The Big 3-0 In Lockdown 3.0

L celebrates her “milestone” birthday during the UK’s third national lockdown.

Well, I had hoped it wouldn’t happen, but it has. I’m finally joining the rest of my loved ones in celebrating a Lockdown Birthday. Now, let me be clear before I type another word: I know there are terrible, frightening things happening in the world right now, of much more importance than this little Capricorn, but I still felt “funny” about it all…

Growing old is inevitable, growing up however…

I was chatting with some of my friends last week, who all felt similar about celebrating this milestone under the current restrictions. It’s not that I had grand plans of a dirty thirty in Bordeaux, although that would’ve been delightful. I think it’s that being born in January, my birthday is quite often a bit of an after thought. This month is not only long and dark, it’s also the time of year we typically introvert, diving head first into fun activities such as Dry January, Veganuary, countless diets and detoxes, returning to school and last minute tax returns. Hardly puts you in the mood for a party, does it?

VB eat your heart out

Turning thirty had a lot riding on it. It’s the mystical age I often used growing up to set as a measure. As Emma Bunton articulated in Spice World: “do you think I’ll always be Baby Spice, even when I’m (gulp) thirty?” It would also firmly put in me in the “Overs” category of the old X Factor format. “Overs”…how rude is that?

Thirty, flirty and thriving

All this having been said, I am shocked to confess that this birthday is probably one of the best I’ve ever had. Having zero expectations for the day and no added pressure from my loved ones asking: “have you had a good time?” meant that my simple, relaxed day was really enjoyable.

I spent most of the morning mooching round the house in my new pyjamas that I treated myself to at Christmas, playing nostalgic tunes from my childhood as loudly as I wanted. Vince popped out to get me a takeaway vanilla latte after my brunch of Nutella pancakes. It’s always the little things that matter most, am I right? Whilst he was out, our local Postie arrived with cards, flowers and an embarrassingly large box for me to open.

Love these so much I could burst!

I settled down to watch 13 Going On 30, (honestly worth a watch if you haven’t seen it before. Mark Ruffalo in a romcom – what’s not to like?) and cracked open the bubbles!

There had better be a pot of gold with my name on it underneath that!

To work up an appetite, we headed out on our daily walk. We’ve been doing around 50km a week since Christmas and we’re loving our rambles. Mother Nature treated me to a special present on this day – check out that light!

Once the sun went in, we headed home to check out our local Chinese takeaway – which did NOT disappoint and provided left overs for the next day too. I often think leftovers are actually better than the main event. By the time I’d zoomed the family and caught up on my messages, it was midnight and I’d officially made it 30 times around the sun.

Over the past year there have been so many projected scenarios for my birthday, including spending it in Cardiff with my Phantom cast, locked in a hotel room abroad quarantining, a small family shindig for our support bubble and a lockdown party for two. As E reminded me on Facebook: “lockdown birthdays are all the rage at the moment”. As ever, she was right, and I wouldn’t have had the day any other way. ~L.

Happy 29+1th to me!

Hearty Suppers From Yesteryear and This Week

The joys of vegan cooking for January

Grab a cuppa, it’s blog time

It’s been one of those weeks: a busy schedule back at work following a gloriously relaxing fortnight off over Christmas coinciding with Lockdown 3.0 and, very sadly, a family bereavement on Thursday. As we often do at a time of loss, I spent some hours trawling through old photographs which, by an enjoyable and memory-packed meander, brought me to my old blog site. There I found a long-forgotten post about my early cooking adventures as a vegetarian back in the last Millennium and thought that as it’s Veganuary, and we all need a bit of comfort cooking, I’d share that blog post with you here. I think it’s aged pretty well…

The first cookery book I can remember acquiring was The Colour Book of Vegetarian Cooking, edited by Carole Handslip. I have the 1984 reprint.

In Upper Sixth, I turned vegetarian and this little recipe book was bought for me for my 19th birthday by first year uni friends, Jayne and Sarah. I had spotted this cookery book in the remaindered bookshop in Bath and Jayne and Sarah bought it for me.

By today’s standards, it’s a pretty slim volume, with only about a third of recipes accompanied by a photograph of the finished dish. But, in my early years of being “a veggie” I turned to it often and, as a consequence, it is well-thumbed and more than a little grubby. Indeed, the page for gnocchi with tomato sauce and that for corn and asparagus flan – neither of which I have ever made – had quite welded together and I had to separate them with great care; with great care and a serrated knife. Many of the recipes have egg and dairy as principal ingredients, but there’s a sub-chapter dedicated to nut and pulse dishes, so I headed there. I opted to make the bean and tomato hotpot, adapted to account for my lack of a large leek (a shallot, green pepper found idly withering in the crisper drawer, chopped-up stalk of broccoli and additional carrot made for gallant stand-ins) and eschewing of butter. I also doubled the quantity of tinned tomatoes and chucked in a tin of butter beans in addition to the kidney beans. I found a bag of Apache potatoes sprouting nicely in the back of the fridge, so once I’d “de-eyed” them, they were halved for the hotpot topping.

