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Archive for the ‘Just life’ Category

Reading: I’m reading a wee bit more lately, and have been lucky to find several really excellent books, each one quite different from the other. I love reading a variety of books, and could never stick to just one genre.

Just this morning I finished the fabulous Elizabeth Knox’s Wake. I note that some of my book club friends read it about seven years ago, but it’s taken me a while to get to it. It was funny though – when I downloaded the book onto my e-reader, it asked me if I would like to go to the page last read. I said yes, curious to see how far I had read, because I had no memory of it! It was only a few pages in, so I reread those, then gobbled up the rest of the book in just a day or two, which is pretty remarkable given my lack of reading much of this year. I haven’t always loved the mystical nature of some of Elizabeth Knox’s books (The Black Oxen took a couple of attempts), but this one was pitched exactly right for me, and gets five stars on Goodreads.

I’ve also finished Kindred, by Octavia Butler, a time-travel history into the early 1800s in the US which was fascinating, as I always like anything historical. And listened to Kamala Harris’ memoir, The Truths We Hold. I like listening to memoirs as audiobooks, especially when they are read by the author themselves. It seems more authentic. This was fascinating for a few chapters when it delved into her childhood and family background, but much of it was a political manifesto, written before she ran for President. Still, I learned a lot about her, her history, her qualifications, and principles, even if it was – as I expected – somewhat sanitised.

Kazuo Ishiguro has long been a favourite of mine, so I was thrilled to find a new book from him. Klara and the Sun was very enjoyable, and an easy read. But it didn’t really deliver too much that was new for me, though I know others (including one of my former book club friends) who loved it.

The Quiet Girl by S F Kosa was a mystery that kept me gripped too, and although I thought I had figured out some of it in advance, I wasn’t 100% sure, which is the mark of a good mystery!

Finally, I read Grace Dent’s Hungry, a funny and honest memoir of The Guardian’s restaurant critic. (Thanks to Loribeth who reviewed it here). I read the memoir of Ruth Reichl (former NYT critic) years ago (Garlic and Sapphires) and loved it, so was delighted to find a UK story too. I could relate to the discovery of new food and flavours, after growing up with a very traditional NZ diet (though not nearly as “beige” as Dent’s childhood died) until I landed in Thailand as a 17-year-old.

I gave all of these books three stars and above on Goodreads, which means it was a great month or two of reading. I use their star standards – eg three stars means I enjoyed the book, and would recommend it, four stars means I thought it was really good, and five stars is a book I loved.

Watching: Wimbledon, of course, and the Olympics, of course (as I wrote here), and more recently I’ve been keeping a check on the Paralympics. I’ve been delighted and fascinated by the sports I didn’t know existed, the categories that have allowed so many different people to compete, and I have been beyond moved by the efforts of people who have faced such obstacles in life.

In between the two Olympics, I binge-rewatched some comfort series, namely Downton Abbey. The Husband and I have watched a few different series, the names of which now largely escape me (Money Heist over two days in the weekend), and we’ve just started The Departure, which looks promising.

Daily viewing for the last few weeks in lockdown has been the press conference by the DG of Health and the Prime Minister or Minister for COVID Response, when they announce case numbers and progress. We seem to have stopped the spread, with the R rate currently under 1, but new cases are still popping up in our biggest city, Auckland. We’ve just watched the announcement that the rest of the country will move to a lifting of many restrictions, going back to a more normal life on Wednesday, though with increased mask requirements. I know the rest of you are already very accustomed to this, but it is new for us.

Listening: Radio NZ, of course, which is on at the moment as I write this, and just a few things on Spotify. And when I walk, I have been listening to my audiobooks. I’ve just downloaded Shuggie Bain, so I need to go on a few walks to get through that one!

Following: The usual. Progress (or lack of progress) with COVID-19 and vaccinations across the globe. News. Photographers I envy. Yes, exactly the same as three months ago.

