Low-stakes escapism

Everything feels so high-stakes. Doesn’t help that the general election is a little over 24 hours away. 😐

Escapism helps lower the bar a bit, knocks you off the daily life tightrope, but sometimes even books and movies can feel like too much. If I’m already wound tight, then I’m not sure that filling 100% of my free time with James Bridle or Adam Curtis is going to do wonders for my mental health. I know, I *promise* I’ll get round to them eventually!

These are some options for low-stakes, low-cost escapism that have worked, or could work, for me:

I’ll try to add to this over time.

Important note: Consider turning off all pop-up notifications on your devices and removing the count badge from your email if you have a Mac or an iPhone. You don’t need any of that gunk, I promise.

time, scratching, snow, and white noise

🔮🦷👁🌙

Last night was Musarc’s winter concert The Orrery on the first day of LCMF 2019. Our performance included a new commission from Lina Lapelytė Time to Become One, the UK premiere of Jennifer Walshe’s The White Noisery, György Ligeti’s Poème symphonique, Un soir de neige by Francis Poulenc, and Fritz Hauser’s Schraffur (Hatchings).

A glowing orb suspended over an audience and an assortment of metronomes in a darkened room

Everything revolved around a floating, glowing orb.

The evening was conceived in collaboration between Sam Belinfante, the contributing composers / artists, members of Musarc, and our inimitable directors Cathy Heller Jones and Joseph Kohlmaier. It all came together with a ton of help from friends and metronome-sitters, and exceedingly delicious vegan food was offered by Return to Shashamane.

It was intense and meditative. I’ve spoken to a few friends in the audience who had nice things to say, but also I’m curious to know what others in the audience thought. I’ve seen at least one good blurb, which is lovely.

Big things for the choir next year I expect. In the shorter term, I’m looking forward to the rest of LCMF’s Witchy Methodologies. Particularly On Rites and Reenchantment and On Gossip & Eavesdropping.

Image via LCMF

Everything we had for Thanksgiving

This is everything we had for Thanksgiving last night, a spread of things that worked for our range of dietary requirements. I really loved everything we made and would happily have any of it again. See the menu below with recipes and ingredient lists.

V = Vegetarian
Ve = Vegan
LF = Lactose Free
GF = Gluten Free
LowF = Low-FODMAP

An asterisk means that the dish isn’t 100% appropriate for that particular diet but could be suitable with an easy substitute.


Rosemary pecan pie – V, LF*, GF

Gluten free flour, vegetable oil, sugar, salt, milk / mylk, dark brown sugar, golden syrup, butter, vanilla extract, rosemary, eggs, pecans

Most pecan pie recipes call for corn syrup. That’s a bummer in and of itself, but it also makes it super difficult to make in the UK since it is really hard to find. Enter Ruby Tandoh’s rosemary pecan pie recipe which calls for golden syrup, an easy-to-find ingredient on British grocery store shelves. I really like the rosemary flavour in this, but I wouldn’t recommend steeping it too long and wouldn’t add the fresh rosemary needles on top. The flavour is just too strong.

I’ve noticed this before but always forget: this pie gets very dark on top, verging on burnt-looking. I think this may have to do with both the dark brown sugar and the cooking temperature / time. Next time, I may try BBC Good Food’s New England pecan pie recipe (also without corn syrup) or perhaps a combination of the two.

To make this gluten free, I used my grandma’s press-in pie crust recipe with gluten free flour. It worked well, but something about it could have been a bit better… I think that there could have been a little bit less fat, and maybe melted butter would have a better flavour. It’s also useful to mix this up in a bowl first, doing it in the plate is just a bit messy. I think that the brushed beaten egg actually does a lot to help the crust to stay together.

