It’s been a fun five and a half weeks folks, but my brain can only take so much excitement. 😄 I am going to take a blogging sabbatical, just to give myself some time for my brain to unwind, and to have some space to reflect.
Hello lovely blog-friends,
How are the final throws of April treating you? Not long until the beautiful month of May. Do you have any nice May plans?
So, something lovely happened last night. One of my very favourite bloggers – The Winsome Baker – nominated me for a Blogger Recognition Award.
I actually read her whole blog post about the award, and didn’t spot that Charissa’s Kitchen was in the list of nominations. I didn’t expect my blog to be on there! It was only when Kearin left me a comment to say she’d nominated me that I discovered that she’d done so.
A Blogger Recognition Award sounds really rather fancy, but sadly there’s not going to be a big awards dinner and an excuse for the full length gold dress! It’s a bit more low key than that. Essentially, the Blogger Recognition Award is a blogger-to-blogger, ‘I like your blog’ device, which works a bit like a chain letter. One blogger receives a recognition award, and then nominates a certain number of other bloggers, who then nominate others; and so on.
To be brutally honest, up until yesterday, I’ve been pretty cynical of these kinds of ‘awards’. They do seem to have taken over the internet of late!
I did the maths – like the geek that I am. If one person kicks off the process and nominates 15 bloggers, and each of them picks up the challenge and nominates 15 more; assuming everyone responds the following day, by the end of the week there would be 170 million nominations! And by day 9, there would be 38 billion. That’s quite a few. 😄 No wonder these award posts are everywhere.
However, when I actually received a nomination from the very lovely Kearin. I felt all warm and fuzzy inside. Someone whose blog I love, likes mine. Hence the happy dance.
It was also really enjoyable reading Kearin’s completely uncynical response to receiving a recognition award. It seems that it’s not just me that feels the warm and fuzzies. So I’m going to take Kearin’s lead… I’m going to leave behind the cynicism, enjoy the moment, and follow the (Charissa-tweaked) rules of the Blogger Recognition Award:
These are they:
- Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
- Write a post responding to the nomination.
- Briefly tell the story of how your blog started.
- Give 2 pieces of advice to new bloggers.
Nominate 15 other bloggers.
- Nominate any number of bloggers from 1 to 15 that you really love.
- Let the bloggers know that you have nominated them. And provide them with a link to the post you created.
The story of how and why Charissa’s Kitchen began:
Cooking, baking, and eating good food are a big part of me surviving and flourishing emotionally in this crazy 21st Century world. Creating food and then eating it are such simple pleasures, and I find myself wanting to share those joyful food-moments with people – to share the joy. So rather than inundate my Facebook friends with yet more posts about sourdough bread, I set up this blog on a whim. It’s very much an evolving thing, and I don’t know if it will be here for the long term. Who knows if food will keep my interest long enough! I’m just playing around with it at the moment; throwing down different types of posts. We’ll see how it goes. I’m certainly enjoying posting my food adventures on Instagram. Food posts work really well on that particular platform. Who knew!?
My pieces of blog advice:
My first piece of advice to a new blogger would be don’t expect to get it right straight away. Blog whatever you fancy and see what happens. Just try stuff out. Some of the blogs you set up – and some of the posts you write – will work really well; others won’t. Learn from each experience and be reflectful. Read other blogs and learn from them. But don’t be afraid to innovate. See blogging as a skill to be honed, and also as an opportunity to be boldly creative. [I am hoping to take my own advice on this!]
My second piece of advice would be have fun with blogging. Too many articles focus on how to increase your blog traffic, take the perfect food photograph, or make money off your content. If your blog is for a business then go for it! But most of us are writing because we love writing, and in the case of food blogging, because we love food. Don’t suck the joy out of the blogging process! Be authentic, enjoy the writing and engaging with people, and let the traffic worry about itself. And if you must find out the rules of blogging; do so and then joyfully disregard the soul-sapping ones.
My nomination: Cookies and Chemistry
So, I am making one nomination. I don’t read enough blogs regularly to nominate a whole raft, and this particular blog is a standout for me. I’m sure she’s been nominated a whole handful of times, as she’s got lots of followers, but I’m still going to go for Cookies and Chemistry.
Feel free to ignore the rules, my dear, and simply enjoy the warm and fuzzies.