Drinking: Today for the first time in three weeks I had a flat white (coffee)! My husband came back from the supermarket with a coffee. We’re currently in a lighter lockdown than the first two weeks, which enables food and drink to be purchased to take away. I’m not a coffee addict, but I did enjoy that one this morning! Otherwise, alcohol-wise, we’ve been drinking a little more in lockdown than we would usually, though we still have several days a week when we don’t drink. Mondays would normally be a no-alcohol day, but I have a half-full bottle of chardonnay in the fridge that I opened for a Zoom chat with some friends on Saturday night. So in a few hours, it will be a case of “Cheers!”

Cooking: To keep supermarket visits to once or twice a week during lockdown, I’ve been trying to empty the freezer of meat and bagels, etc. A good excuse to spring clean the freezer and pantry! Not to mention that I quite enjoy planning out the week’s menu in advance. I experimented with burgers (not something my husband has ever particularly liked) including a brioche-like bun, because we missed out on the food festival Burger Wellington this year. I’ve made homemade pizza too, for a Saturday night meal. I have vegetable soup and pumpkin gnocchi in the freezer, and have generally been eating pretty healthy. Well, except for the sticky date pudding I made for the first time last week. Oops. Tonight on the menu we have pumpkin, feta and bacon pasta.

Eating: See above. I don’t mind eating home-cooked food. I sometimes complain that I’m in a recipe rut, but the truth is I really like eating my favourite dishes (curries, fried rice, lamb shanks, tagines etc), and they work so well as winter comfort food too, so not being able to go out, or buy takeaways, doesn’t bother me. Prior to lockdown we got out with some friends for a fun evening at the beginning of the August food festival, and we’re all grateful that we managed to do that.

Wearing: A more casual version of my winter uniform, which includes black thermal tops (I have several) and black yoga pants. The only time I dress up – or at least, put on a bit of makeup – is when I zoom. Even though I discovered the other day I can put on lipstick and eyebrows through the Advanced Video Settings, and so barely need to do that!

Appreciating: Our government. I look at the delta variant raging around the world, and am grateful that we have had so long living COVID-free thanks to their policies, and hopefully will be free again soon. Our vaccination programme has been slow, largely because the vaccinations needed to get to us after first going to countries that were much more needy. (I had my first dose in mid-August, and my second is scheduled for the end of this month.) It’s ramping up now, and I’m very appreciative too of my fellow citizens who have been rushing to get vaccinated the last few weeks. Of course, I don’t yet know what levels we’ll ultimately reach, so I really hope I’m not speaking prematurely!

Anticipating: Catching up with friends. I know we’ve only been in lockdown for a few weeks, but it will be lovely to see people face to face. It reminds me how tough it has been for so many of you for so long. And The Husband and I have a few travel plans for the next six months, figuring out where we can go in NZ and what we can do that would be fun, or new. NZ is pretty small, so we’re going to start running out of options!

Loving: My hair! (Well, almost!) Finally it has passed that really awkward stage I was at a few months ago, and I’m pleased that it’s looking closer to how I wanted it to look. I have very wavy hair, so as it gets a little longer, I’m keen to experiment with some “curly-girl” techniques. I’m not sure it will work, but it might be fun to try. And if it is a disaster, I still have my trusty straightener, because leaving it to wave naturally at the moment isn’t an option!

Still unashamedly copying Loribeth’s regular series every few months here on A Separate Life.

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A blogger friend mentioned that they went back to the mall recently for the first time in 16 months. She said, “In many ways, it was less stressful to give things up in 2020 than it has been to add them back in 2021.” Even though I’ve known in principle that this is how my family and friends overseas have been living since March 2020, it still blows my mind at the idea of doing these things for the first time in so long, and wondering how that must feel.

Then I stopped. In shock a little. Because I’ve been avoiding the obvious. Or had my head in the sand, refusing to acknowledge what is the truth! Though I know I’m not the only one. For the last 17 months, we’ve all been talking about “when COVID is over” or “after COVID.” But it is now patently obvious that, due to incompetent governments, selfish or foolish people, misinformation spread by the ignorant, and disinformation spread by unscrupulous, cruel, and corrupt people and organisations, there will be no truly post-COVID world. The vaccines aren’t going to win the battle entirely. They will make a huge difference, but the world seems to have been working against them being as effective as they could have been. What with variants running rampant, and vaccine resistance at unprecedented levels, it’s unlikely that we’ll eliminate the virus in the way that we’ve been able to with other diseases. Not in the short-medium term at least. (What even is “short-term” in terms of a pandemic?) This is what will change our lives forever. Or stop those whose lives have already changed from getting back to “normal.” Normal no longer exists.

