Letting our shared loss shed new light on mental health issues

Like the misappropriated Chinese symbol for “crisis”, a tragedy like Robin Williams’ untimely death presents both a danger and an opportunity. As the world grieves the loss of a beloved and immensely talented entertainer, our compassion creates the space for a meaningful discussion of suicide and other mental health issues. The “danger” side of this is the tendency to engage in harmful action and toxic discourse that often stops vulnerable people from seeking help. Furthermore, it could drive suicidal thoughts. Is it possible to approach these issues with care and sensitivity in a public forum? Or does our desire for information overwhelm our need for compassion and understanding?

Losing anyone, even a stranger, to suicide feels oddly personal. I can’t look at the image above, or read it’s accompanying message (“Genie, you’re free”) without immediately becoming tearful and overwhelmed with sadness. Part of it is the loss itself, and the other, admittedly stronger, trigger is the painful and very visceral identification with suicidal thoughts and behaviors. I wouldn’t wish that kind of pain on anyone, and in many ways I’m grateful that most people will never have to carry that burden. But sometimes the ignorance of this struggle leads to a very narrow perspective, and as usual the ones who shout the loudest tend to get the most attention. To call the deceased a coward, as this Fox News host did, is perhaps the most hurtful and cruel criticism of all. Though the host has since apologized, this is a prime example of how very flawed and misguided the mainstream media are in their coverage of mental health issues.

I’m reminded of actor/writer Owen Wilson’s 2007 suicide attempt, and the speculation it continues to invite into his personal life, years later. Similarly, Catherine Zeta-Jones’ treatment of bipolar disorder has been well documented and discussed in public. The response to celebrities going public with their mental health problems is rarely met with kindness, empathy, or encouragement. I suppose you could argue that none of those sell papers or magazines, but why can’t any of the armchair analysis and voracious invasion of privacy lead to a more constructive inquiry into the nature of these problems?

I may not (yet) wield a huge influence on popular culture, but what I can do now is to fight the ignorance in my own way, which, it seems, is by sharing my personal life on the internet. There are various reasons why I haven’t written many posts on mental health in the past year, but judging by the response I got to my last post, maybe it’s time to sprinkle a bit of seriousness into the sea of sarcasm and saltiness.

Incidentally, after I wrote the first draft of this post, I found out that the NSPL saw the greatest number of calls in its history on Monday, following the news of Robin Williams’ death. Let’s hope that this terrible tragedy continues to inspire others to seek help.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please contact Samaritans (UK) or National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (USA)

You are not alone!

xx

M

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in anxiety, attitude, bipolar, depression, gratitude, healing, treatment, Uncategorized, wellbeing, wellness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Letter to My Boyfriend, written during my most recent depressive episode

Edit: Since posting this yesterday, I’ve received many heartfelt messages of support and encouragement. I want to thank everyone who got in touch and to apologize for not mentioning in the beginning that this was published at Simeon’s recommendation. We are in this together, and are committed to finding the best ways to cope with depression as a team.

xx

M

 

Dear Simeon

I thought I’d write you this letter, in lieu of more attempts at conversation. I know that the way I’ve handled this situation so far hasn’t been helpful, but I hope you will give me the chance to make it right.

First of all, I hope you can forgive my selfishness. I recognize now that whenever you shut down (which is infrequently) my response is totally self-centered. I don’t respond to your pain, I react to it. I act on the fear that overwhelms me; that I’ve hurt you, angered you, upset you, or scared you to the point where you are going to leave. I’m so blinded by this fear that I can barely see or hear you, let alone consider your needs.

In the past, rather than owning my selfishness, I’ve found comfort in my various emotional handicaps. I have a low threshold for emotional distress, a crippling fear of abandonment, an inability to read other people’s body language or facial expressions without projecting onto them my own fears and anxieties. These are all very real, but at this advanced stage in my emotional and psychological development, I can no longer accept them as barriers to real intimacy. It’s time to move forward.

I dread to recall what it was like to be in the “caretaker” role in a relationship; the uncertainty, the worry, the feeling of powerlessness against an enemy that you can’t — and fear you never will — fully understand. You wear a suit of armor all the time, for fear that if you let yourself be vulnerable, you will be letting the other person down. The habit of putting on a brave face is so deeply ingrained that when faced with your own humanity and frailty, you see it as a personal failure. Maybe you don’t even recognize it as a part of you.