Bean and tomato hotpot from E’s first cookery book

This really was a very easy cook and resulted in a tasty dinner which went down well with both vegan, and the non-vegan, diners. It reminded me how much this particular book had been my vegetarian cooking primer for many years. Three pages on from the hotpot recipe I found the one for vegetable curry. I followed this recipe for years and remember well the first time I made it, up in the fifth floor kitchen of our halls of residence in Somerset Place. That first time led to an earth-shattering revelation: turmeric turns cauliflower yellow! A discovery so profound I made a note of it on the page of the book.

(Adapted from a post on Hiraeth, There and Everywhere in January 2017)

Assembling the ingredients for a Nanny Val-inspired stuffed butternut squash recipe

Back to this week, I made a tasty supper following a recipe Mum had sent me for stuffed butternut squash. The stuffing comprised sautéed onion and garlic, most of the flesh of the roasted squash, red lentils, stock and a heap of herbs, with toasted walnuts and cashews folded through just before stuffing the shell of the squash and returning to the oven to roast for a further 40 minutes. I served it with steamed kale dressed in chilli oil. Nourishing, healthy and perfect for a winter’s evening. Thanks Mum for the recipe, which I will certainly be making again.

A tasty supper of stuffed butternut squash, steamed kale and little bites of vegan cashew cheese

What have you been rustling up for dinner these mid-winter evenings? ~ E

Hello, 2021, do come in and take a seat

The de-la-Haye Girls look ahead to 2021…

How many words have been written about 2020 and the disastrous year it turned out to be for many thousands of people. For us, 2020 brought huge disappointment, a near-permanent feeling of being unsettled and ennui: life feels very different when there’s little to look forward to. But flip that coin, and 2020 also brought us more time with family, new ways of pursuing our careers, a chance to enjoy the quotidian pleasures of an alfresco lunch in the sunny back garden, local walks, chaotic family video calls and good books. It’s highly likely that at least the first half of 2021 is going to be much the same, and here are some of the things we are looking forward to this year.

E ~ I’ve long enjoyed a good walk and home-based working in 2020 gave me lots of opportunities to explore the neighbourhood we’ve lived in for the past 23 years. Sure, we’ve walked here before but have never explored the way we did last year. I want to continue this in 2021. One of my favourite Christmas presents is a framed, 1-metre square, bespoke Ordinance Survey map, with our cottage slap-bang in the middle. In the week since Christmas, I’ve already spent several hours perusing the map and plotting future walks. I’ve also recommitted to Country Walking magazine’s 1,000-miles in 2021 walking challenge and any number of Strava walking challenges. And I’m just under halfway through a virtual Lands End to John O’Groats challenge I joined with some friends last summer. I will complete that challenge at the beginning of July. I am as far from an exercise enthusiast as it is possible to imagine but I adore walking: the perspectives – literal and metaphorical – it gives me; the space to think; the chance to chat about the unfolding day with Steve (who accompanies me almost every day); watching the hedgerows change with the seasons; snapping away on my phone camera as something catches my eye.

We are a friendly lot around here and a cheery “good morning” as we pass, at a two-metre distance, other walkers always raises a smile. I’ve found it heartening to be wished a “happy new year” by several fellow walkers over the last couple of days. Naughty dogs, and their owners, also make me smile and two in particular stick in my mind. “Annabel! Annabel!” being called, over and over again, by a male voice deep in the woods near the station. Steve and I looked at each other and wondered if the male was shouting for his wife or perhaps a child. A few moments later a little Jack Russell came barrelling out of the trees pursued by her owner, an older and rather unfit looking chap, who was still shouting “Annabel!”, but in vain. Annabel was having none of it and was off down the lane at quite a lick for one with such short legs. We saw Annabel and her owner a few weeks later, at the same spot, and he was still calling to her, and she was still running away. I hope I see them again in 2021. And just this week we met another terrier who was utterly ignoring his owner’s calls to “come here! Come here at once!” and was much more interested in us as we walked along. I couldn’t quite hear what the owner was calling the dog as first, I thought he was saying “Keiran” but as he came closer to retrieve his dog it became clear: “Tyrion! Tyrion, come here now! Tyrion!”. Ahh, good old Game of Thrones. Terrier Tyrion’s disdain for his owner’s commands was magnificent and the owner looked suitably mortified. I hope I get to meet Tyrion again too.

