III. Short Story: My Hands

My hands, they don’t say much. And yet; each morning they greet me arms stretched out reaching for the pale white ceiling but they cannot. I watch my hands they wave hello but all I see are empty palms no one to hold nothing to touch so I observe them instead; I get accustomed to the reality of being awake as I lay in silence there with arms stretched out reaching, for the pale white ceiling but they cannot. Not quite feminine enough always wished for bonier more elegant fingers with longer almond shaped nails and a generous layer of nail varnish – I want my mothers’ hands. Turning them over like the pages of a boring book perhaps if I eyeball them enough they will somehow change? And so I carry on, my mind wandering aimlessly into the same old thought patterns.

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I sit up, staring at the greyish-brown mould. It found a home around the window sills; seeping into my life through the insecurities I leave exposed to the outside world. I remember a place like this, a small room at the back of the flat parents arguing again and the terrifying sight of a dead crow with blood splattered across the bedroom window. A bad, eerie omen – or so we thought – and then I grew up. No dead bird accounted for my father’s actions and yet I said no. I’ll stay here, with dad. I haven’t seen my mothers’ hands in years. Or it would feel that way. She went she asked me to come but I said no a child’s fear more convincing than a mother’s love. I stayed behind though now I know that sometimes giving a person a choice is an act of terrible cruelty I read it on-line so it must be true.

The mould gives off a damp smell. Time for breakfast; I lean over the window with a glass of water and a banana as I take in my surroundings. Work is a mundane comfort in a world where nothing turned out right; brushing my teeth I don’t look up not confident enough to face myself I get dressed and get the hell out. Walking down the road I look for someone I can face a stranger ideally but there is nobody and so an urge came over me to look down. I’m barefoot. What on earth I stood paralysed by the foolishness it was after all winter could I be so lost? Hours, days passed me by I turned around and ran back home and yet the faster I ran the further away home was. A veiled world with no one to share the madness with I look at my hands to find comfort but they are not mine. They’re my mothers’. Her gentle hands covered my frightened face and as I cried I realised something but it was too late.

It was a dream. I dreamt it all. The mould is gone. I stretch my arms out and I see my hands and they are mine and they are my mothers’ also. Where she went I went she didn’t ask I was a child I held on tight she clasped my hand because she knew that sometimes, giving a person a choice is an act of terrible cruelty.

II. The Good, The Bad and Two Lots of Meat-Free Pie

GOMEpie

When food becomes essential to my story I know it’s time to write again.

On the way to my very last lecture at university, I could tell anxiety was getting the better of me. As I approached the campus reluctantly on Day 2 of my period [unfortunate addition to my miserable mood] I told myself to make the most of these next two hours because I might never be a student again. I was late [as always] and decided to climb up to the top of the building where the lecture was held. The sad truth is; my lack of fitness resulted in a very sweaty, tomato-faced, anxious and hormonal [sort-of] victory, finally reaching the tiny cramped room and instantly finding myself in a very intense state of panic.

The thing is, when it comes to anxiety, it’s pretty hard to fool. I sat in my seat with the sun burning my neck, fidgeting and struggling to focus on anything. All I could think of was running for the door – convincing myself to stay and get through it was not quite working this time. After 15 minutes of a conscious struggle, I lift myself up and walk out clumsily, shaky legs and sweaty hands, and a sense of pure defeat and embarrassment.

Though I’m not a big fan of my anxiety, I’ve been trying to learn to understand it and be a little more compassionate. Allowing myself to cry, I decided to take it in my stride and enjoy the rest of the day – by cooking something new. There is something very soothing about the process of cooking; it requires following simple steps which have the power to silence my inner monologue; and in the end, I end up with a plate of comfort and a sense of achievement.

I went for a creamy, cheesy quorn chicken and mushroom pie. Sharing it with my veggie flatmate over some white wine and revision allowed me to take my biggest weakness and make it into something delicious. It’s nothing huge and I haven’t changed the world. I did however, by not allowing for anxiety to take over my day, change my own perspective on what happened, and in a way made this day a memorable one.

Almost a week later, with the exam period having started, I found myself walking to the exact same room. It so happens that my anxiety remembers places and makes them look and seem scary and frightening; yet this time, it almost felt like an opportunity to redeem myself. I entered, with a shaky voice and a put-on confidence, I took my exam and felt like my own personal heroine. And though I had no clue that my exam would be taking place in that very same seminar room, I planned to make that same pie in the evening as a reward for my first week of exams being done.

Although the symbolism is very minor, to me it means a lot. Tucking into the crisp pastry and the creamy filling last week was a source of solace, yet this time round, it gave me a sense of accomplishment. Who knew pies make such good therapists?


 

Quorn Chicken and Mushroom Pie

 

Ingredients:

Quorn Chicken Fillets (around 4/5 of them) or Chicken Pieces

Mushrooms

250 ml Double Cream

one chopped onion

two cloves of garlic

half a cube of vegetable stock

some white wine (optional)

butter

salt, pepper

grated cheddar

shortcrust pastry

1 egg

 

 

Method:

Set your oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Line a small (mine is round) dish with some butter and set aside.