Cindy is an undergraduate student based in Canada who food-blogs. I love the eclectic nature of her posts, her joyful enthusiasm, and the way she weaves her life into the posts. Her food philosophy is on point, and she actually cooks (and eats) things that make me go, ‘Oooh, yes please!’ Which is actually surprisingly rare.
If you’re a food blog person, give her a read.
Have a very foody day!
A post in which I compare reading Dickens to eating chocolate cake. And other stuff.
On with the show
Welcome to this, my second, ‘Food in Books’ post. As you can tell, I still haven’t come up with a better title. Maybe this title will be the one that sticks. I’m managing to put the harrowing image of second-hand curry between library book pages out of my mind. Mostly.
Today’s book is a ‘Penguin Little Black Classics’ book of two short stories by Charles Dickens: ‘The Great Winglebury Duel’ and ‘The Steam Excursion’. The stories were originally published by Dickens in newspapers in the 1800s, but in 1836 they were gathered together into a volume called ‘Sketches by Boz’, alongside 54 other sketches of London life.
They are essentially the flash fiction of the 19th Century. A few brief dramatic scenes.
I’m not normally a Dickens fan, but this tiny volume made it into my handbag to keep me company on my Easter travels without weighing me down.
If I was being sensible, for the sake of my bad back, I should probably make the switch to the spare Kindle that lives in our house, but paper and ink have my heart. And you can’t buy a second-hand Kindle book. I love an inexpensive pre-loved book, and the joy of lending my books on.
So onto the book…
The Great Winglebury Duel
Very much like ‘The Outrun’ from last time, there is very little food in either ‘The Great Winglebury Duel’ and ‘The Steam Excursion.’ I’m sure I’ll get to a book that is simply groaning with food at some point, but it’s going to be very much a stumble-upon moment.
The first of the two stories is about a moment of mistaken identity. Mr Alexander Trott is taken for Lord Peter, gentleman lover-of-the-high-life, eloping with his older fiancé in disguise. Things inevitably get more and more tangled, as letters get delivered anonymously, and people take him for a madman.
The second story is about Mr Percy Noakes, a favourite in his circle of Society. He congratulates himself on the idea of pulling together a committee to plan a steam excursion; a delightful day out, which begins with social snubs and ends in a storm.
I’ll be honest, the only food I remembered at the close of the book was the picnic feast that Percy Noake’s seasick guests don’t eat on the storm-shaken steamer:
“There was a large, substantial cold boiled leg of mutton at the bottom of the table, shaking like blanc-mange; a hearty sirloin of beef looked as if it had been suddenly seized with the palsy; and some tongues, which were placed on dishes rather too large for them, were going through the most surprising evolutions, darting from side to side, and from end to end, like a fly in an inverted wine-glass. Then the sweets shook and trembled till it was quite impossible to help them, and people gave up the attempt in despair; and the pigeon-pies looked as if the birds, whose legs were stuck outside, were trying to get them in.”
I love just how unappetising Dickens manages to make the feast sound, and how he makes it positively come alive. The food really are characters in their own right, grotesquely writhing on their platters.
My joy in reading this passage, and most of the rest of these compact little stories, made me realise something. Dickens is like a rich chocolate cake!
I really enjoy Dickens across a story 25 small pages long. I relish the heavy sentences laden in grotesque detail, and the comically over-developed characters, over a few thousand words. But making me read hundreds of pages of ‘Great Expectations’ or ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’ is like force-feeding me the sixth slice of the cake.
Don’t do it!
But that feeling makes complete sense. Now that I actually think about it.
Dickens’ stories were serialised, weren’t they? His stories were designed to be enjoyed one bite at a time; at a few thousand words a week. Which makes me wonder, is there is an online service which emails you his books a chapter a week? If it’s not already out there, someone should take the idea and run with it!
So, would I sign up?
Ha! No, probably not. I suspect I’d still find his long and winding plots pretty tedious, if I’m honest. They’re just not for me. But I do think I’ll seek out some more of the little unintimdating volumes of his sketches. They will make great travel companions and will leave me feeling satisfied, like one slice of excellent cake.
Do you like Dickens? What kind of food is he for you?
I love a good book, me. And as you know, I love food. So this is the first in a see-how-it-goes, potential series about literature and food, called Food in Books!
