Posts Tagged ‘Waitrose’

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bare necessities.

September 15, 2012

Now that Toby has returned from Aberdeen and payday is imminent, my thoughts are turning to the new flat we are going to acquire in the coming weeks. We are considering a range of locations, including Earls Court, Fulham, Kensington, Putney, Hammersmith, Barons Court and Chiswick, and a lot depends on the transport links and whether we can afford one or two bedrooms (two bedrooms would be nice so that we could have friends and family over to stay, but it’s not a necessity and we’d have to be willing to sacrifice a more central location). So I’m expecting us to have a flurry of viewings over the next few weeks in order to find a suitable place! I’ve therefore been thinking about what are the essential things I need in a home, and my experience of life both in Earls Court and Fulham has taught me some valuable lessons. To wit:

  • washing machine

Since moving into Toby’s flat in Fulham, the presence of a washing machine feels like a glorious luxury. When our clothes are dirty, I can just go upstairs and put them in the washing machine; I no longer have to keep them in a River Island bag (or two) which I cart down the road for a fifteen-minute walk or five-minute bus ride each weekend. I will never live somewhere which does not have a washing machine ever again. And if I can wangle a tumble drier too, even better.

  • wardrobe

However, in contrast, living in this new flat has meant that I’ve had to be creative about storing my clothes. In Earls Court, I had two little wardrobes, which was absolutely perfect – one for casual clothes and one for my work outfits. Here, I have a drawer and a half, and I have hijacked half of a clothes rail that frequently lists from side to side and occasionally dismantles itself. I detest folding my clothes and keeping them in a drawer, because they always end up creased and it takes me five minutes to find the garment I am looking for. I much prefer to have all of my clothes hung up and ready for selection, without fear that my choice will be rumpled. So I need a good amount of hanging space.

  • mirrors

I also miss that my flat in Earls Court was liberally furnished with large mirrors. One full length mirror and one square mirror in the living / bedroom, a small mirror above the sink in the bathroom, and mirrored bathroom cabinet doors. To be honest, even I (with my vanity) found it a little superfluous, but I certainly appreciated it. In Fulham, the only mirrors of a decent size are in the bathrooms. Nothing in the living room, nothing anywhere else; I have imported my tiny circular desk mirror into our bedroom so that I can moisturise and attempt to do my hair in the morning before work, but it’s not really sufficient – I have to keep going down the corridor in order to see myself and make sure I am presentable before I leave the house. It’s not ideal – I need mirrors!

  • proximity to a large supermarket

One of the few areas where Toby and I diverge is our preferred supermarket. Toby loves Waitrose (which I generally despise), while I am cheap and cheerful and frequent Tesco. But even the Tesco Expresses and Metros of the world are not really enough for me to get everything I want. I like basic orange juice in large cartons, coconut water, and small cartons of orange juice. I find it utterly mystifying that I cannot find these items for a decent price in anything other than a large-sized supermarket – but apparently this is the case, and so I need to be within walking distance of one of these.

  • coat tree

This returns to the issue with the wardrobes, and with the unreliable clothing rack that I am now using. We hang our coats, hoodies and jackets on either end of the rack to balance its weight, but this isn’t really ideal – and it makes the whole thing ultimately heavier anyway. Back when I lived in Bristol with my parents, we had a wooden coat tree which would periodically topple over from the weight of the coats on it. My mother once exhorted me to get rid of some of my coats – this escalated into a debate where my parents and I made three piles of each of our coats. Embarrassingly, my pile was larger than both of my parents’ combined. Hence, even after purging some of my outerwear, I do like a nice coat or four and thus need a coat tree to keep them all on.

  • piano

Today Toby and I went to Westfield to meet up with his parents who’d come down to London to spend a lunchtime with us. At one point, I was in the Village and there was a very talented pianist playing, whom I stopped to listen to. The beauty of the music came close to bringing tears to my eyes. I miss my piano, and while this isn’t strictly a necessity right now (it will be when we buy a place), I would love to have space for a piano in my new flat so that I can play and compose music.

  • a large kitchen worksurface

I realise that at this point, my cookery project (which lasted an impressive 7 months out of 12) has come to an end / gone on hiatus (depending on whether I end up restarting it or not). I guess I did well enough; although I did think that sheer stubbornness would carry me through to December. I detested cooking; I detested choosing a recipe, hunting down the ingredients, and then all of the preparation and stirring and waiting and checking and tasting, only for the finished product to last about 10 minutes on the plate before I’d finished eating it. All of that effort, and for what? I’d much rather have a necklace. But Toby’s kitchen has got a larger work surface (and a hob that’s at arm level rather than eye level, which is pleasant), which makes the occasional moment when I do decide to make food a lot more tolerable. So I need a reasonably spacious kitchen.

