So – 2015! How on earth did that happen? My father once told me that the older he got, the more he tended not to remember individual years but rather just decades – and I am beginning to understand what he meant. The 1980s were high school and university; the 1990s were postgrad and the start of my working lfe; the 2000s were the start of my life in London… and here we are, terrifyingly already half way through the next decade, for which I have yet to find a defining feature – perhaps the decade of blogging and travel? This year for the first time in ages I greeted the new year in South Africa surrounded by the people I love the most, in a house by the sea which seemed designed to encourage contemplation of the year gone by and ambitious plans for the year ahead. I find that nothing clears the head quite like sea air, sunsets, long walks on the beach… and a temperamental internet connection.
I’ve mentioned before that I don’t really like making new year’s resolutions. They are always made in the heat of the moment, usually after a few glasses of wine, and in front of people you want to impress. So in other words, they are almost always unachievably ambitious and doomed to fail, making you feel like a failure. So this year, instead of resolutions, I simply thought back over the past year about all the things I was grateful for (the amazing strangers who got me off a mountain with a broken leg and then fixed that leg; my incredible group of family, colleagues and friends around the globe who made 2 months at home on crutches bearable; my strong body and its incredible capacity to heal itself; and the opportunity to travel to five continents in a year despite my accident); and then I thought of the things that had stressed out or bothered me over the past year and how I might deal with them in a way that sucks up fewer of my emotional resources in the coming year.
What I came up with was a little list of phrases or ideas that I formulated on those long beach walks and that I plan to repeat to myself as often as required in 2015 – words that have a very personal resonance for me both in my online and offline life. I hope you find something in there that also resonates with you.
1. Wolves don’t lose sleep over the opinions of sheep.
Remember when you were six years old and you danced when you felt like it; you sang loudly whenever the mood took you; and you wore a pink tutu to the supermarket just because you could? But then as the years passed, you spent less time doing stuff just because you wanted to and spent more time worrying about what other people thought of you. Did they think you danced like a fool, sang off-key, or that your legs were too fat for that tutu? And before you knew it you had stopped doing what you really liked and started trying to conform to other people’s ideas of what you should be doing. This year I will keep reminding myself that just as wolves don’t lose sleep over the opinions of sheep, I am going to stop worrying about the opinions of people who aren’t close friends or family. Yes, you may have your own opinions on how I should be running my life, my relationship or my blog and you are entitled to them. But I am equally entitled to politely decline to agree with your opinions (and not lose any sleep over it!).
2. Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.
I have never classified myself as a Polyanna type who is always grinning through life’s adversities. In fact, anybody that knows me knows that I am far more likely to employ dark humour and a bit of swearing to get through difficult times than a rictus grin and fake cheerfulness. But at my core, I am a positive person and I have realised this year how draining it is for me to be around people who are habitually negative: the doomsdayers, the drama queens, the happiness vampires, and the chronically emotionally needy. Up to a point I can hold my own and not fall into the black pit of negativity, but after that it just saps my energy and dulls my creativity. Spending time with positive people recharges my batteries and stimulates me so as the song goes, in 2015 I will accentuate and focus on the many positive people in my life and eliminate (or at least corrall!) the negative ones.
3. Haters gonna hate…
Do you remember the last time you heard one person pass a really nasty comment about another person – about how stupid or how ugly or how fat they were? Did it instantly make you respect and look up to the commenter, attributing to them the intelligence, slenderness or beauty that the other person supposedly lacked? I am going to bet I know the answer to that one… Sure, we are all human and from time to time we are all less than complimentary, or we make jokes at the expense of another. But know this: proclaiming to the world how lazy or talentless or ugly another person is does not make you one iota more hardworking, talented or beautiful. And constantly running other people down in an attempt to talk yourself up doesn’t make you big or clever – it just makes you a hater. And as Taylor Swift sang, I just want to shake that off.
4. Comparisons are odious.
When my brother and I were small, we’d always ask my mom which of us was her favourite child. Whatever her innermost feelings on this may have been, she always diplomatically replied that I was her favourite daughter and that Anton was her favourite son. It was a valuable early lesson in the idea that there is little to be gained from comparing yourself constantly to others. It’s in our nature to compare, but it’s of limited use. The singleton compares herself to her married friend and longs for the companionship of a relationship; while the married friend compares herself to the singleton and longs for the freedom of being single. The problem is that both end up unhappier than when they started! So this will be the year of measuring myself against myself, not against others.
5. Remember what’s real.
This one goes out to all the bloggers and social media types out there, of which I am most definitely one. Yes, your Twitter following is impressive. Yes, you are an Instagram or YouTube star. Yes, your blog audience might be glued to their screens awaiting a new post from you today. But even if you earn your living from doing these things, you need to remember that this is a little virtual reality universe set apart from the things that have made human existence meaningful for millennia. Lack of wifi is not the end of the world; Instagram will survive for a day or two without seeing your latte art; and a drop in your blog traffic does not indicate your fundamental failure as a human being. Staying home because you feel obliged to blog on a sunny day while your friends picnic in the park without you is a poor excuse for a life. Much as I love my blog and my online friends (many of whom have slipped across into my offline world), what’s real is spending time with family and old friends; or taking a long walk in a beautiful place without your phone; or simply having a snooze on the sofa with a good book and a purring cat. I plan to do more of these in 2015.
