On Twitter, @ME_forME, who describes herself as “Just a girl raising awareness for the neuro-immune disease Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME)”, posed the question “ME patients…wondering what your plans are for Christmas. Will you be able to join in and if not how does that make you feel?”.
To which I responded, as I’ve said here, that I’d cancelled Christmas some years ago, and as a result remain stress-free. That, for the most part, is perfectly true, but the human organism is nothing if not perverse, and the depression that has laid waste to far too many Christmases in the past 20-odd years – leading to its cancellation – seems to have decided to sneak up and bite me in the arse again this year. Doubtless because this is the first year I’ve been so completely housebound I can’t even get out to the pub.
So why am I, over the last few days, getting increasingly depressed? I should be, if not delirious with joy, then at least moderately happy that I’m still here.
See, I told you the human organism is perverse. And one thing depression does is screw up my writing ability – this thing is under 1,700 words and has taken 3 days, instead of about 90 minutes.
And knowing, more or less, why I’m depressed does actually help. I know it doesn’t help everybody, but it helps me. It’s the depression that roars out of the darkness like a pitch-black tsunami, and drags me under, without reason or warning, that’s dangerous. This just sucks. Big-time!
As, indeed, does waking up, today, with a 15-pint hangover, without benefit of alcohol, one of the unacknowledged effects of ME. Unacknowledged, perhaps, because anyone who doesn’t drink won’t make the connection.
So, what can I do? Well, one thing that can help, as a distraction, is a little retail therapy (which partly explains why I have so many cameras and computers!**).
**Cameras, anyway. Computers, and a smartphone,** are insurance against isolation. And, of course, without a computer, I couldn’t even buy food, so I have a laptop which is a clone of my desktop machine, though somewhat slower with only 4GB of memory rather than 8. (Compare that to my first machine which had 4MB RAM and a 40MB hard drive to get a feeling for how much Windows, and software, have become increasing bloated as memory, and hard drives, have become cheaper.)
**Which will connect my computer to the Web if my broadband goes down.
I’ve already downloaded a bunch of books to my Kindle, mostly SF by new writers, and ordered a print book about food (which isn’t the same s a cook-book), Around the World in 80 Dishes, by Lesley Blanch. You can read more about her, and the book, here , and don’t let the fact that she appears to be slightly nuts put you off! Mind you, I suspect the reviewer might have a slate loose, too, as she finds the sentence “My outstanding memory of Sardinia is the local breed of donkeys, very small, the size of large dogs,” quite hilarious, for no reason that I can discern. That sentence raises several questions – is it true and, if so, why? – for example, but for me, at least, the hilarity is elusive.
The Guardian currently has a review of 20 foodie books that it recommends for Christmas, but the only one that interests me I already have, Claudia Roden’s magisterial and engrossing “The Food of Spain”. Vastly superior to, and far wider-ranging than, Rick Stein’s hastily-produced TV tie-in, “Spain”. My only gripe is that it’s bloody heavy, and I’m impatiently waiting for a Kindle version. Hell, even an iTunes version would be acceptable, but neither has it.
They do have her allegedly excellent “The Book of Jewish Food,” (Roden is Ashkenazi), at a rather ambitious £19.99. Mind you, as the hardback version is £49.99 that’s not too bad. I think, too, that the iPad is a better vehicle for such books, as you get the full benefit of the print version, photos as well though, of course, it’s not as easy to read as a Kindle due to its weight. I think I might well treat myself.
I did. I got the iBooks version, assuming it would be as photo-heavy as the Spanish book. Wrong. It’s staggeringly dull, and aside from a very few monochrome – and old – photos, it’s devoid of illustration, I should have got the Kindle version – same price – at least it’s easier to hold!** I’m very glad I didn’t stump up £50 for the hardback version. And it’s odd; the Spanish book goes into a great deal of historical detail, and I expected the same attention to detail in Jewish Food – after all, Roden is Jewish – but it’s extremely sketchy, telling me little I didn’t know, yet Judaism is so tightly bound to its culinary traditions, you can’t have one without the other, and to skate lightly over the religious connotations does either no favours. It feels as if she knew she had to mention the religious aspects of food, but felt it might put people off to dwell on it at length which, if true, is a mistake. Perhaps it improves further in, but the early chapters which purport to cover the religious aspects are simply too sketchy.