* * *
Re-reading that first paragraph, I just visualised that moment when you find a bit of someone’s dinner in a library book. That’s not at all what I mean by ‘Food in Books’! Perhaps I should come up with a better name. Any suggestions?
* * *
Recently, I’ve found myself musing about how food and stories go together. Like how the very best food often has a heritage or a story to tell. Or how most of us remember particular food-moments years (or even decades) after putting down our knives and forks at the end of the meal.
Or how food quite often plays a quiet, supporting role in the stories authors and film-makers tell. Sometimes knowingly, sometimes unknowingly.
So, as I’ve been reading, I’ve found myself noticing all the mentions of food and musing on them. And so the idea for this not very imaginatively named blog series was born. Hooray for Food in Books! Or whatever it comes to be known.
And let’s be honest, part of the reason for this idea so that I have a valid excuse to write about books on a food blog!
* * *
As an aside, whilst I was writing this post, I tried to come up with some food memories of my own. The first two that sprung to mind, dredged up from somewhere in my memory, hadn’t come into my mind for years! I find the mysteries of how memory works fascinating.
The first was the memory of a hot and greasy, ‘Cornish’ pasty, eaten on a sunny family holiday in Devon – we usually had a home-made sandwich-picnic, so a pasty was super exciting, and I got to eat it straight from the paper. Decadence! The second was of the first ever curry that I ate in an Indian restaurant – it was ordered by my curry-experienced friend, who assured me it wouldn’t be too spicy. It set my mouth on fire!
* * *
On to Book #1 in Food in Books…
‘The Outrun’ by Amy Liptrot
It’s fair to say that The Outrun by Amy Liptrot is quite an unusual book. It certainly divided opinion at my book group last night! However, I happily give it 4 stars. I thought it was great. Not perfect, but really affecting.
When we chose the book, I thought it was a novel, but it’s actually the memoir of a woman in her 30s who is recovering from addiction – trying to stay sober and to piece her life together in the wild landscape of Orkney.
In the book, Liptrot allows us to experience the scattered memories of her descent into alcoholism and the break up of her relationship, far from home, in London. And then to join her, as she washes up on Orkney, fresh out of rehab; back in the place where she grew up, but never belonged. Her parents were English and had bought a farm on the biggest of Orkney’s islands back in the seventies. It has a big open field called the Outrun, and it’s here that the story begins and ends.
Liptrot’s writing is honest and bare, and it made me want to go to Orkney.
If I had to describe The Outrun, I’d say that it is almost relentlessly autobiographical, despite the fact that it is also very much about Orkney as a place. The book feels odd, but I like that. There is the frenetic chaos of her alcoholism. And the slow-paced, cyclical, reflective pace of her recovery, threaded through with facts and stories about Orkney. The second half, in particular, is organised more thematically than chronologically. I like that too. Life doesn’t always feel linear.
I’d love to know your thoughts if you’ve read the book, but to me, it felt like it was written by a woman still very much on the journey of recovery. It was all pretty raw, all the pieces of herself not yet quite put back together. For me, that made it all the more worth reading. I felt honoured to be able to experience her journey with her – to live a life so different from mine.
And I’m still in awe of her swims in the winter Orkney sea!
I could say a lot more, but this isn’t just meant to be a standard book review. Where’s the food, I hear you cry.
To the food!
Ironically, as this is my first Food in Books post, The Outrun doesn’t actually feature a great deal of food. In fact, during the London sections of the book, Liptrot rarely eats. Most of her calories inevitably coming from the alcohol she drinks alone. And there isn’t a great deal more in the Orkney sections. However, there is one particular food-moment that really captured me…
In a courageous move, Liptrot moved across from her ‘home’ island to Papay, an island with just 70 residents; just in time for winter. She plans to live in a little cottage called Rose Cottage which belongs to her summer employer (the RSPB), and to intentionally take time out to reflect and heal.
Having chosen to visit such a small community, she relishes the remoteness, but she is also anxious about fitting into such a tight community.