The joys of walking the byways of my ends

I’ve enrolled for some new online photography modules and am looking forward to completing these and practising what I learn. I have several DSLR cameras but over the past couple of years have been focusing more on my iPhone photography. My “proper” cameras are brilliant, but they can be a bit cumbersome to carry around and some of the lenses are heavy and really need to be used with a tripod for best results. Carrying all the kit can be off-putting. The liberating joy my iPhone gives of a pretty reasonable camera in my pocket never tires and I will continue to play with this in 2021. On 18 March 2020, when the realisation of the extent of the upheaval Covid 19 was going to mean fully dawned on me, I started to post one positive image a day to my Facebook feed. I called it my daily uplifting pic. I’ve enjoyed spending a few moments each day capturing, selecting, editing and posting a photo and will continue with this until 17 March 2021. And I’ll continue to enjoy posting a wider range of photos to my personal Instagram feed too.

Like so many people, what I wore in 2020 changed drastically, as the formality of work attire was dropped in favour of more casual working-from-home gear. For my work I spend hours and hours most days on Zoom, Teams, WebEx, Skype, Blue Jeans and any other video-conferencing platform you care to mention. Some takeaways from this video-conferencing experience for 2021: I’m going to invest in brighter tops as they look much better on camera, and ditch the “neutral lip” that’s been something of a hallmark for me for years. Covid 19 demands a bright lip and I’m going to oblige much more often in 2021.

Zoom loves a bright lip, thank heavens E was prepared!

And what about shoes? No one can see my feet when I’m on Zoom, at least not the way I do it! I have several pairs of “work shoes” – cute-yet-stylish courts and pumps – purchased this time last year for my client-side days. They remain unworn. They are literally still in the box. But with hours and hours of standing in the same spot in front of my web cam, I have found trainers to be a godsend for my lower back. So, as 2021 hurries in, I’m planning fewer court shoe purchases and am on the lookout for snazzy trainers. And, I’m thinking, cool, colourful trainers with a smartly tailored trouser when I return to face-to-face client work a bit later in 2021. Well, why the heck not; if Trinny can do it, why not me?

Who would have thought this time last year that this would have been standard work attire?

Short-term, what I’m most looking forward to in 2021, is Veganuary. I’ve been a plant-based eater for years and love how Veganuary has taken off over the past five years or so. I have a few vegan acquaintances who are sniffy about Veganuary and mutter disapprovingly about “part-timers” under their breath. I don’t hold with any of that. As a long-time vegan, I love all the new products the supermarkets introduce each January and with a birthday in January too, it means I can indulge all month in lots of new (often sugary and convenience) foods. Vegan Ginster’s Cornish Pasty you say? I don’t mind if I do! And if M&S Food could introduce a vegan Colin the Caterpillar cake by mid-month it could be assured of pride of place on the table for my (no doubt Zoom-based) birthday tea-party.

L ~ For me, 2021 was supposed to full of travel. I was due to be heading abroad for work in early January and this has understandably all been put on the back burner for now. Having been struck down with Covid at the end of this year, I think my biggest take away from 2020 is that my health is my wealth and I plan to honour that as much as I can. Like my mother, I love a ramble. I’m really looking forward to becoming more familiar with our local area and have already discovered some wonderful hidden gems! The landscapes are wonderfully stark and moody in these wintery months, I can’t wait to watch them come to life during the spring.

Discovered en route

E and I share January birthdays – thankfully a week apart. This year is a big one for me as I lovingly wave goodbye to my twenties. I was due to be spending this milestone birthday in quarantine, but I’m delighted and a bit relieved that I won’t be on my own for this one. I’m hoping for: breakfast in bed, a socially distanced stroll outside with a Bailey’s-laced coffee, a takeaway and some sort of a Zoom quiz.

I did dress up for NYE in the lounge and will probably do the same for my birthday

The New Year always heralds an influx of excellent TV programming and new cinematic releases. I must confess, I have missed a visit to the pictures terribly this year. There’s something so exciting about settling into a dark theatre, rich with the scent of popcorn, ready to enjoy a film shown in the best possible way. Despite this, I have enjoyed watching cinema releases from home and undoubtedly there is a certain luxury in not having to change out of your pyjamas before you watch. I’ve been on a recent period drama binge, re-watching Greta Gerwig’s marvellous Little Women, The Queen’s Gambit‘s Anya Taylor-Joy led me to the 2020 remake of Emma and of course, like everyone else I devoured Bridgerton. I’ve been catching up on my Disney too, with Onward and the wonderful Soul being two of my favourites. The Great, following the life of Catherine the Great is on my TV hitlist, as is the The Serpent, a true crime drama coming to the BBC on New Year’s Day. A word of advice though, don’t bother with Black Narcissus, read the book instead.

Blankets and coffee – also something only an at home cinema will provide

This down time at home will also give me the chance to continue with our interior design projects. A welly rack and a laundry line are the latest improvements we need to tackle and we’re keen to add the pitter patter of tiny (kitten) feet to our home as soon as we can!

Of course, we’re hoping for a swift vaccine roll out, theatres to reopen and French cheese a plenty post Brexit, but our list here are the little things we’re hoping for. What are you looking forward to in 2021?