New year’s resolutions for 2012

Looking back at last year’s resolutions, as I traditionally do at this time of year, I discover that I kept all of them, more or less. But it’s less impressive than that sounds, because there were only three and they were all kind of lame, apart from the first one which I am technically still working on, although I am definitely nearly finished.

Anyway, this year has needed no thought at all. I know exactly what I want to do, as well as the order I want to do it in. So without further preamble, my plans for 2012 are these:

1. Get the beloved to show me how to use Audacity.

2. Move Ella‘s two paintings out of the bedroom and into the front room, and hang the mirror we got from my sister over the mantelpiece (note: this will require the assistance of A Man. Not a man, but A Man, or quite possibly A Woman).

3. Hang up the paintings which are currently on the bedroom floor awaiting the removal of Ella’s paintings from the walls.

4. Upgrade to pro membership of the voice artists’ site to which I belong.

5. Throw away all the rusty old kitchen stuff that the previous occupants of our flat left behind, and;

6. Use the resultant cupboard space to reorganise our kitchen storage in such a way that we can find the things we need to use without having to empty whole cupboards at a time.

7. Audition for some voiceover jobs.

Seven is quite ambitious, I know, but only number 7 is anything but routine. It is also the most exciting one, so that’s OK. Oh, and number 8 is to finish writing that bloody story. It only needs about three more days’ work; I just can’t seem to get around to it. But I’m going to use a wedding, a house move and two changes of job as an excuse for not getting as far as I should have in 2011, and say that 2012 will absolutely, positively, without a shadow of a doubt, be the year it happens. Hold me to that, please.

(And in case I don’t make it back here tomorrow, happy new year! 2011 was the funnest year of blogging for me so far, so I hope you enjoyed at least some of it too.)

Advent song for December 20: Happy Christmas, Krista and Mike!

I have a confession to make. Weeks ago, as I was putting this selection of songs together and trying to determine the order, and deciding whether it was ever OK to have two songs for the same person (no!) or two people for the same song (no!), I thought to myself what I will do, though, is put Krista and Mike on the same day so I can write about them together, but I’ll give them a song each.

And then last night I went back through the song list, ready to write this post, and I realised that Mike’s “O Come O Come Emmanuel” is, of course, the same song as Ed’s “Veni Veni Emmanuel” from three days ago.

So instead of doing the same song three days apart, I will refer you back to Ed’s post for Mike’s choice, and here treat you to Krista’s, which is, I think, the happiest song so far, and since Krista might just be the happiest person I know, that is entirely appropriate.

Mike and Krista are our longest-married friends, and if we can do it half as well as them we’ll be delighted. They are one of those couples who exude warmth, and everyone who meets them can’t help but fall in love with them. A few months ago Krista and I were at our friend Kate’s house and Krista was telling us about a job interview she’d had. “They seemed to like me”, she said, and Kate and I looked at each other and laughed, because the idea of anyone’s meeting Krista and not liking her is so ridiculous. She is, they both are, two of the loveliest people you could ever hope to meet, and I feel very lucky to be their friend, because we figured out the other day that the reason we know each other is that my ex boyfriend’s brother’s best friend’s wife’s sister’s husband used to work with Krista, which is the kind of connection that won’t always sustain for years. But this one has, and for that I am super grateful.

Happy Christmas, Krista and Mike!


I had a conversation with some friends about yoga last weekend. One said she loved it; another said she was put off by the wibbly-wobbly spiritual stuff that seems to come as part of the package.

I thought this was interesting, because although I have certainly been to yoga classes where I was invited to pray to the goddess, the indisputable mental and emotional benefits of exercise suggest that our psychological selves are more closely bound up with our physical selves than traditional religious or “spiritual” (horrible word!) doctrine would like us to believe. We exist in our bodies, not in our immortal souls, which is why eating well and exercising make us happy as well as healthy.