And so an incident with a cabbage! 😃
“Over Christmas, bad weather meant there was no ferry for a couple of weeks and the shop ran low on fresh food. The usually well-stocked Co-op is open for two or four hours a day, and going for milk often feels like a social occasion. I don’t have a car so have to ask for help with things like getting sacks of coal home. I was fearful, from warnings and childhood experiences, of doing the wrong thing, being too loud, too English, but I meet only friendliness and helpfulness on Papay, as well as a gentle curiosity about what I’m doing there. // One night there is a knock at the door: an unexpected delivery of a third of a cabbage after I’d mentioned in passing in the shop that a whole cabbage was a lot to buy if you’re living alone, and to carry on a bike. This small friendly gesture calmed me, helped soothe some anxiety that I wasn’t fitting in. The workings of society on an island are easier to understand than in a city and I’m gradually relaxing and seeing more clearly.”
Imagine what it must be like to be so dependent on the weather for deliveries of food. I imagine pantries must be stocked up with tins and dried food, and that people are used to cooking meals from the cupboard. The orcadian.co.uk website has a couple of recipe books, I wonder if they feature any of them!
But what I love most about this little passage is the incident with the cabbage! There is something so wonderfully simple and profound about that small gesture. Undertaken by a generous and un-named Papay resident. It makes my heart ache for the best of what a small community can be! I imagine that small act of practical care and acceptance did a lot for Liptrot’s heart.
I got the sense that, for Liptrot, both addiction and recovery were/are very solitary endeavours. Although she liked her new island home, and tells us about the events that she attended (like an island art festival), or activities that she undertook with other people (like learning to snorkel), the other human beings feel to me like ships passing her in the night. Her characters – even though they’re real people – enter the narrative for a couple of paragraphs and then disappear again, before we feel properly introduced. In fact, I feel like I know some of the people from Okney’s history we’re introduced to better than the living human beings in her story.
I don’t know if this sense of fleeting-ness and disconnect is a literary device that genuinely reflects her relationships at this time in her life. Or if it’s unknowingly done. Or if it’s because she doesn’t feel confident to write the people fully-fleshed, in case she offends or gets them wrong. But it does create a sense of solitude or isolation.
And I do also wonder whether the reason food doesn’t feature much in the book, is because of the amount of time Liptrot spends alone.
Food really comes into its own when it’s shared
When food is shared, it is much more than the sum of its parts: that’s something I’ve been musing on recently. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy posting food that I made for/by myself, but I rarely think to post about food that has already been shared face-to-face, over a real-life table, or sitting together with friends in my lounge. In that case a food blog is tapping into a bigger truth: that food is about connection. Or something. Musings ongoing.
Finally a couple of quotes from the book, one about alcoholism and one about food:
“One reason alcohol is addictive is that it doesn’t quite work. It’s difficult to get enough of something that almost works.”
“The full moon and new moons of winter… are also the times when it’s possible to forage for spoots, the local name for razor fish… We walk backwards and the spoots, which lie vertically just under the surface are disturbed by our booming footsteps and burrow downwards, leaving a telltale bubble in the sand… I dig furiously with a trowel, then with my rubber gloved hands… it’s a battle of woman verses spoot but I manage to get it and put it in my bucket. That night I fry them up with some garlic and eat them with spaghetti – a small meal but one of the most satsisfying I’ve had in a long time, caught for free and with fun.”
After church today, I ended up on an unexpected, sunshiny picnic with two brand new friends that I had just met. As we lazed around on a very unseasonal, fluffy, deer-covered, fleecy blanket, spread out on the common (the blanket usually lives in my lounge for snuggling under), we somehow got onto the topic of my not-bucket list.
I say ‘not-bucket’ list, as it was originally my ’40 things to do before I’m 40′, as I’d missed out on doing ’30 things before I’m 30′, but you really don’t want to think about 40 when you’ve only just crossed into your 30s! And I’m certainly not thinking about the rest of my life right up until my demise, just the next decade. I have every intention of writing at least a few more lists in the succeeding decades, if I am given the chance. 😊
Currently on the list are –
- Visit Ireland. It’s so close and I’ve never been.
- Visit Australia/New Zealand. I have family in Australia and New Zealand is just so beautiful. Just a little bit further than Ireland.
- Go on a high ropes course (like Go Ape). I love climbing up things, and trees make me happy. So, perfect combination.
- Go to an airport with a budget and buy a flight anywhere. I might need a friend for this one!
- Go on a zip wire. I’m thinking one of those really epic ones across a ravine or something, if I am brave enough. Terrifying-amazing.
