Monday 27 June 2016

Timed creative non-fiction writing: My Heart

Hey there. 

Remember the other day, when I was trying to avoid all the referendum talk, and I blogged about a nice vintage skirt I'd found instead of writing about what I called "real, messy, life stuff"? 

Well, 'real messy life stuff' has a way of living up to its name, and post-referendum - while skirts undoubtedly have their place (usually covering your dignity) - I'm not in the mood for them much today. 

So, instead, I thought I'd share something I wrote last Friday afternoon while I was struggling to convince every fibre in my hands not to respond to some of the opinions I saw on social media. I thought giving my hands and brain another challenge might distract me nicely for half an hour. I was wrong. 

This began as a 15 minute 'timed writing' exercise suggested by Chelsea Hodson in her 'Begin with the Body' online workshop [hosted on Skillshare]. Chelsea suggested beginning the piece by choosing a body part and then keeping your pen moving until the time was up ... funny what comes out when you just let your mind wander. I then spent more time editing it to get it to the point it's at here.  

[FYI: My first line is the opening line from the 'My Own Heart' by English Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, if you don't know it I urge you to indulge yourself as it, and indeed he, is one of my favourites. And it sprung to mind the second I'd decided to begin with my heart ... ].

My Heart

My own heart let me more have pity on, let me live to my sad self hereafter kind. (GM Hopkins).

My heart that bounces ... in danger of snapping its tethers, working its way higher, reaching, climbing, attempting to escape its place. Banging away from beneath where my chest – its skin tightly stretched over bones – is turned into a drum, two felt-padded sticks beating rhythmically from the underside.

My heart that ignites a pilot light of adrenalin inside me whenever a dog is too close for comfort ... but where exactly is ‘too close’? Right there? Yes. A few hundred metres away? Yes. Nowhere at all? That too, just thinking of them can set my blood hammering for its freedom.

My heart that sends footsteps into my ears ... regular, jogging, pavement-pounding footsteps that run along a clear pathway with nothing to slow them down. A dubstep, wob wob wobble bass throb of blood through veins. My heart noisily deciding where my head ought to focus.
Preserved animal hearts from the Animal Inside Out exhibition by Body Worlds.
My heart that aches ... distractedly, for injustices, for mistakes. I place my hand on it over the linen of the summer dress I wore to wander London last year. It feels hot, why should my heart be hot? I remember it’s June and things are meant to be hot. I also remember that I haven’t been able to concentrate all day, my blood clearly as restless as my thoughts.

I knew.

I knew from the second word out of the radio news presenter’s mouth, and all he’d said was “Good Morning”. But he'd sounded serious. ‘Major Event’-serious. He continued, confirming my fears: “Britain has voted to leave the EU”.

To leave.

My heart.


Julie x

p.s: I welcome any reflections on topics such as online courses, timed-writing, creative-non-fiction, blogging about emotions and just general chatty comments with open arms. But I don't intend to use my comments section as a debating area regarding the referendum results. Anything offensive will be deleted.

Thursday 23 June 2016

Dressing Myself ... in vintage and clashing patterns

Hey you. 

Some days, when I think ahead to where I'd like to take my blogging and writing, I ponder over sharpening-up my content; focusing on real, messy, life stuff [such as sharing how strange it was when one of my tweets went viral last week in the aftermath of something awful]; chatting about hot topics and events. And then ... 

... on other days, like today, I just want to shut off and blog something frivolous; something non-taxing; something easy

After having voted in the EU Referendum before I'd even had my breakfast, I'm avoiding the real world for the rest of the day. I'm packing up craft kits, working on my book, and avoiding the TV until later tonight when I'll settle in to watch the last ever episode of The Good Wife

If you fancy joining me in forgetting the outside world for 5 minutes come here ... and let me show you the vintage skirt I found ... 

The vintage piece:
  • I found this beige and brown, slightly stretchy, tropical leaf print tapered midi-skirt in the 'vintage room' of a nearby charity shop.
If you're local then head to Age Concern in Guisborough if you're on a true 'vintage' hunt. Their back room is an absolute retro treasure trove where I've found many great buys. The latest being a dress, shirt and skirt just yesterday! I will have to show you the dress. It's ... I can hardly ... I'm in love. Actually ... I shouldn't have told you to go there should I? Leave something for my next trip ...
  • This particular shop often has a sale rail featuring its vintage items and this skirt [like several other items I've bagged] came from that rail. 
  • And it set me back the princely sum of ... £1.99.
Yes, I did type that correctly. No I didn't miss out a digit after the 1. It was one pound, ninety nine pence. And for that kind of price you can afford to take a chance on an item you might not otherwise have thought of wearing. 