So I am pro-exercise, as long as you can do something you enjoy. I really love Pilates and swimming, but I wouldn’t say I do either with great vigour. It doesn’t matter: the simple fact of taking yourself away from your everyday environment and using your limbs rather than your mind for an hour, especially if you spend most of your time sitting at a desk, has benefits way beyond the calories you might burn up while you do it.

Of course, if you spend an hour sweating over something you hate, like – ugh – hockey, you’re unlikely to end up happier, because the small buzz that the exercise generates will be overshadowed by growing dread at the thought of having to do it again. Finding exercise stressful rather than fun is an easy way to slip into the body-hate mindset that is so pointless and harmful. At school, I was awkward and ungainly and the last to be picked for sports teams, and although that was completely to do with my own adolescent hang-ups and had nothing to do with my actual body, which worked about as well as anyone else’s, the pain of Being Bad At Sport long outlasted the point at which anyone apart from me cared how fast I could run, or how often I could return a serve in tennis (answer: never).

Now that we’re grown-ups it doesn’t matter if we can’t run or hit a tennis ball, because we can choose to do something else instead, but I let that ancient anxiety poison my relationship with exercise for too long.

So if you hated PE and used to hide in the cloakroom to try and get out of it, take heart. It’s not about how many Twixes you burn, it’s about using your body to have fun. Try something off this list, and let me know how you get on:

  • Belly dancing
  • Snooker
  • Trampolining
  • Synchronised swimming
  • Hiking
  • Climbing
  • Sex
  • Archery
  • Diving
  • Bowls
  • A pogo stick
  • Cricket

Food diary

I said last week that I’d post a food diary for this week, so here it is. The idea behind it was a sort of “practise what you preach” attempt at demonstrating that I’m not secretly eating fish and steamed vegetables every day, and now that I look back at it there are a couple of points which I think bear some discussion. I also kind of wish I’d done it during a week where I’d cooked more and eaten out less. But that would be missing the point. Let’s start at the beginning:

Saturday 9th April

Breakfast: Two Weetabix with milk and sugar

Lunch: Lentil soup with bread, cheese and assorted salads; mango and banana cake

This was at the home of friends, which is why it’s such a nice-sounding meal.

Dinner: Fettuccine with salmon and cream

At a pretty crappy restaurant off Charlotte Street. If I could remember the name, I’d advise you to avoid it.

Sunday 10th April

Breakfast: Buttered toast

Lunch: Artichoke, olive and pepper pizza

In the Half Moon in Herne Hill, which does the best pub pizza I know.

Dinner: Pasta with grated cheese

Pasta with grated cheese is my go-to dish when I’m too tired or lazy or it’s too late to make anything else. This was an eleven-o-clock supper, which is probably why I had no appetite the next morning.

Monday 11th April

Breakfast: none

I never don’t have breakfast, but for some reason I skipped it last Monday. Actually, I’m convinced – contra received wisdom – that I eat less through the day if I skip breakfast and thus skipping it would be conducive to weight loss, but screw that. Breakfast, done right, is the best meal of the day. I wait and have it at my desk, which means I always have something to look forward to on my commute, even on the meetingiest of days.

Lunch: Jacket potato with cheese and salad

Dinner: Chicken kiev with oven chips and steamed broccoli

Tuesday 12th April

Breakfast: A plain croissant and a banana

Lunch: Tuna and cucumber baguette

Dinner: Chicken and bacon pie with mashed potatoes

Snacks: A gingerbread man

Wednesday 13th April

Breakfast: An egg roll

Top tip re. egg rolls: they need salt and pepper. An unseasoned egg roll is a horrible thing.

Lunch: Chicken curry with rice and naan

Left over and reheated from a takeaway the previous Friday night. I wasn’t sure it was a good idea, but I seem to still be here.

Dinner: Pitta bread pizzas

Whenever the beloved is away, which he was on Wednesday night, I have pitta bread pizzas or jacket potato, because those are the two things which I love and he doesn’t.