  • library

During my time in the Royal Borough, I joined the library. Libraries are such a good resource; not only do they provide access to the internet for the elderly and run a range of semi-interesting events, but they have a wealth of media and books that you can borrow, read and then give back. You can enrich yourself (academically and personally) without spending a fortune or permanently cluttering your house. They also have a small but useful section of foreign language books which I have started utilising to keep my Italian vocabulary alive between terms (I start again at the end of the month, yay!). I really appreciate the library and I want to live near one.

I am unsure whether I will be able to have all of these things in the forthcoming flat, but as many as possible would be wonderful, and some of them are indeed necessities. But in the years to come and the homes I come to make my own, I hope to have all of these things!

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Learning to cook – the journey begins…

January 4, 2012

In my New Year resolutions for 2012, my first resolution was to learn to cook a new dish every month. Now, I haven’t decided what the month of January will hold yet, but just to give you an idea of what starting point I’m at… it’s basic. Things that I can cook include lasagne, mushroom risotto, pasta, a range of ready meals, sandwiches and toast, and combinations of microwaveable foods. I’ve never been very inspired to cook anything more complicated than this because a) I find the process of creating a meal frequently tries my patience, and b) why should I cook a meal for one which takes longer to make than it does to eat?

I am in the very lucky position of being in a relationship with a fantastic cook. He is in the equally lucky position of being in a relationship with someone who enjoys cleaning and household chores. So why should I even bother learning to cook? Well, I’m an adult now – no longer a student, or living at home; Toby comes round my place nearly as often as I stay at his, and I want to be able to make meals that are tasty, interesting and also occasionally healthy. Eating out is expensive, and eating takeaways can get unhealthy and uninspiring. Perhaps I’ll lose some weight and get healthier along the way? I also want to add to my skill set, and I kind of feel that cooking is something I really ought to learn, as a worthwhile (and sociable) human being.

I’m not a natural chef (see: lack of patience; lack of understanding what foods go together; issues around eating and weight), but I did have some cookery lessons at school. I made things like pasta carbonara, quiche, bread, triple chocolate upside-down cake, and they always turned out well – however, I might attribute some of this to my desire to succeed in a classroom setting, rather than any potential I had as a cook. The only thing I ever did mess up was crème caramel, because I burned the caramel in the oven. (I later found out that I didn’t really like crème caramel anyway.) But for the most part, I had a recipe which I always followed to the letter, and things always turned out fine. However, Toby has discovered that there are some basic things that I didn’t know. For example, don’t lick your fingers when you have been handling raw chicken or raw egg – this is bad for you. He asked me, “didn’t you have food technology lessons at school?!?” To which my reply was “No, we studied Latin instead.” I think I was due to have 6 weeks of cookery lessons in 6th form, but instead I was chosen to be a peer mentor and had 30 hours of training in mentoring and listening skills from a psychologist.

Moving on… Last month, I made a lovely meal of honey and mustard roast chicken breast (courtesy of Waitrose), with chips, salad and croutons with caesar dressing. I was pleased with this meal because I picked the ingredients in the supermarket myself and created the dish in my head as I walked through the aisles. It was delicious. Tonight (and this is not counting towards my dish per month resolution), I had a go at making steak pie (courtesy of Sainsburys) with steamed baby corn, beans and boiled potatoes. This presented some challenges to me as I have never steamed vegetables, and I have never boiled potatoes.

The easy part – I shoved the steak pie in the oven for 35 minutes. This gave me 35 minutes to:

  • discover that one of the hob rings on my mini oven doesn’t work when the oven is on;
  • boil the potatoes on the other hob;
  • realise that supermarket estimates for cooking are not always to be trusted;
  • learn how to steam vegetables in the microwave (thank you Google);
  • find out that it’s not worth using tablespoons to measure out water.

After accumulating all of this knowledge, dinner was served:

steak pie, potatoes and steamed vegetables

It was yummy! The pie and potatoes (after the initial panic that they weren’t cooking on the hob) turned out very well. If I could do it again, I would have steamed the vegetables for longer in the microwave, as the beans were quite crisp and fresh-tasting; but the vegetables were still perfectly edible. The whole point of this, and my cookery journey, is that I am going to learn skills I didn’t know (however basic they might be) and improve my culinary capabilities. I am not ashamed of being such a novice cook, because I am doing something about it. And if you are reading this and thinking that you can’t cook either, then let’s take this journey together. I will be completely honest about my failures and lack of knowledge, and hopefully the fact that I will be able to make successful dishes in spite of these will be proof that even though we aren’t all born chefs, we can all learn to cook something simple, yet tasty and interesting.