What a terrible thing, to have to live around another person’s constant emotional upheaval, without the recognition or acceptance of your own ebb and flow. How painful to spend so much time creating shelter for another, as you get soaked with rain.

Jelly, I can only offer you my sincere apologies and my most deeply felt compassion. As much as I want to fix or remedy what’s bothering you, I know that the best thing for me to do is to allow what must happen to happen.

I hope you will take this letter in that spirit, and know that the fear I feel now, though very uncomfortable, is helping me to grow. I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to share this with you and I hope that when the time is right you can share your feelings with me, too.

 

I love you.

me&simaug2014

 

Love,

Michelle

 

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The Magic of Necrotourism part 1: Scary Old Churches

It’s official. Four days without internet or phone signal can result in a massive social media bender as soon as technology-starved blogger returns to civilization. I seriously have no idea where the day went, only that I did some work yesterday morning and then it was midnight and I was still looking at photos of bearded dragons. Somebody take me off this Buzzfeed drip!!

Sim asked me what I used to dream about visiting before coming to England. In all honesty, my ideas about England and British culture were heavily if not entirely influenced by Richard Curtis films and British TV shows imported to PBS in the late 1980s (Mystery!, Masterpiece Theatre, Jeeves & Wooster, Blackadder, and Red Dwarf to name a few). I was expecting a beautifully crafted city packed with witty, intelligent, impeccably dressed men and women with good manners and a knack for solving crime. I dreamed of literary salons, meet-cutes, and a social life full of colorful characters straight out of a Noel Coward plot.

I cannot tell you how devastated I was when I got here and learned that this was a nation of over-privileged blowhards, crooked politicians, and racist fatties. Just like America!

In spite of all of this, my fascination for English history (as portrayed through television) has maintained a hold on me, and my travel itinerary always reflects this.

Last weekend was spent in Norfolk, in a small seaside village. It’s a place very dear to my heart for many reasons, one of which is that here I can indulge in one of my favo[u]rite forms of travel: Necrotourism. For those unfamiliar with the term, necrotourism is the practice of visiting tombs, grave sites, battlefields, haunted buildings, medical museums, and other such grim locations for the purpose of education, entertainment, or, in my case, both! Why bother pacing around creepy cemeteries and musty old museums full of dead things in jars? I can’t wait to tell you in this exciting new series. Today’s post is all about creepy old churches.

churchWhy churches?

 

  • They are hella old. The Americans have done a pretty great job of wiping out anything truly ancient, so it’s rare to come across a building that’s any more than 200 years old. The above English church has a piece of glass from the 15th century!! It caused a big commotion in the village of course and I would not want to spoil the surprise with a photo here, so if you happen to be rolling through Wiveton anytime soon, make sure you don’t miss it!
  • They have all the hot gossip. Before Facebook, there was the church bulletin board.  Along with flyers and pamphlets on local history, there are birth, wedding, and funeral announcements for the whole parish. Plus, vendors are all over them things trying to drum up business. You are likely to score a coupon for discount takeaway or a free coffee. If you’re not into that, you can take a stroll down the aisle and read the floor for past events. Yes, you read that correctly. Many churches have memorial plaques and even graves inside with dedications from throughout history. I recently visited a church with genuinely moving testimonials from 400 years ago. Who knew that sobriety was such an underrated trait? NB – I’m pretty sure “sobriety” meant something else back then, because I’ve never known an “amiable” Englishman who isn’t hammered at least two nights per week.
  • They are everywhere. The church pictured above has a rather stunning view of the church in the next town, which is about 2 miles away. With the towns numbering 158 and 376 respectively, it’s hard to imagine why they would need so many churches, but any amount of time in the English countryside will prove to you that they take church quotas pretty seriously. I mean, what if walking 20 minutes rather than 5 minutes meant the difference between paradise everlasting and burning in hell?? WELL???
  • Graveyard.  You can learn a lot about a town’s history just by taking a stroll through the church cemetery. While you’re competing with your travel companion to be the first to find a celebrity grave (or just the oldest one), have a look around. Are there any writers, artists, poets, or musicians? What about unknown soldiers? Can you identify any common gravestone symbols?  You can even learn things from the landscape. Did you know that yew trees have been planted at churches and sacred sites since before the dawn of Christianity?

Wherever your travels take you, remember to behave yourself. It may not be a sacred space for you, but for someone else and thousands of others before them, it’s a place of worship and reverence. I know I can be flippant at times, but I have my limits. I don’t tend to take photos of specific graves, no matter how cool they are, and I rarely take photos inside the church if there are people in there. I’m not suggesting that you have to follow those guidelines by any means, but, you know, try not to let your dog pee in the cemetery.

