We had strange weather in August – damp, almost humid, sticky, and yet quite cool; and some equally odd days in September, punctuated by the odd stretch of beautiful sunshine. Days are certainly taking a turn, though: the skies are becoming bleached and grey and by contrast the trees are starting to turn glorious shades of red and orange. It’s a happy time – autumn is a beautiful season and I celebrate my birthday in September – but also occasionally a difficult one as work becomes much more intensive and tiring, and will be until the Christmas break in December. I’ve worked hard over the summer but there’s always a brief respite in July and August: the shock of October will mean lots of quick cooking with minimal washing up (I hope anyway).
1) Eat fish at least once a week, preferably twice a week
Yes, I achieved this – just. Some of the dishes cooked were my ‘standards’ (salmon in soy sauce…), but I also made this miso salmon (pretty similar in flavour and profile to the salmon recipes I usually make) and this ‘firecracker’ salmon, which is like my basic soy sauce salmon with added ingredients that gave it a really nice twist. Writing down the fish dishes I make regularly has emphasised how reliant I am on those helpful twin packets of salmon fillets in the supermarket. More unusually, I made this lemon and parsley-crusted fish (I think I used haddock), which was served with mashed potatoes (I cooked tenderstem broccoli instead of serving it with spinach because I didn’t feel like washing spinach on the night).
2) Bring a packed lunch to work at least three times a week
I did try, but I failed in a number of weeks over the last two months – in one week I actually bought lunch every day, which is very rare. Buying in so many lunches only reminded me of how much I dislike the sandwich offerings in the supermarket, and also how expensive it is! I’m determined to do a bit better and be more disciplined about spending some time making something, as tiring as it can sometimes be. Moving back into soup season will be a big help, because it’s such an easy thing to bring along. I currently have a few containers full of a really delicious spinach and rosemary soup I love in the fridge ready for Monday, so I feel like I’m winning already…
3) Eat at least three vegetarian meals a week
Yes! This harissa spaghettini with kale, from the original (in my book) and still-reigning queen of whole foods Heidi Swanson; Rick Stein’s aubergine curry – unusually quite heavy on fennel – from a roundup of chefs’ vegetarian recipes (on the whole a rather effortful collection, as chefs’ recipes tend to be); this easy puy/green lentil ragout (though I needed to simmer my lentils for about double the time the recipe specified); this deliciously filling, buttery-rich plate of Punjabi-style black lentils from Smitten Kitchen. It speaks a lot about my cupboards, I think, that I had everything in the house to make this dal-style dish when trying to figure out what to have for dinner the other night. I omitted the cream but used a little extra butter.
4) Clear my archive of bookmarked recipes
In addition to the other recipes mentioned above, I made this rich, crisp granola which, despite having more sugar in it than many of the recipes I make, was still much less sweet than the commercially available varieties. (Incidentally, someone at work insinuated that making one’s own granola is a sign of having too much time on one’s hands. I do sometimes think buying it would save me a lot of time – but I just don’t like shop-bought granola anymore. Sorry). I waged war on my stockpile of raisins with these cinnamon oat raisin cookies and used up the overripe bananas in the bowl with basic but good banana muffins. And I made crisp rosemary flatbreads, because once you make your own pita bread it’s a struggle to go back to shop-bought alternatives. (I’m sure making your own flatbread is an even more unequivocal sign that you are middle class with a lot of time on your hands but…I can’t apologise because homemade bread is so much better).
5) Celebrate my heritage more
6) Develop a good bedtime/sleeping routine
I seem to have reset my sleeping pattern after my 30th birthday party. I drank so much gin that I could barely sleep (despite getting to bed at past 2am on the Sunday – the party had started at 4pm on Saturday). I woke up at 6am, hangover free (probably the strangest part of the whole enterprise) and immediately started tackling the pile of dishes which had accumulated, and then carried on through and didn’t nap throughout the day. This seems to have acted as a kind of reset button. Sleep has been relatively okay ever since – I get tired in the evening and nod off after getting into bed. Kind of weird. Will it last?
7) Visit at least two (new) places in the UK outside of London
Not this month, but I did make it to a new place in London: Kew Gardens. I hadn’t visited the botanical gardens here until September despite living in London for a decade. It’s utterly lovely and beautifully kept, with a greenhouse full of palms, a treetop walk and a pristine Japanese garden, among other highlights.
8) Read at least one book a month
I’ve definitely done this – a lot of Agatha Christie as usual, but I also delved back into food politics with Not on the Label and Eat Your Heart Out by peerless journalist Felicity Lawrence. I reread Julie and Julia, a memoir by Julie Powell, who was the original breakout food blogger when she began chronicling a year of cooking through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Powell – who swears a lot, drinks heavily, and argues with her husband – has always divided people, but although in theory I am unimpressed by this kind of thing, I find her a really interesting, witty and self-deprecating writer whose points occasionally hit home with surprising sharpness. She began the project as a distraction from all the decisions that come with turning thirty – shall I leave this big expensive city, shall I have a child? – and reading it just before my own thirtieth birthday made it more poignant than it felt before. I found myself relating to Powell’s restless quest for something more than her office job and nodding along to the questions she was asking herself about her future and what she wanted from herself and the people around her.
And then, also, Ernest Hemingway’s wonderfully evocative A Moveable Feast, which I found very moving and thrilling. I’m never going to have Hemingway’s life, and it was utterly fascinating and wonderful to catch a vicarious glimpse of it.