Snacks: A bag of Minstrels, two plain pitta breads

However, I ruined my appetite for the pitta bread pizza by eating two plain pitta breads while I was waiting for them to cook. I am all for snacking between meals, but not at the expense of enjoying the meals themselves. Lesson: don’t cook something time-consuming straight after a swim (when it’s already late and you’re already starving) – or, if you must cook something time-consuming, make the effort to resist snacking while it cooks.

Thursday 14th April

Breakfast: Egg and cheese muffin with hash browns

In Burger King. I love Burger King breakfasts. 

Lunch: Cheese and tomato panini

In English, the singular of panini is panini.

Dinner: Spaghetti with meatballs

Snacks: Half a chocolate muffin, some free cheese cracker things

The latter on a plane, where I think it’s obligatory to eat any free food that comes your way.

Friday 15th April

Breakfast: A banana

Brunch: Scrambled eggs and smoked salmon on a bagel

Dinner: Noodles with grated cheese

Snacks: A square of very dark chocolate

There goes the pasta-with-cheese again. Twice in a week is unusual even for me, but the latter part of the week was spent in Dublin and eating habits invariably get disturbed with travel.

Unsurprisingly, the best food of the week was Saturday’s lunch, prepared with care and shared with friends, and the worst food of the week was the stuff I didn’t really want but ate because it was there – to wit, the two emergency pittas and the chocolate muffin. In Fat Is A Feminist Issue Susie Orbach talks to women who say they don’t know what need they’re trying to fulfil when they open the fridge late at night, but they know it’s not hunger. In my case, it’s quite often boredom. As I said last week, I didn’t keep this food diary in order to change my eating habits, but on reflection I think “not eating things you don’t want to eat” is a pretty good habit to get into.

The blogroll

I’ve added some links to my blogroll, so I thought I’d take the time to write a little bit about each of them.

Jamie Oliver and Delia Online are pretty self-explanatory. I use recipes by plenty of other people, but if I’m looking for a basic recipe I’ll go to Delia for the reliable version and Jamie for a twist on the original. If I’m doing something that is likely to require precision, like baking a pudding or a cake, I know I’ll get a tried-and-tested and uncomplicated solution from Delia. Jamie’s recipes are a bit more haphazard (a slosh of this, a handful of that), but since that’s how I cook anyway, I don’t mind it.

Eat like a girl is the lovely Niamh, with whom I used to work in a non-food-related setting. I only found her blog by accident after I friended her on Facebook, but it turned out she was one of the UK’s best and best-known food bloggers, and she’s recently been rightly rewarded with a book deal. Comfort and Spice comes out later this year, and I’m really looking forward to it. She writes about recipes, restaurants and food-related events in a straightforward and engaging way.

The London Feminist Discussion Group is the online presence for a women’s reading group which I belong to. The blog discusses all kinds of issues relating to feminism, while the group meets up irregularly for book discussions and clothes swaps. They have some really interesting things to say on a lot of subjects, and I hope to lure one of two of them over here at some point for some guest posts.

Really Hungry is recipes and foodie tales from Jane, who is living the dream by ditching her highly-paid sales job and going back to college to become a chef. Like Niamh’s, her recipes are interesting without being too difficult to attempt. She also looks very cute in her chef’s whites.

Shapely Prose is no longer updated, but the archive is worth reading. It was where Kate Harding and a series of other bloggers wrote about feminism and fat acceptance. It’s also the home of the BMI project, which explained more articulately than words ever could why the concept of BMI as a useful indicator of health, size or anything else was a nonsense.

The Rotund is Marianne Kirby, who along with Kate Harding wrote Lessons From The Fat-O-Sphere, the book which we read in the women’s group which started off the thought process which has led to All Stewed Up. Marianne writes wittily and tirelessly about the politics of being fat, and anything else that takes her fancy.

I’ll add more links as I come across them.