Have fun, and please feel free to get in touch and tell me about your travels via email or on Twitter. I’m @hexpatriate

 

 

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Busting through writer’s block (plus previews of this summer’s posts)

Creative constipation can strike at any moment, regardless of mental health, agility, creativity, and curiosity. It can last days, weeks, months, and in some cases, years. I strive to stay in shape as a writer, and while I’m much better at it now than ever before, I still fall victim to this trap, time and again. So how do I break free?

Many great writers throughout history have offered practical advice on this subject. Some suggest stepping away from the material and taking a break, while others tell us to soldier through, or as Barbara Kingsolver puts it, “Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done”. Whether it’s an approach that favors what my father calls “molly-coddling” or a stricter form of self-discipline, there is one thing that seemingly everyone can agree on, and that’s that writer’s block — whatever the cause —  shouldn’t stop you from writing.

Lately what keeps me from writing— apart from my usual crippling self-doubt —  is not knowing for sure what to write about. Am I going to post another recipe? Give advice? Comment on a social issue? Tell an embarrassing story? As I waded through the wisdom of famous authors, one piece of advice really stood out:

The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” — Mark Twain

For the past month I’ve come up with several topics that for whatever reason I haven’t been able to flesh out. I’ll get halfway through and then come up with something else that I also can’t finish. So, with good ol’ Sam Clemens’ words in mind, I’ve decided to write them all down here, without the pressure of having to finish any of them right away. Consider this a bit of a “preview” of all the hot stuff to come.

1.Wedding Etiquette for the Socially Anxious

A step-by-step guide to embracing special occasions — despite your aversion to travel, getting dressed up, going to church, answering uncomfortable questions about your relationship, and doing the chicken dance.

2. Being Mentally Ill and Finding Love

I have enough material here for six seasons and a movie. Having weathered so many horrible dates (and one disastrous marriage), I feel confident that I am the world’s highest authority on bad relationships. I can think of about 10 right now — and that’s only last names A – E. Yet, despite many devastating years of heartbreak, I found my one true love.  How did I find someone who could accept me (and my farts) and love me for who I am? I’ll tell you all about that in my next post!

3. Necrotourism

Why my favorite romantic vacations involve visits to ancient tombs, long walks through historic battlefields,  and staring at dead things in jars.

4. The Importance of Not Being Overweight

Catfishing in pop culture, from Oscar Wilde to Nev.

Plus – stuffed baked artichokes, summer pasta salads, and the dopest sugar free vegan cookies you will ever pretend to eat out of politeness!!!

Sound good? GREAT!

Now I’d better post this before I change my mind, and this becomes yet another forgotten dream…

 

 

 

 

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No Comment: Dealing with Internet Trolls

After taking a short break from the internet, I got embroiled in a “debate” on Facebook. Like most people, I share aspects of my life, as well as posting articles that inspire me, excite me, or make me think. One such op-ed, a fairly innocuous piece on the importance of feminism, provoked an unexpectedly ugly response from the audience. It upset me terribly, and against my better judgement, I chose to engage with them rather than ignore them. During my daily meditation practice, I observed myself vacillating between anger, outrage, hurt, and calm resolve. With this seemingly insignificant exchange provoking such a strong response, I had to ask myself some essential questions about the nature of my reaction.

What happened?

I’ll spare you the detailed reenactment, but I’ll try to summarize it in a way that’s fair to all concerned. Certain people took issue with the assertion in the article I posted, and chose to express their opinion. One person in particular took a stance that was grounded in conjecture and when I pointed that out, he/she dismissed any evidence — even empirical research and statistics —  against his/her opinion as invalid. What followed were several comments, which, combined formed an anti-feminist manifesto no shorter than 500 words. Another person chimed in at various points but was gracious enough to recognize (in his/her way) that he/she was misinformed. It ended with me posting photos of Jon Snow from Game of Thrones, so I definitely won.

What was my response?

I took the bait, every step of the way, up until the end. The comments were incendiary at best and at worst, bigoted and ignorant. I reacted emotionally, yes, but I don’t see that as a sign of weakness, nor do I think that it, in that instance, it undermined my argument. I’m not a goddamn lawyer, who cares whether or not I can present a case objectively in this context? Furthermore, what’s the point of even engaging in a debate over something you don’t care about?