Saying that, I think I only wore it once before putting this outfit together, so I wanted to rectify that. I thought that if I could find a fairly relaxed way to style it I might get more wear from it. And, seeing as how for the last 7 years my Twitter bio has stated: "I write. I cut up paper. I drink tea. I wear patterns. I try to be funny." ... I thought I'd live up to at least one element of that ...

The outfit I built around it:

  • So I leapt right into the patterns and combined the leaf print skirt with a denim shirt featuring an all-over small heart design. [The shirt is H&M from a few years ago and is so versatile.]
  • I accessorised with a chunky necklace [a gift], opaque stone tights [Primark] and woven leather lace ups [Office]. 
  • Hopefully the end result is interesting ... without feeling too much like I'm a historical re-enactor. I like to use vintage pieces without ditching to many modern aesthetics.
  • Then I stood in my back garden, hoping my neighbour wasn't watching through the fence, and posed awkwardly while James took photos.

If you want more awkward posing, here's a previous outfit built around a vintage piece; this time I'm wearing a jumper on my driveway. [Now if that's not a teaser I don't know what is.] 

So how was that for you? A diverting interlude from the real world? I hope so.

Shall we do it again sometime? It's a deal.

Feel free to share your charity shop tales, triumphs and tips in the comments or catch me on social media. 

[I still haven't made an Instagram button for my sidebar - but you can leap to me over there from here.]


Julie x

Friday 3 June 2016

Almost ... a recipe for chorizo and bean casserole.

Yes I’m posting another recipe. It's as much a surprise to me as it is to you as I'm not known for my foodie-blogger credentials [I did once write about how some tinned spaghetti shapes tasted like cardboard, if that counts???].

The first recipe I wrote, and blogged, was for an Italian stir-in sauce and contained, to my mind, one of my most memorable lines [“you might want to lay off the penises”]. A line which I may or may not quote when touting for a literary agent ... But that was 7 months ago so no, I’m not transitioning into a domestic goddess blogger just yet. Or if I am, it’s a veeeeeeerrrrry slow transition.

If the penises haven’t already given it away mine are not the most serious recipes you’ll ever read [I come from a family, perhaps even a region [North East England] where, if anything’s worth taking seriously, it’s worth not taking too seriously. Even the serious stuff. Especially the serious stuff. So recipes don’t stand a chance. All of which information is intended to wash my hands clean: it’s not me, it’s my environment. Nurture makes me do it! 

And, speaking of family ...  I adapted this recipe from something sausage and bean-y my Mam used to make back when I still lived at home and I’ve been making this, my own version, for a long time now. So, all joking aside, this does make an edible, tried and well-tested meal. Seriously …

Almost … a recipe for chorizo and bean casserole.

Serves 2 – 4 depending on portion size. 
It also depends on whether – if there’s only two of you – you want to find two extra people to share it with. 

If that sounds too much like ‘socialising’ to you, just freeze the remainder instead. It both freezes and re-heats pretty well and avoids that unpalatable need to make small talk with two other people.


One large chorizo.
  • This should be the really firm, solid, kind that often comes in a loop or in a 10-ish inch length*.
  • Not the squishy raw sausage kind.
  • *I have no idea of the official terms for any of these 'formats' of chorizo and experience tells me not to Google any of those keywords if you don’t mind …
A note on pronunciation: Be thankful you only have to read this recipe and that we’re not trying to chat about it in person because if we were we’d have to reveal to one another what we call this particular sausagey thing. Then embarrassment or the rolling of eyes would likely ensue while we debated whether it’s actually:
  • ‘choree-tho’ [how I pronounce it] 
  • ‘choree-zoh’ 
  • or ‘chor-it-so’.
And, look, I like you, and don’t want a sausage to come between us ... so it’s best left unspoken

Unless of course you need to ask for it in the supermarket in which case … you’re on your own. If all else fails just ask for ‘spicy Spanish sausage’. [But do not, under any circumstances, resort to mime unless you’d be happy with having ‘Lewd behaviour in Aldi’ as the reason for your arrest].

Red kidney beans. 
  • A full tin of pre-cooked beans, drained.
  • Can be substituted for any kind of pre-cooked bean you prefer. 
  • If you don't like beans, no  probs, this'll have to just be a 'chorizo casserole'. Now's really not the time to tell me you don't like chorizo either.
*A note on bean storage: If you don’t happen to use a full tin, then make sure to empty the leftovers into a proper container with a sealed lid. Otherwise when you forget about them [which you will] you will discover they have an inbuilt fail-safe which prevents you from forgetting about them for very long: they will gradually taint your fridge with a smell so sour and corrupt that you’ll think there’s a yogurt in there with a particularly virile vendetta against you and your people. 

So, yeah, don't leave beans unattended. Lessons to live by kids. Lessons to live by. 