Spiced roasted carrots – V, Ve, LowF, LF, GF

Carrots, brown sugar, olive oil, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fresh thyme

This is always one of my favourites. See the honey roasted carrots recipe from this Guardian article, adapted from a recipe by Ottolenghi. I always use brown sugar instead of honey, usually add a bit more cumin than it calls for, and sometimes add cayenne. It’s best to put the roasting tray towards the top of the oven and give the carrots a lot of space, otherwise they steam instead of roast.

You can cook this a lot earlier in the day and then just warm it through later on, or serve it room temperature.

Miso-glazed spicy brussels sprouts – V, Ve*, LF, GF

Brussels sprouts, salt, pepper, olive oil, honey, miso paste, rice vinegar, sesame oil

Loosely based on this Bon Appetit recipe. The sprouts were pretty small so I roasted them whole. This worked great, less prep. The “bottom of the oven” technique worked well to get them cooked all the way through, and then I brought them to the top of the oven to get a slightly better roasted texture. It’s also helpful because they can just sit down there under other things that need the more direct upper-oven heat.

I roasted them earlier in the day when I had more oven space for a big sheet tray (they need space so that they don’t steam). After that, I transferred them to a much smaller tray. When we got close to eating, I prepared the glaze by combining the ingredients to taste and heating it in a little pan, then poured it over the sprouts and popped them back in the oven to warm through.

Warm kale and wild rice salad – V, Ve, LowF, LF, GF

Wild rice, vegetable stock, kale, persimmons, squash, seeds, oranges, maple syrup, coriander seed, cumin seed

This was very loosely based on a Roasted Squash and Kale Salad recipe from Serious Eats. Our version had massaged kale, red and wild rice cooked in vegetable stock, sliced persimmons, roasted squash, toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds, and a spiced maple and orange vinaigrette. Next time, I think I would roast the kale with the squash as suggested in the Serious Eats recipe, would possibly add some orange segments, and would probably go heavier with the spices in the dressing.

This is easy to prepare ahead or earlier in the day.

Old fashioned cornbread – V, LowF, LF*, GF

Coarse cornmeal / polenta, baking soda, baking powder, egg, butter, vinegar, milk / mylk, honey

I like a less cake-y cornbread, something that is just barely sweet. This recipe worked perfectly. I used the coarsest polenta I could find and used a faux milk-free “buttermilk” (1.5 T vinegar + Oatly Barista). It was some of the best cornbread I’ve had in a long time with a pleasant, slightly gritty texture. Not at all like the brick I made last year! My cast iron skillet was slightly too big though so the result was a little thin. Next time, it’d be better to increase the quantity or find a smaller skillet. I’d probably preheat the skillet in the oven as well to get a firmer crust on the bottom. The 20 minute cook time was perfect.

Cranberry relish – V, Ve, LowF, LF, GF

Frozen cranberries, orange, sugar

Was able to find frozen cranberries this year so we made my favourite cold cranberry relish, see mom’s notes for recipe.

This can be made way ahead and is very quick.

Roasted potatoes – V, Ve, LowF, LF, GF

Good roasting potatoes, rapeseed oil, salt, chopped rosemary, chopped thyme

Preheat the oven to 200C (400F) and position a rack towards the top third of your oven. Pour a good amount of rapeseed oil in to one or more roasting tins that are large enough to handle all of your potatoes with a bit of wiggle room, and then put this in the oven to preheat. Cut a bunch of good roasting potatoes in to very large chunks, then parboil in heavily salted water. Keep an eye on them; they’ll go to mush in the next step if they’re too soft! When they’re ready drain the water, then bash them around in the pot a little bit so that they get roughed up. When the oven has come to temperature, pull the tray(s) out of the oven and carefully dump in the potatoes. Coat with the hot oil, and season well with salt. Place in the upper third of your oven and roast for approximately 25-30 minutes. At this point, pull out the potatoes, shuffle them around, top them with chopped rosemary and thyme, and then put them back in the oven to roast for a further 10–15 minutes.

I did these at 180C since that’s the temperature that the nut roast called for. They maybe weren’t quite as all-over crispy as they would have been at a higher heat and they took a little longer, but they were still great.