How do I know that I’m right?

One person who contributed to the conversation very wisely said that it’s important to examine one’s own opinion. I’m secure in my ability to do that. I don’t hold a confirmation bias, meaning that if I come across evidence that challenges or disproves my existing beliefs, I don’t dismiss it. For example, I ate meat for years and years until I learned about factory farms and the extent to which the agricultural industry is harming the planet. I have always been, and forever will be a “seeker”. If credible information comes along, then of course I will take it into account and re-examine my opinion.

There are of course, things that I learn from experience, and things that I know to be true on a gut level. For example, racism is wrong, as is sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, ageism, and any other form of bigotry. If the heart of someone’s argument is rooted in any of those, how could they possibly be right?

How do I know that the other person is worth engaging with?

There is a brilliant piece of advice that Dr. Maya Angelou gave Oprah Winfrey many years ago — while wearing pajamas! When people show you who they are, believe them. That deserves its own separate post, but it certainly bears repeating here. Knowing the person you’re arguing debating with ahead of time is helpful, but even when you don’t (or if they surprise you), they will often demonstrate whether or not they are worth engaging with authentically. Do they express themselves in a cogent manner? Do they ask about your opinion in a way that conveys a genuine desire to understand your position? Do they carry a confirmation bias? Most of the time, people will show you this in the early stages of the argument.

If a person shows ignorance, arrogance, prejudice, and bigotry, abandon hope. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you could be the person who changes their mind.

How do I engage authentically with someone I know is wrong?

If there’s some indicator that we can learn something from each other, maybe it’s worth it. On a good day.

What could I have done differently?

I should have ended it before it started. I shouldn’t have drawn attention to the fact that everything this person was saying amounted to a pile of fallacious garbage. Not only was that stating the obvious, but it made me look bad for pointing it out. I lost my cool, and I did not show the characteristics of someone open to civilized debate. My emotions and beliefs may not have undermined my credibility, but my anger definitely did. I have no doubt that I was right, but the way I expressed it was not ideal.

What have I learned from this experience?

I regret that I reacted the way I did. I got angry, and instead of walking away, I got on the offensive. When someone proved themselves to be ignorant, I still acted like there was a reason to stay involved. At a certain point, asking a bigot why they think the way they do is like asking a snake why it bites you.

Anyway, I thought it was worth commenting on. From now on I’m not reading comments that don’t have Tom Hiddleston GIFs attached. AND THAT INCLUDES ANY COMMENTS ON THIS POST.

 

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Butternut Squash Lasagna w/Kale OR Spinach – Vegan

Sometimes doing a little bit of extra work at the beginning can save you hours in the long run. That’s what makes recipes like this one worth it. Spend some time in the kitchen today, freeze the leftovers, and you can rest easy for the rest of the week, or weekend. This particular dish is delicious as lunch or dinner any time of year. So plan ahead, make this dish, and get your functional alcoholism on. It’s the freakin’ weekend, baby!

I almost had to skip posting this week, thanks to a particularly disgusting virus. I think you have to work pretty hard to catch a stomach bug as a vegan (or mostly vegan), but as always, if there’s something that’s difficult or challenging, I must try my hand at it. I probably picked it up at the yoga studio I frequent in central London. It’s a “no shoes, no shaved armpits, no problem” kind of place, and if they washed the mats with something stronger than good vibes and tea tree oil maybe I wouldn’t have caught something. Joking aside, I like that place. They have some great teachers, and anyone who can suffer through the huffing and puffing of tightly-wound skinny bitches trying desperately to fling their ankles behind their heads is a-okay in my book.

Sometimes I re-read things like that and I wonder what happened to the girl who chained-smoked Parliament Lights, drank coffee with half and half, bought lotto scratch cards, and sang karaoke at a pool hall most Thursday nights in Germantown, Maryland. The one who worked 12 hour shifts serving ice cream sundaes to mental patients, then spent weekends pouring cheap cocktails down drunk college kids’ throats. Shit, maybe I would still be there if that horrible woman who shall remain nameless — the one who once proudly proclaimed she owned more thongs than t-shirts — hadn’t poured sugar in my gas tank. Thank you, W*****y, wherever you are. Bless you and the marble that saved my engine.

Anyway, lucky for you this week’s recipe is not dry toast.