This is a blog about food, but it’s not a food blog. There are enough of those already, and I’m not a chef – although I will post recipes, because I like to cook and I like to share the results. It’s not a blog about health and nutrition, because I’m not qualified to talk about those things with any authority. And it’s definitely not a diet blog. In fact it’s the opposite of a diet blog: it’s about enjoying eating without feeling guilty about it. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? We’ll see.

A week from now I’ll post a food diary listing everything I have eaten this week. I think food diaries are mostly stupid, but I won’t be using it to learn about my “bad” habits or shock myself into eating less or differently: I’ll just be using it as a kicking-off point for a conversation about my own eating choices and what prompted me to start writing about food, in between writing about plays and writing my never-to-be-published novel and writing about my noisy neighbour and writing about furniture and going to the recordings of my never-to-be-broadcast radio play – and, sometimes, doing my actual job. And wedding planning. In between all of those things.

Beyond the pale

A few days after I got back from Cyprus, an acquaintance of mine – who was, to be fair, quite drunk at the time – commented on my tan and then said “You look completely different. Usually you look – and I mean this in a good way – like a pasty Jew.”

It’s taken me a while to process this and reach the conclusion that there is no “good way” to look like a pasty Jew. It simply isn’t, whichever way you parse it, a compliment.

It’s also factually incorrect: I may be Jewish (well, sort of, and only partly) but I am not and have never been “pasty”. Pasty means pale, and I am not pale. I know this because I have spent my life being asked “Where are you from? No, but where are you really from? No, but where are your parents from?”. Aged about eighteen I got bored with trying to convince people of the actual answers to those questions (London, London and London) and started making up alternatives. “Iran”, I used to say, or “New Zealand”. People seemed happier to accept that.

You can get stuck in a way of thinking, though. University was the first place I went which was full of people who looked like me, because at Essex the student population in the mid-mineties was about 10% Greek. Having never looked like I belonged even to my own (green-eyed, freckled) family, I suddenly looked like everybody else. It was great, and for the first time I felt pleased to look the way I did. Do.

At around that time I briefly went out with a man who was newly separated from his South American wife. Before he introduced me to his mother, who had Alzheimers, he warned me: “If she says anything strange, don’t worry about it; she doesn’t always know what she’s saying.”

“Strange how?”, I asked him.

“Well”, he said, “she might say something like you’re not as exotic-looking as Paola“.

Not as exotic-looking? Exotic-looking was all I had. It was my USP. If I couldn’t compete on that level, I had nothing left.

Of course, the mother was perfectly charming and I gradually came to realise that the problem in that relationship lay with the boyfriend and not his dementing parent. But it left its mark, because I’d just started to come to terms with the fact that I would never be a blonde-haired, blue-eyed princess, and suddenly I wasn’t  foreign-looking enough either. It took a while to get over that one.

These days, I avoid answering at all. “I’m just dark”, I say. “Just dark. Nothing else.”

Because the troubling aspect of this question, and the regularity with which it is asked, is that I don’t understand why it matters. What is it about me, about you, about my relationship with you, that means you need that particular piece of information? What difference does the answer make? It wouldn’t be so surprising if I lived in a country with a less diverse population, but in Britain, and especially in London, everybody is from everywhere. So since I am obviously English, what is it, really, that you want to know when you ask me that?

But part of the reason I think I like visiting Cyprus and Spain and Italy so much is that I look more like a local than I do at home – sunburn, poor command of the language and enormous straw hat aside.

Style spot

I saw this woman from the top of the 68 bus in Camberwell yesterday evening, and snuck a photo:

Woman in Camberwell

I really love the way she’s dressed, and I envy her her eye for an elegant combination: I probably wouldn’t have seen the potential of any of those items of clothing individually, and I certainly wouldn’t have thought of throwing them all together to create a look of casual insouciance that is only augmented by the two giant bags of Monster Munch.

You can’t tell in this shot, but the jacket is actually a tailored blazer with buttons. I have never known what to wear on cold summer’s days. She makes it look effortless.