Onion gravy – V, Ve*, LF*, GF

Onions, vegetable stock, gluten free flour, butter, chopped herbs, wine, salt, pepper

Slice 1-2 onions and cook gently over medium-low heat in a heavy pot until very soft and brown, approximately 30-45 minutes. Add a glug of white or red wine and simmer for a bit until the alcohol has burned off. Scrape any brown bits stuck to the pan in to the mixture. Add some vegetable stock, then bring the whole thing to a simmer. In a small bowl, make a beurre manié by mixing some flour and butter together. Add this to the gravy gradually to thicken it. Add the chopped herbs and cook until they have softened somewhat, then taste and balance out the flavours with salt, pepper, or additional wine.

Normally I make gravy from the chicken / turkey pan drippings but honestly… I might just stick to this in the future. It was *really* good, it’s veggie-friendly, and it means you don’t have to worry about making gravy right when everything is ready to go on the table. The pan drippings can go in to the stock later on instead.

Nut roast – V, GF*

Parsnips, savoy cabbage, hazelnuts, butter, onion, chestnut mushrooms, cooked chestnuts, stilton, brown breadcrumbs, fresh sage, egg, salt, pepper

We used Felicity Cloake’s perfect nut roast recipe. This is a very nutty, mushroom-y mixture wrapped in cabbage leaves, very presentable. It tastes a lot like stuffing, which is excellent in my book.

To make this gluten free, we used GF oat cakes for the “breadcrumbs”. We accidentally forgot the egg. The mixture didn’t slice *quite* as well because of this, but honestly it still held together pretty decently! We also maybe didn’t put quite enough salt and pepper in. This is a substantial mixture, so it’s worth remembering that it can take a lot of seasoning.

You might be able to make this vegan and/or lactose free. You could swap the butter for olive oil and could get away with omitting the egg. I’m not quite sure what you would do to replace the stilton though… It adds a creamy funkiness. Maybe some finely-chopped capers or green olives would be welcome, for the tanginess? Some chunks of tofu for the creaminess, marinated in a bit of Worcester sauce and / or dijon mustard? Not sure!

Spatchcock roasted chicken – LowF, LF*, GF

Whole chicken, butter or olive oil, fresh herbs on their stalks, salt, pepper

To spatchcock the chicken, cut the backbone out and score the breastbone on the inside, then place it skin-up on to a rimmed baking sheet and press to break through the breastbone, making it nice and flat. Reserve the backbone for stock.

If possible, dry brine the chicken 24 hours ahead of time. Rub approximately 2.5 t salt and any other herbs / spices you want (lemon zest, pepper, sage, etc.) all over the chicken and then let sit in your fridge *uncovered*. This will draw the seasoning in to the meat and will allow the outside to dry out thoroughly, meaning crispier skin. The skin will start to look mottled and a little weird, and that’s ok!

About an hour before you’re planning to roast the chicken, remove it from the fridge and let it come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to approximately 180C (350F). Rub a good amount of butter or olive oil over the chicken and season it with just a little bit more flaky sea salt. Place your whole herbs underneath the chicken. Stick the probe of a digital oven thermometer deep in to the breast meat, being careful not to touch the bone. Place in the middle of the oven and roast until the thermometer temperature reaches 75C (170F). In my experience, this usually takes about an hour. Throw the backbone on the tray about halfway through if you’re going to use it for stock. If the skin doesn’t look crispy enough when the meat is done, move it towards the top of the oven and crank up the grill / broiler for a bit. Remove the thermometer before you do this, the direct heat can be a bit too much for it.

When the chicken is done, remove it from the oven and let rest at least 15 minutes before cutting in to it. The resting time is a good time to make a gravy or to finish off part-roasted potatoes in the oven.