6. Own your stuff, don’t let your stuff own you.
Stuffocation – a feeling of being oppressed by one’s ungovernable heap of belongings. Apparently it is the malady of the 21st century, and anybody who saw the ghastly scenes of shoppers trampling each other for cheap flat screen TVs on Black Friday last year must feel a little tingle of stuffocation. Years of economic prosperity and the celebration of the consumer society has burdened each of us with more stuff than we need and at Cooksister HQ I have reached the tipping point. We spend more time looking for lost stuff; cleaning stuff; maintaining stuff and moving stuff around than every before and it is sapping my will to live. So this year will be the year of eBay, Freecycle and charity shops; of digitising and filing; of buying only things I desperately need or desire; and of making sure the things I truly love are visible and accessible, rather than hidden under mountains of irrelevant and unnecessary stuff.
7. Take care of yourself, always.
Why is it that we are so afraid to put ourselves first? I am guessing it comes from some weird Victorian ideal of politeness where we say yes to things we don’t want to do so as to avoid causing confrontation or offence. But if my skiing accident taught me anything, it is the importance of putting yourself first when necessary, and to take care of yourself both mentally and physically. This can be as simple as eating good, nourishing food; making time for physical therapy or exercise; and getting as much sleep as you require every night; or as complicated as refusing to take sides in a family argument. Taking care of yourself and your wellbeing first just means you will have the physical and emotional resources to handle life’s ups and downs far more easily. I’m not saying I am going to be a self-centred cow for all of 2015, but if you don’t remember to put yourself and your needs first once in a while, nobody else will.
Something else I plan to do in 2015 is to eat more roasted grapes. I had seen a couple of recipes for chicken with roasted grapes floating around on the web but had not been sufficiently intrigued to try one. But when I visited Helen for lunch late last year and she made roasted grapes, I was instantly smitten. Where had these beauties been all my life?? The gentle roasting collapses the grapes’ perfectly round shape and makes them resemble overweight raisins, while at the same time concentrating their sweetness and releasing some of their juice to make a lovely syrupy sauce. Given the enhanced sweetness of the grapes, I decided to pair them with contrasting salty and peppery flavours of halloumi cheese and rocket in a salad which I served as a starter at a dinner party before Christmas. It was a massive hit with the guests – and a massive hit with me because it was super-simple to prepare while still looking very impressive. And it’s definitely a delicious way to take care of yourself in 2015.
What words of wisdom are you taking with you into the new year?
If you love halloumi, you’ll also love these recipes:
- Meeta’s garlicky marinated halloumi on roasted tomato quinoa salad
- My grilled halloumi with za’atar and red pepper coulis
- Becca’s sesame-crusted halloumi with an Asian slaw
- Helen’s rainbow carrots with halloumi
- Jac’s falafel and halloumi kebabs
- Margot’s grilled tomatoes and peppers with halloumi
- about 250g red seedless grapes
- caramelised verjuice for roasting (can also use pomegranate molasses)
- 1 cup pecan nuts, roughly broken
- 2 x 225g blocks of halloumi cheese
- a little olive oil for frying
- 1 large bag (about 120g) wild rocket leaves
- salt and pepper to taste
- Pre-heat the oven to 180C. wash the grapes and remove all stalks. Place them in a single layer in a shallow oven-proof dish so that they completely cover the base. Drizzle with the pomegranate molasses or verjuice and roast for 20-30 minutes, or until the individual berries start to crumple and the juices are released.
- In the meantime, toast the pecans in a dry pan over moderate heat until just beginning to smell toasty (5-10 minutes) - keep a close eye on them because they catch easily!
- Slice the halloumi into slices of approximately 0.5cm thick. Pat the slices dry to remove moisture, then brush with a little olive oil and fry over medium heat in a non-stick frying pan or griddle pan until beginning to turn golden, then turn over and repeat on the other side. Do not overcook as the cheese will become tough and chewy. Drain on paper napkins and keep warm.
- Once the grapes are ready, divide the rocket leaves, grapes and pecans equally between the six plates and top each with at least two slices of halloumi. Drizzle with the juices from the grapes, add salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately
And in other news… I am once again teaming up with Meeta to run a food styling and photography workshop – this time in glorious Vienna in the Spring! On 17-18 April We will be offering you two intensive and hands-on days with two instructors, talking you through the techy bits of how to get the best out of your camera, as well as the art of food styling and the power of Lightroom. I will be presenting a session on low-light restaurant photography and there will be plenty of hands-on styling exercises throughout, with me and Meeta on hand to answer questions and offer guidance as you style and shoot. We will also be taking you to the famous Naschmarkt vintage market, so pack light – you’ll need space for all those awesome props! Registrations are now open – full details are available here. We hope to see you in Vienna!