Chop everything up (I like my onion very fine). Put a small knob of butter in a pan along with onions and garlic. Allow them to sweat for a few minutes and then add your mushrooms. Plenty of pepper.

Add your quorn and let it all fry together for around 3 minutes. Add salt and crumble your vegetable stock cube in. Add around a 100 ml of water and let it reduce. An optional step is to add a little bit of wine and let that cook off.

Next, add your cream. Let it reduce slightly and then add the cheddar. Taste your filling and add more cream/cheddar/salt accordingly.

Once ready, put the filling in your dish and get the pastry out. I tend to buy the ones that are already rolled out – grabbing a plate or a dish that’s a similar size, I put it on top of the pastry and draw a circle around it.

This goes on top of your filling – tuck it in gently on around the edges. Cover with egg wash and pop in the oven for 25-30 minutes.

What I like to do is carving out little hearts or leaves from the left over pastry, putting them in the fridge and once the pie is looking golden I pop them on the top (take it out first!) with a bit of egg wash for that rustic Masterchef je ne sais quoi.

Once that’s done, you’re ready to go. Serve on its own or with a creamy potato and parsnip mash.

I. Little changes, New beginnings

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The story of this dish begins very late at night in an awkward little kitchen in Sheffield. Struggling to come up with what to cook for my boyfriend who was coming back from a shift at a fancy Brazilian churrasco restaurant [fancy meat restaurant] [I don’t think churrasco means meat but all I know is there was a lot of meat being served there] I really wanted to pull this one out of the bag and surprise him with something delicious.

An obvious solution for me was to of course, turn to my best friend [and also the best cook you’ll ever meet] – my mum. The amount of times I ring her up to discuss potential recipes or last-minute fix ups with what’s left in my fridge, we could have written a series of cookery books by now.

The consensus was; I do a nice mash and I need something to go with it. My mum suggested salmon wrapped in bacon – a heavenly combination. The reason I know she has talent for food is because she doesn’t eat meat, yet she understands it like no one else. To add a fancy element to the meal – and because my boyfriend is Northern – I needed gravy a sauce.

Though I understand this may cause outrage, we eventually decided to go for a blue cheese sauce, which of course is not gravy, but does possess sauce like qualities.

Safe to say, the food was a success; not quite sure whether that was because it was 2am and he was starving, but nevertheless, it’s achieved its purpose. Food really is about love at the end of it all. And thanks to my mum, my love for food is endless.

I brought this recipe with me when I was away on a term abroad in a small French town. I was working in a family run hotel, and though I had trouble finding my feet in the kitchen at work, one of my colleagues gave me a chance and took me in. I made the salmon for her, she made the most amazing profiteroles and together we fantasised about getting a van and selling our creations as street food.

Though our project didn’t work out, I thought of condensing the dish into a jacket potato extravaganza. The result, my friends, is here to stay. This 4 ingredient meal makes me think of my mother’s ingenuity, her love for food, and how she’s always close by even when I’m far away. It makes me think of change; because having the basics means you have thousands of possibilities to spice things up whenever you feel like it – and because as a Slovak person, a jacket potato is a foreign way to cook a potato (but tasty as).

Biting the mood today with a sprinkle of love and a shit load of spontaneity. You’re welcome.


Jacket potato with salmon, honey and mustard bacon, and a blue cheese sauce 

For a single portion, we’ll need:

1 jacket potato

1 piece of salmon

2/3 thin slices of bacon (alternatively, leave the bacon out!)

honey

mustard

butter

blue cheese

double cream

salt

pepper

lemon

Method:

Wash and pierce the potato a couple of times with a fork. I normally sprinkle a little bit of salt and sunflower oil over the top and pop it in the oven for at least an hour or until ready.

Meanwhile, prepare your salmon. Take the skin off, season with salt and pepper and a little bit of lemon juice. Then take a slice of bacon, and slowly wrap it around the salmon, securing it with toothpicks on the sides. Don’t worry; it’s a messy job – I don’t really care what it looks like as long as it tastes good!

Use two or three bacon slices until the salmon is fully wrapped like a happy burrito. If you don’t eat bacon, skip this step!

With or without bacon, I would be putting the glaze on next. Mix honey, mustard and a couple of drops of lemon in a bowl and brush it over the top. When that’s done, pop the salmon in the oven for about half an hour. Maybe do this towards the end of the potato’s time in the oven, so when you take it out you have a bit of time to get your sauce done.

The potato’s ready to go, the salmon has 10 more minutes left; it’s time for the sauce.

In a small saucepan, combine double cream with any blue cheese. If you really hate blue cheese, just use cheddar! Make sure the sauce is not too thick; stir until the cheese has melted [don’t forget to taste as you go!] and season as you like.

Once that’s done, you can assemble your masterpiece. Cut a star into your potato, season it with salt and butter. Cut up the salmon into little pieces [it really doesn’t matter if it falls apart] and stuff your eager potato with it. If it doesn’t all fit in [which it most likely won’t] just put the rest on the side.

Finally, pour over your cheesy sauce. You can admire your work for a minute before you get stuck in.