeee!

Hope your April is going brilliantly!

Charlotte x