Submitted for your approval, I present: Butternut Squash Lasagna w/Kale or Spinach

IMG_6719

 

You will need:

  • 1 butternut squash
  • 2 garlic cloves – chopped or 3 garlic cloves if you are using spinach
  • 2 leeks – trimmed and sliced
  • about 125g kale – chopped OR 2 cups of fresh spinach
  • 1 1/2 cups of raw cashews + 2 cups water
  • a handful of fresh basil leaves and/or Italian spice mix
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes*
  • 1 – 2 tbsp tomato paste*
  • 2 cubes vegetable stock or about 3 tbsp vegan vegetable bouillon
  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • lasagne sheets*
  • 2 saucepans
  • lots of olive oil – why do people bother with tbsp if you’re just using it for drizzlin’ or a bit of fryin’? Use common sense. Or maybe 1 tbsp for each pan.
  • 1 glass baking dish or shallow cast iron thing (see photo)
  • 1 pot (for boiling pasta) or a bowl to soak noodles in – optional

* A word on time management and cutting corners – I recommend you read the instructions in full before you get started. I’ve tried to put the steps in the order that makes most sense. If it feels overwhelming to cook everything at once, or you simply don’t have space, please please feel free to cook everything one at a time. You absolutely don’t have to make your own tomato sauce here. You can use a jar of the ready-made stuff. You don’t have to pre-cook the lasagna noodles, either, provided the package says it’s okay. I like to soak the noodles in warm water for 10 minutes rather than cooking them. Fortunately, most lasagna noodles are egg-free, so don’t bother with gluten-free unless you are part of the 0.5 – 1.0 % of people who are for real real gluten intolerant.

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.
  2. Peel and chop the squash. Drizzle in oil and pop in the oven for about 30 – 40 minutes. I know that sounds crazy, but you will be preparing other things in the meantime so it will go by faster than you think.
  3. Blend the cashews with about 2 cups of water until smooth.
  4. For the tomato sauce – cook garlic and herbs until soft. Add tomato, tomato paste, and a sprinkle of bouillon (or a stock cube) and simmer for 15 minutes. If you are using a pre-made sauce, don’t worry about this step.
  5. While you’ve got that going, cook the leeks in oil on low heat for 10 minutes.
  6. For Kale – Add the kale to the leeks with 1/2 cup water and roughly 1 tbsp bouillon or a stock cube. Bring to low/medium heat and cover for 5 minutes.
  7. For Spinach – Add 1 clove garlic and spinach to the leeks, stirring until leaves are wilted. Don’t cover!
  8. Add yeast and cashew cream to leeks n’ kale or spinach to create a delicious creamy leek sauce.
  9. Turn everything off and take the squash out of the oven.
  10. Layer the lasagna like so:
  • 1 layer tomato sauce
  • 1 layer noodles
  • 1 layer leeks/kale/spinach
  • 1 layer butternut squash.

You can do as many layers as you like as long as the b’nut squash ends up on top.

11. Bake at 200 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour. Mmmm Mmmm

IMG_6710

 

Can we agree that lasagna looks like an absolute wreck once you slice it? Because it does. Therefore you don’t need visual evidence here. Just taste it.

Have fun with that and if you have any questions please comment or email me. Thanks!

 

 

 

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Rhubarb & Apple Pie – Vegan and Sugar Free

Last week was a sad one for the O’Hara/Scofield clan, as we lost my grandmother, Judy. I hope to hono[u]r her memory with a special recipe, but since I don’t want to rush such an important task, I’m posting a different recipe this week. Stressful times call for sweet treats, and this pie is both vegan and free of refined sugar. Don’t tell anyone that though, or they probably won’t want to eat it.

IMG_6662Is that gorgeous or what? It’s even got a ruffle around the edges because nobody’s perfect, ho. Don’t let the pattern scare you, either, I promise it’s easier than it looks.

You will need:

  • one sheet of puff pastry – 500g
  • 1 large apple – peeled, cored, and sliced into chunks
  • 2 large stalks of  rhubarb (AKA pink celery) – chopped roughly
  • 3 tbsp arrowroot
  • 1/3 cup agave or Sweet Freedom*
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp vegetable spread/margarine/whichever fake butter you fancy
  • 3ish tbsp of almond milk
  • 9″ pie tin
  • skillet
  • rolling pin
  • pastry brush
  • bitty little cup (BLC) or small bowl

A word about sugar – I don’t have time to tell you how bad sugar is, nor do I care to explain in detail here why sweeteners — yes, even agave — are not great, either. I am not paid to endorse Sweet Freedom. I like it because it is low in fructose (23g of fructose per 100g versus 90g fructose per 100g in agave), free of any nasty chemicals, and it tastes delicious. I use it in everything. However, not everyone has a problem with sugar, and, as with veganism, it’s a personal choice. If you want live dangerously, you can use one cup of the devil’s dandruff, okay? I’m not here to judge. I’ve actually made this without sugar and it’s fine.