- Go to a firing range and learn to shoot a gun. According to my housemates, this is massively out of character, but my grandad and my great uncle shot for sport, so it must be in the blood!
- Go rock climbing.
- Visit/re-visit all the big London galleries and museums. I can feel a blog coming on! Serial blog-starter that I am. 😄
- Re-visit the Louvre with a whole day to spare.
- Get a short-story, academic article, novel or other book published. Because why not?
- Go to a ball. Anyone want to invite me?
- Visit a spa.
- Have an Indian head massage.
- Complete a novel I’d actually be willing to let someone read. I am currently working on a novel-type project every year for five years, in an attempt to get to that point. This is only year two, and novels are hard!
- See the Northern Lights. I imagine the Northern Lights must be magical, although I think I might need to lower my expectations, like when you go into a film that might not be as great as the hype.
- Visit a waterfall. Because stunning!
- Climb a mountain. Probably a small one.
- Spend a month abroad. This one is simultaneously exciting and terrifying. I’m not a massively confident traveller. The longest I’ve been out of the country is currently three weeks.
- Get a manicure/pedicure. So decadent.
- Get a radical haircut. I get to define radical!
- Own and wear a floor-length gold dress. Because I’d look fabulous in gold, darling! 😄
- Go to a party where there is a bonafide celebrity there. Just for the hilarity.
- Give a lecture. The first time I spoke to a lecture theatre full of people was in a society meeting at university and I cried for about half an hour beforehand. In the right context, I now actually really quite like public speaking… but does have to be the right context.
- Reunite with my friend Claire from primary school. I’m still really sad we lost contact and I don’t know her last name – I think she changed it when her mum remarried. I’m going to have to become a detective!
- Visit Gaudi’s La Sagrada Família in Barcelona. It looks incredible.
So well done for ploughing through all of those! As you can see, I still have 15 slots left on the list, and having started this food blog, I feel that there really should be some food-related things on the list. Hence the bucket of fish!
I would love some suggestions. Maybe foods I should eat or make, or amazing places to eat… the floor is yours.
Edit: Seeing all those things in one place is a bit overwhelming! I’m not made for too much excitement. 🙃
Hello lovely blog-friend. This is the first of my Kitchen Musings; no actual cooking but some musings on cooking-related things. Today, I blog about cooking, blogging and emotional-well being.
This blog began in large part because I am a serial blog-starter! It just seems to be what I do. I get excited about something, and I want to share. The obvious answer: a blog! 🤓
Rather embarrassingly, I have ten different sites registered with WordPress; some of which have never been used; others were up for only a couple of weeks. Only one blog (apart from this one) is currently in semi-active use. It’s a personal blog and I only blog on it when I really feel like I have something to say.
It will be interesting to see what happens with this blog!
The reason I say that, is that I’m currently experiencing the blog fear.
Other bloggers out there, I don’t know if this has happened to you? Or whether it is just me. For me, for each new blog, there comes an unhappy moment when I suddenly feel ashamed and confused. A project which had felt full of hope and promise, suddenly shifts and becomes embarrassing and fills me with heaviness – it’s like the lenses have been switched, and it all looks rather awkwardly self-indulgent and derivative.
A few days ago, I was getting excited at the idea of maybe writing a recipe book; I was planning all the things I could try baking/cooking that could feature on the blog, and I was coming up with all kinds of ideas for types of posts. Yesterday, I even made a Facebook page. And yet suddenly, the shame and the blah.
Being a reflectful sort, it’s gotten me thinking…
Life-y or death-y?
My lovely friend Emily talks about ‘life-y’ things and ‘death-y’ things: things that fill you with a sense of wonder, meaning, purpose, connection and delight, and the things that are hollow and empty. The life-y things may not be easy or necessarily fun (although they often are), but there is a depth to them, a wellspring of life there. And the death-y things aren’t always obvious; they may be wrapped up in sugar-coating.
Cooking for me is very often a wonderfully life-y thing, and a big part of emotional wellness.
A few years, when I quite my job in a bid to recover from depression and anxiety, pottering around the kitchen, baking bread and making marmalade was a balm to my soul.
The slow practical process of kneading or stirring connected me to the present moment; the visual beauty of the food filled my heart with gentle delight, and being able to see solid evidence that there was real progress in my skills and that my actions resulted in a physical food-item right there in front of me started to fill my battle-scarred soul with a drip-drip-drip of hope.