Still, the rest of the world, as it sees vaccination rates increase and borders and restrictions open, will feel that their new normal is a welcome freedom. But for those of us in New Zealand, blissfully (by and large) living in our little COVID-free cocoon, it is going to be the opposite. We have spent most of the last 14 months living life as normal, except for a) using an app to scan in when we enter shops, medical centres, buses etc, and b) wearing masks on public transport and flights. And of course, our borders have been closed. But as our economy and society opens up to the rest of the world, as it must eventually, the freedom we enjoy now will disappear. Forever. We’re going to have to get used to wearing masks in more places, even as you – if you live overseas – might find you have to wear them less, and rejoice in that fact. As you get used to meeting up with friends and going to malls and restaurants again, for the first time, we will have to train ourselves to start thinking about risks involved. And as you get used to travelling again, including to our country, we’ll have to get used to travelling with a sense of risk and restrictions. It’s all going to be a loss. One I can see coming, but can do nothing about. A New Zealand lifestyle lost, as imposed on us by the rest of the world. It makes me sad. A little angry. And it is one I am mourning. The life we had. The dreams we once had. Changed forever.

But maybe I need a change of attitude too. Instead of chafing at the bit to escape these shores and visit friends and family and see the world, I need to try and appreciate what we still have, whilst we still have it. Because I know how lucky we have been. And I know that it cannot and will not continue.

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Last year, after a chilly June, our winter was very mild. I felt very short-changed, because I like to feel all the seasons. This year is a bit different. Winter started earlier for us, partly because we were in the South Island, and I delighted in freezing temperatures and snow in the middle of May.

We’ve had a few very cold (for us – about 4C/39F) days this winter, with hail and sleet but no snow. (Last time we had snow was 2011!) Our central heating was struggling to get to 20-22C (68-71F), which is what we set the thermostat to in the winter, so we had to supplement it with another heater. As a result, I got to wear my leopard-print fluffy slippers – I didn’t wear them at all last year at least, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t wear any the year before either, as socks were all I needed. I love my leopard-print slippers.

Over the weekend it was blowing a gale and teeming with rain for the last 18 hours. Floods all over the country, and I’ve just seen a photo of the carpark at our supermarket with water flowing through it. We got off relatively unscathed, though we were annoyed to find one or two leaks. It was kind of nice to hunker down inside as the rain pelted down. For once, I actually finished a book!

Winter food is a highlight of winter – and the red wine that goes with it too, of course. Apart from one roast dinner, I’ve really been sticking with many of my everyday meals (curries and tagines, for example) that translate well into winter food. I have plans for some traditional winter recipes.

So I have researching pudding* recipes. As a child, hot, hearty puddings with custard were the sign winter had arrived. I was always very happy on the nights a steamed pudding or an apple crisp (like a crumble, except crisper) was served. My favourite steamed puddings were golden syrup, and ginger (ginger-flavoured anything is very much a family favourite), but my sisters and I couldn’t find our mother’s recipes for them. So I’ve been googling, and will report back once I’ve experimented! My husband and I both ended up going to the supermarket and buying bananas last week (communication breakdown!), and – as the bananas were rapidly going off – I found a recipe for Banana Almond Crumble and made it last night. It was very yummy. No custard though. Maybe next week.

Yesterday I also made a big batch of pumpkin gnocchi and froze it. I only used half the pumpkin, so may have to do another batch this week. And I intend to have some slow-cooked lamb shank dinners, soup and homemade bread lunches, and my foodie friend and I have plans for a winter degustation menu at their beach house. So I’m hoping that winter is far from over, and we still have plenty of time to indulge in my seasonal favourites!

What are your favourite winter dishes?

* Pudding in NZ/UK/Aus etc is used either as a synonym for dessert, or describes a hot pudding.

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