Method

  1. Fruit chopped? Awesome! Now preheat the oven to oh I dunno like 200 degrees. Which is like 400 F. Throw it in the skillet and soften ‘em up for about 2 min.

IMG_66392. Add the apples and sprinkle on the cinnamon. Cook for a further 2 minutes. Set aside to cool.

3. In a separate bowl or BLC, mix the arrowroot with 3 tbsp water. Stir to create a “slurry” — which is neither a dairy-based dessert on the dollar menu of some factory food chain restaurant, nor a euphemism for tongue-kissing overheard at theatre camp in the late 1990s. Of course, I never got a “slurry”, or any other organic display of male affection until way after my summer camp days, and not just because there is a lack of straight boys at theatre camp. I had braces, a bad haircut, and a crippling sense of self-loathing that made dating extremely painful. In my freshman year of high school, I finally got a real boyfriend but that ended badly. I don’t want to talk about it.

4. Now that you’ve had a think about your own youthful indiscretions, remove the fruit from heat and mix in the slurry with a wooden spoon. Leave it to cool.

5. Roll out your pastry pretty damn thin, we’re talking about or under 1/2 cm. Reserve about 1/3 of the roll for the lattice.

6. Grease the pan with margarine and line with pastry.

7. Cut two strips of pastry, each 10″ x  1/2″ (about 26 cm x 1 cm). Cut the remaining pastry into strips, about 1/2 inch (roughly 1 cm) thick and 6 inches long (about 15 cm). If the mere suggestion of having to dig out your high school pencil case and find a ruler makes your blood boil, just skip to the photograph and make an educated guess. I either failed or barely passed every high school math class I ever attended, so every time I see a protractor I have a panic attack.

8. Lay the first two strips down the middle, making an “X” (or a “+” depending on the angle). You now have four sections.

9. Once you’ve got those down, all you need to do is create two “V”s inside each of the sections. You can cut the strips in half, and trim them further once you’ve started, but I always err on the side of caution and just overlap with longer pieces. Here I am, demonstrating with my own grubby paws:

IMG_6642

 

10. Brush the almond milk onto the crust.

11. Stick it in the oven for maybe 30 – 45 minutes. Maybe even an hour, but be sure to check it after 25 minutes to make sure it’s not burning.

12. Let it cool, and you’re done! My non-vegan guests had this with vanilla ice cream or custard.

 

 

 

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Warm & comforting chickpea, spinach, aubergine and/or sweet potato curry (vegan)

As the hurricane of shit in my brain rages on, and I’ve put everything of value in my life in jeopardy for the sake of my foolish pride, it’s nice to know that there is still one port in the storm; my kitchen.

IMG_6682When I’m cooking, I feel like I’m taking care of the people who take such good care of me. I may not be the fanciest bitch who ever picked up a spatula (I mean, come on, I only have *one* le creuset round casserole for FFS) but when I can create a delicious, healthy meal for friends and family — even on a terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad day — I feel whole again. At least until I have to do the dishes, then it’s back to despair.

Making the decision to stop taking prescription drugs and instead manage my symptoms through other practical methods (diet, exercise, therapy, and meditation) seemed very wise. I was encouraged by the fact that I withdrew so successfully from klonopin, which is perhaps one of the most sinister and addictive substances that anyone battling anxiety will ever come across. I thought the rest would be a cinch, but what I had failed to consider was the affect that it would have on other people.

I sometimes take for granted the fact that I am not in this alone; that as I suffer, others suffer, too. People depend on me, and it’s not fair for me to make major decisions without carefully considering how it will affect the lives of my friends, family, and colleagues. Yes, concerns about my health should come first, but not at the expense of the rest of my life. That’s why I’ve decided to slow my roll and withdraw in smaller decrements. It may take me longer to quit the chemicals but I’m not in a rush and I don’t want to sabotage my life any further.

Anyway, now that those of you who came to this blog for hot recipes and are unfamiliar with my history have had your induction into the self-indulgent garbage I normally post, let’s get cooking!

I know this is another one-pot meal, but what do you expect? I’m tired!