Cooking also gave me something solid and uncomplicated to think about – slicing grapefruit is just so lovely, it smells good! – and it connected me to simple (but deep) spiritual realities:
I know that spiritual waffling may turn some people off, but bear with me, it’s just one paragraph. 😄
For me, learning how food works feels like mining the vast potential that God built into his creation. It feels like I am receiving a gift from God; hidden by him in the earth’s construction, millennia ago, knowing that humanity (including a broken Charissa standing in her kitchen stirring marmalade in 2014) would receive the gift all those years later! I can feel the warm smile on his face.
And lots of other things… but some of you are feeling awkward, so back to the journey!
Wonderfully, I have been well for a while now, and the all-day cookery sessions have mostly disappeared in the busyness of life. Even though I only work part-time!
Every journey has its twists and turns
However, a few weeks ago, I experienced an unexpected bout of anxiety, brought on by a whole load of emotionally difficult things happening at once. And I found myself instinctively reaching for the same slow-cookery medicine, amongst other sensible self-care things.
The joy of cooking and baking was all of a sudden most definitely a life-y thing again. And the joy bubbled over into far too many Facebook posts – my poor Facebook friends! – and the answer came to me. A blog!
The answer to everything!! 😀
And the ‘Charissa’s Kitchen’ has been a lovely, joyful thing. Until the blog fear!
So what’s going on?
I think a big part of blog fear is that something happens to shift blogging from life-y to death-y. I think it can happen for all kinds of reasons, but I suspect that a significant jigsaw puzzle piece (at least for me), is that the blog in question has become inauthentic. There is a joyful meaningfulness in genuine connection, and an emptiness to going through the motions or putting on a mask.
On reflection, the death-y feeling hit in earnest as I was writing yesterday’s post about Venison Pie; it just didn’t seem right somehow, but I ploughed on regardless. In large part, I think I was feeling death-y because the post was in some ways inauthentic. I didn’t really feel super buoyant about the meal or the process by the end, but because I had been excited about cooking it beforehand and because I’d already taken all the photos, I wrote the post anyway.
It’s really not a bad post – I’m going to leave it up – but it didn’t feel like it came from the overflow of delight in cooking or from any excitement at developing new skills that originally motivated the blog’s creation.
Interestingly though, the bit about the C S Lewis quote did feel right. I think, because I was genuinely excited about the quote and the ideas within it. I genuinely did want to share the joy!
And I did really love those leeks!! I think the post should probably have been an ode to the joys of vegetables, and the pie should have been eaten and enjoyed, but never introduced to the internet.
I think there’s much more to whether blogging is life-y or death-y than authenticity, but it’s a start! I suspect there is probably something in there about the big (or little) picture of the ‘why’ of blogging and its meaningfulness, and ironically also something about self-indulgent over-sharing (I hope this isn’t what this is), but I’ll leave my Kitchen Musings there for the moment. 😄
I would love to hear from you if you have had similar experiences. Or opposite ones!
And thank you so much to everyone who has gotten excited about sourdough bread with me! That in particular has been wonderfully life-y! Joyful!
Oh whoops! That reminds me that I’ve not fed my sourdough starter this morning. It’s a good job I haven’t named him yet! I best go feed him!
Have a lovely day.
One of the joys of heading into the internet-baking-advice rabbit warren is all the wonderful things you come across along the way.
How about a fabulous cats vs. sourdough starter Venn diagram by Molly McCahan? 😄
Or a video from the British Museum, in which chef Giorgio Locatelli attempts to bake the kind of loaf they found preserved in Pompeii:
I also came across this wonderful song by Stephen Foster (written in 1854, but performed in 2008 by Mavis Staple), via a reflectful post by an American blogger; musing on bread, life’s struggles and politics amongst other things. The song is called ‘Hard Times Come Again No More’ and it makes my heart ache:
I also made a new friend in The Winsome Baker! If she didn’t live all the way over in New Zealand, I’d probably be asking if I could pop over for a cup of tea and one of her amazing brown sugar and pecan biscotti. You should totally check out her website and maybe the little review that I wrote because I liked her website so much.
Thank you, internet, for all the help and distractions over the past week! I appreciate your existence. 😄