Today (the day after), all of the chicken bones went in to a big pot with a whole bunch of peppercorns, bay leaves, onions with their skin, scrubbed and unpeeled carrots, and a lot of water. That has simmered for 4–5 hours and is now cooling. I’ll let it set in the fridge overnight and then will remove the fat from the top, reserving it to fry onions and spices for a curry later this week.

Everything above technique should work well for a turkey too, but it will take longer in the oven and should rest longer as well.


Edit 7 December 2019 — I would definitely consider this squash, winter herb, and butterbean pie recipe (V, Ve*, GF*) by Anna Jones or this Chinese turnip cake recipe (V, Ve, LF, GF*) from Ottolenghi as well.

This year, I celebrated with some close girlfriends. It was my ninth Thanksgiving in the UK. Our kitchen isn’t the biggest, so we had a little candle-lit picnic in the front room on a stripy blanket my mom gave me years ago, the one on the bed in this pic.

One of the earliest gluten free cookbooks

The turquoise cover of “Good Food, Gluten Free”, a cookbook by Hilda Cherry Hills published in the 70s

Good Food, Gluten Free by Hilda Cherry Hills arrived on my cookbook shelf around 2012 when I was struggling with some related health issues. I seem to remember that SB picked it up from a secondhand bookshop when we were living up north. The author’s mission was to arm the public with more knowledge about celiac disease and gluten intolerance and how to deal with it, partly spurred on by her husband’s troubles.

The cover states that it was published by Roberts Publications and originally sold for £2 or “$6 US post free”, but there’s no publish date. There is a review on the back cover from the 24 May 1974 edition of the Nursing Mirror, so I would guess it was published right around that time. Based on the first chapter, “Why this Book has been Written”, it looks like this might be one of the first gluten free cookbooks published in the UK.

The book is packed with research, personal anecdotes, meal planning suggestions, travel tips, and recipes. In the second chapter, she outlines the history of the disease including Samuel Gee’s 1888 report forming the first modern-day description and Dutch researcher Willem Karel Dicke’s doctoral thesis which was the culmination of years of dietary research before, during, and after the Hongerwinter.

It’s hard to imagine how difficult it must have been to navigate all of this early on before the million GF-friendly blogs, countless cookbooks, and dedicated GF shelves in grocery stores. It must have been such a relief for someone suffering from celiac disease in the 70s to stumble across this slim paperback. HB came across this sincere message from the author when leafing through the book:

Just a reminder

Although these things are a nuisance to do, the reward in renewed health and vigour is boundless, and will be an inspiration to not only yourself but to those around you, who will quite rightly admire your determination and applaud your results.

So go to it, and good luck to you whoever you are, and wherever you may be. You will get no medal, be sure, but you will have earned one.

Reading via Victor Papanek

Two more books for the reading list: Future Shock by Alvin and Heidi Toffler and Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered by E.F. Schumacher.

These suggestions come via Victor Papanek’s preface to the first edition of his book Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change. I finally started reading it at long last after many recommendations from SB.

The wonderful world of BBC Sounds

BBC Sounds is such a treasure trove.

It introduced me to You’re Dead to Me, a very funny history podcast by Greg Jenner. My favourite episodes so far are probably the ones on Mansa Musa and Harriet Tubman.

Around Halloween I came across Haunted Women, a one-off program exploring how women have used the ghost story form. Reminds me, I am way overdue reading some Shirley Jackson. I’ll probably start with the bookends, The Road Through the Wall and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Will definitely have to read The Haunting of Hill House as well, The Haunting is one of my favourite horror films. The film was released in 1963 under the Hays Code, so I’ll be interested to see how much more of Theodora’s character is revealed in the book.

Other BBC Sounds programms that I’m planning to listen to include:

Ikigai 生き甲斐

Ikigai 生き甲斐 = the ideal reason to get up in the morning. There are web articles aplenty on this topic but it doesn’t need much explaining, it’s just a more structured way of thinking about things you already have knocking around in your head. Worth keeping in mind.

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