You will need:

  • 2 tbsp coconut oil (or sunflower oil, or olive oil if you must)
  • 1 tbsp mustard seed
  • 1 tbsp curry leaves (optional)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp medium curry powder
  • 3 tsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 small green chili – diced
  • 6 cardamom pods (or 1 tsp ground cardamom)
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1 medium sized onion – diced
  • 3/4 – 1 cup frozen spinach – thawed, clearly
  • 1 clove garlic – chopped, obviously
  • 1 medium sweet potato – peeled and chopped
  • 1 aubergine (eggplant) – chopped or sliced, depending on your mood
  • some rice or naan bread to serve
  • A big ol’ skillet or a pot, depending on what you have.

If you hate and/or are allergic to any of the vegetables please feel free to omit. The only one that affects the flavo[u]r, in my opinion is the sweet potato. I don’t want to get all political on you, but I love sweet potato and will put it in absolutely everything.

A word about spices: This recipe is pretty spicy, because in my house we like it hot, you know what I’m sayin’? Also I probably burnt off 30% of my taste buds by smoking for 10 years (I quit 2 years ago btw, and you should, too). You can omit the green chili entirely if you want and go for mild curry powder instead of medium. I guess you can also just use straight curry powder, but don’t blame me if it tastes lame as a result. You may look at the cardamom pods and think, “Where the heck am I going to get those, ho? I shop at Tesco!” but trust, they are delicious and actually make a big goddamn difference.

Method:

  1. Are your vegetables ready? You’d be surprised how many times I’ve forgotten to do that before I get started and it always leaves me in a panic. Get the spices out, too.
  2. Heat up the oil and sprinkle in the mustard seeds, cardamom and curry leaves on low-ish head for about 3o seconds. Stand the hell back so they don’t get in your eyes.
  3. Throw in the onions, garlic, chili pepper, and the rest of the spices. Push around for about a minute while the onions soften.
  4. Scoop in the first 1/4 cup of coconut milk (hat solid bit at the top of the can) and spread evenly over the spices for about 10 seconds. Don’t burn it.
  5. Chuck in the rest of the coconut milk and the chopped tomatoes.
  6. Add the vegetables and chickpeas and simmer. You don’t want too rapid a boil or you’ll burn the ever living shit out of it, but if you don’t turn it up enough, the sweet potatoes and chickpeas will be raw. I would use the low end of medium heat, for 20 – 25 minutes. Stir occasionally, as you don’t want to burn the pan.
  7. Forgive the “naan”-sequitor, but you don’t want to forget your sides! The naan bread I used is gluten-free, which is why it looks mingin’. You don’t have to use that one, obviously.
  8. Plate it up, yo! The leftovers will keep for a day or two and they taste even better the next day.

 

 

 

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Spicy Vegan Moroccan Tagine

Hello to all! I’ve had a really rough couple of days but fortunately when I started this blog I put a few recipes in the bank. Please do share, comment, and email me!

Scofield family meals are some of the happiest and most memorable of all our family rituals. We just love hospitality, and we take great pride in welcoming new friends to the table. We have a saying in our family, “Have you seen my glasses? I swear I put them right there!”

Another popular saying is, “If you don’t like what’s on the menu, we will make you something else!” This dish is one I’ve posted before but it remains one of my most popular dinner party jams. It’s easy to throw together and I’ve found that it’s a one-pot, no-fuss option that everyone loves.

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You will need:

  • 1 can of chickpeas
  • 1 courgette (zucchini)
  • 2 sweet potatoes or carrots – both if you want!
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots
  • 2 tbsp Ras el hanout or harissa spice mix*
  • 2 tbsp vegetable bouillon powder or a vegetable stock cube
  • water (for boilin’)
  • a packet of wholewheat giant couscous

*  I prefer ras el hanout, but it is made from like 30 different spices and the tears of Aladdin, so it might be harder to make. You can find harissa paste in a jar but in a pinch you can use the following: 1 tsp ground coriander, 1tsp cumin, 1tsp caraway seed (ground or smashed to hell), 1 garlic clove (in addition to the 2 above), 1/2tsp paprika, and a tsp of chili flakes or a pinch of chili powder and maybe some cayenne pepper. You can add more chili powder if you want or crush a dried red chili but don’t go overboard. It’s better to start with a little and add more once you’ve tasted it. Much like losing your virginity to the drummer in your high school marching band, adding too much chili too early on is one mistake that you can’t take back.