**Apple tout the iPad as an ereader, but don’t be fooled, it’s much too heavy and inconvenient to hold. The mirror-like screen doesn’t help either
The main reason I read such books, whether they deal with the foods of countries or of religions (one of the best veggie cookery books I’ve read is the Hare Krishna Book of Vegetarian Cooking by Adiraja Dasa), is not for the recipes, but for ideas and new ingredients. From reading about Roden’s Spain I was inspired to make my own Morcilla de Burgos, though there wasn’t a recipe (never let a mere detail stop you if you have the urge to cook – the first batch was bland, so I bought the proper stuff, imported from Burgos – tasted exactly the same!), and, now, my own panceta – pork belly cured in sea salt and paprika – is almost finished. Chorizo, too, are on the list of things I want to make.
I tried them, earlier this year, but just wound up with a pork sausage lightly flavoured with paprika - I just couldn’t get the intensity of flavour into mine that you get in the genuine article. Now, though, I think I have the beginnings of a viable recipe – it just needs testing, and writing down – it exists only in my head right now. In the Spanish chorizo, the chunks of meat are red all the way through, and they’re also oily – you can see the oil through the skin – so I think marinating the meat in a little oil with lots of paprika, plus chillies, and garlic, before it gets anywhere near a sausage skin, will get the job done.
Watch this space…
Still with spending as therapy, as you might know, I bought myself a Dolce Gusto coffee/hot drinks machine and, so far, it’s been very successful. Highly recommended, especially for those of the spoonie persuasion as it gives you a hot drink in seconds. It’ll also give you hot water to make your own, should you wish. It also dispenses cold or, rather, room temperature water – so far, I haven’t found a use for this.
What else? Well, getting back to Christmas, naturally enough I don’t do turkey (a bird with flesh so dull it was as if nature had designed it to match the joyless palates of the Puritans), but I will be making Haricot de Mouton, a traditional French dish of lamb – shanks in my case – stewed with white beans, again, in my case, cannellini beans, bigger and more satisfying than the traditional white haricot beans, the whole flavoured with rosemary, garlic and a little tomato and, of course, on a base of carrots, chopped shallots, olive oil and butter. Wine is traditional too, but I don’t have any, so it might get a little cider, or even beer, we’ll see.
The recipe will be published here in due course and, unlike some of the absurdly complex recipes you’ll find online, this really is a very simple dish – meat, beans, veggies, herbs, stock – just 4 basic components.
The only thing I haven’t decided, which will add a layer of complexity which might not even be worth it, is whether to take the meat off the bones and roast them, to add a little depth to the stock. On the whole, though, I think not – Spoonie rules – KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid!
I must make myself some fruitcake too maybe, just for the hell of it, soaking the fruit in some of Mr. Daniel’s finest first, since I don’t have any brandy or rum. I don’t do abstemiousness! I love food and I love cooking, and it’s a source of great disappointment that I can’t cook as much as I once could. Happily, though, I can still cook just as well as ever.
And my modesty remains unimpaired!
There was something else I intended to write about, too, but I can’t, for the life of me, remember what the hell it was.
So, instead, look at your calendar, or diary – see how it ends on December 31st? Do you think that means the world’s going to end on that day? Has it ever? No, of course not.
Now consider that notorious, much maligned, calendrical device, the Mayan Long Count. That ends sometime soon (the 21st I think), but just like the end of any other calendar, that does not mean that the world is also going to end with it. And let’s face it, the Maya weren’t exactly famous for predicting the future – they didn’t even foresee that their own culture would collapse and fragment.
So, morons, get your heads out of your arses, and go and get the Christmas pressies bought and the food ordered – because you will still be here!
Deal with it!