To cook:

  1. Chop your vegetables! Dice the onion and garlic, slice the courgette and/or carrot into discs, and cut the sweet potato into chunks slightly bigger than what could fit on a fork. If it’s too small the potato will break apart and that’s embarrassing, especially in front of guests.
  2. Put the kettle on or boil water on the stove, in a pan, like a normal human being.
  3. Take the onions and garlic throw ‘em in a stove-friendly cast-iron casserole dish or just a deep pot if you’re pressed. Add oil and fry for about 1 minute.
  4. Add the spices and stir around for another minute or so until onions are soft.
  5. Add just enough boiling water to cover the vegetables. Stir in bouillon and chickpeas. IMG_6648
  6. Bring to a rapid simmer and put a lid on it for about 10 minutes
  7. After 10 minutes, take the lid off and give it a stir. Add the apricots and cover again, but this time loosen the lid slightly and leave it open just a smidge so there’s a vent of sorts. I probably should have taken a photo of that but here’s a dog insteadIMG_6643 — DON’T COOK THE DOG.
  8. Leave the tagine for another 1o minutes, and while you’re waiting boil the couscous for about 8 minutes. I like to add bouillon, too, because anything wholewheaty needs all the flavour it can get!
  9. This is where certain chefs might advise you to warm the plates up or set the table or whatever. I suggest you listen to Lisa Stansfield’s “All Woman”

 

10. Turn the heat off, drain the couscous, and plate it up, GIRRL.

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Very Vegan Easter Weekend Mushroom & Leek Pie Recipe

Jesus is coming! Well, maybe not, but perhaps your family is coming and that is just as intimidating. Perhaps you’re feeling left out since for us vegans (or part-time vegans) roast lamb, chocolate bunnies, and jelly beans are not on the menu. Fear not! This delicious pie is the perfect addition to any Sunday lunch menu, and it’s just the thing to “resurrect” your holiday enthusiasm!

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Here’s what you need:

  • one large leek, chopped
  • one medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 cups chopped mushrooms
  • 1 cup raw whole cashews
  • 1 can of broad beans (AKA fava beans – no cianti needed!)
  • 320g sheet of puff pastry (pre-rolled if possible, larger if you want a bigger pie)
  • 1 heaping tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1 heaping tbsp vegan bouillon powder or vegetable stock cube
  • 4 or 5 tbsp almond milk
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cups water
  • a bit of salt n’ pepper to season
  • a large skillet
  • vegan margarine or butter
  • a 9-inch pie tin
  • small mixing bowl
  • hand mixer or blender
  • bitty little cup
  • pastry brush

Steps

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (350F)
  2. In a mixing bowl or blender combine 2 cups of water with 1 cup of cashews and blend until smooth and creamy.
  3. Fry the onion and leeks in oil on low heat until soft.
  4. Add garlic and mushrooms and fry until juicy. Sprinkle on a bit of salt and pepper but don’t “push it” – HA!
  5. Stir in 1 heaping tbsp of nutritional yeast and 1 tbsp of bouillon powder (or crumble a stock cube)

IMG_66066. Gently stir in cashew cream a little at a time. Remove from heat and let cool for a bit.

7. Roll out your pastry, but not too thin, maybe 2-3 cm. Cut about 1/3 off for the lattice and set the rest aside.

8. Slice the lattice into pieces, a little over 1/2 inch. It doesn’t matter if it’s perfect as long as it’s not too thin.

IMG_66089. Grease the pie pan with margarine and line with the pastry.

10. Pour in the filling evenly.

11. The lattice: Don’t worry if it’s not a perfect basket weave, I’ve been very successful at faking it with the following method:

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Lay one lattice length-wise (vertical) and one width-wise (horizontal), like a cross.

 

Moving from the center outwards, alternate one horizontal and one vertical – one left side, one right side, etc)

 

12. if you want, you can use any leftover pastry bits for decoration. I made some dumb leaf thing, but if you really want to show off you can make it in the shape of a mushroom, but it might be misinterpreted and look like a penis. Lower the tone at your own risk!

13. When you finished laying the lattice down, pour some almond milk into your bitty little cup and brush over the pastry.

IMG_662014. Pop that bitch in the oven for about 25 – 30 minutes, checking it regularly. The crust won’t turn golden brown like it would when you use normal milk so you have to keep an eye on it.

15. Let cool for 15 – 20 min. Serve with steamed country vegetables, roast potatoes or fries, and a smug smile. You nailed it! (to the cross)

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