One tin of tomatoes.
  • Or make your own tomato sauce. See my recipe. 
  • I know you're going to use a tin. Fair play. Me too. 
Tomato puree.

One medium to large white onion finely sliced.

4* cloves of garlic, chopped. 
  • *Or more. Depending on whether or not you’re going to have your mouth near anyone the following day.

Cayenne pepper [optional]


[1] Remove the strange, post-sunburn type, papery skin from the sausage.
Again, I have no idea if this is what you’re meant to do before you cook it or if everyone [or indeed anyone] does this …or not. Mainly because I’m worse at reading recipes than I am writing them and have therefore never studied this topic.  But to me, it makes sense not to have it getting in the way.

Granted this task can be a little fiddly but usually, once you get a small edge lifted free, the rest will come away easily. A bit like with old dry wallpaper. Or pent up hostilities.

While doing this make sure to look around to check that there’s no one nearby with a camera. No one wants to log into Facebook of a morning only to find they’ve been tagged while in the process of unsheathing a European sausage.

[2] Slice the unsheathed chorizo long ways - then into centimetre chunks. [So the end result gives you lots of meaty semi circles*].

*Any death metal acts out there looking for a name are free to use that with my blessing.

Throw the meaty semi-circles [the ingredient, not the death metal band] into a large, hot, frying pan and cook for a couple of minutes. You do not need to add any oil to the pan as the sausage will release more than enough fat of its own.

The amount of oil that comes out of the sausage may initially startle you. I used to pour this away until I realised that life was too short* to miss out on all that savoury lusciousness, so now I keep it. 

[*Or at least, life probably will be too short if you continue to eat melted processed pork fat … but …y'know ... mmmmm].

[3] Once the fat has begun to ooze from the sausage lower the heat, throw in the sliced onions, and stir.

If you have a lid for the pan, put it on now. 

[I accept that this may involve rummaging around in the ignominious lid cupboard / draw of the kitchen. Apologies in advance for the inevitable landslide that will follow accompanied by the soundtrack of metallic clattering and banging that TV sitcoms from the 70s and 80s used to suggest a calamity off camera.]

[4] Once the onions have softened add in the chopped garlic and stir for a minute or two. [It'll burn if you add it at the same time as the onion.]

[5] Add approximately 2 teaspoons of paprika. 
[Although, realistically, the amount can also depend upon whether you’ve opened up the small or large opening in the lid of the jar … and whether or not you were aware that you’d meant to open the small side but actually opened the large and tipped out a heap of it accidentally.]

If you don’t mind spicing things up add in a quick shake of cayenne pepper. [In this case make certain you know which side of the lid you’re opening!]

Stir everything together and cook for a minute or so.

[6] Add in the tinned kidney beans and stir to combine them into the dish. 

[7] Tip in the tinned tomatoes and a squirt of tomato puree and bring to the boil. As the beans are already cooked they'll only need to re-heat in the sauce.

Try to resist stealing pieces of the irresistibly richly flavoured chorizo that’s now softened in its own juices. Then stir to distribute the remaining pieces of sausage evenly throughout the pan to hide any obvious gaps after you clearly failed to resist stealing some. [I don't blame you for an instant. And a jury would never hang you for it.]

[8] Leave the mixture to cook over a low heat for as long as you can bear to. But if you’re desperate to eat it then and there [which you will be] then the dish is ready to eat at this point. 

However … not wishing to sound like an annoying TV chef with all the time in the world to do things like ‘marinating overnight’ etc but … truly, the longer you can bear to leave this, the richer and deeper the flavour will get. It really is an  ideal meal to make a day before you need it.

Whenever you chose to eat it ... 

[9] Serve with rice* or a flatbread.
*Brown or white rice, your choice depending how wholesome you’re feeling, and how far from the ‘facilities’ you're going to be the following day. What with kidney beans, brown rice and pork fat ... that's some well oiled roughage you'll have going on there. Just saying.

Buen apetito!


That is quite the thought to end on isn't it? Apologies. But I guess it's a natural conclusion to a meal. Awkward and appetite-suppressing yes, but natural all the same. 

And, be honest now, you don't get that kind of follow-up advice from many food writers do you? I suppose I'm less of a celebrity chef and more a public service really ... 

So what do reckon? 
  • Are you going to give the recipe a try some time? [You might as well pin it to one of your Pinterest boards now to save for later.]
  • How many of the ingredients have you already got in the cupboard? 
  • Which do you need to put on your shopping list [which you'll inevitably leave behind on the worktop, but it's the thought that counts eh?]
And if you do try it - let me know! 

Photographic evidence and comments are to be welcomed:

Those photos of you unsheathing the chorizo however are perhaps best left in your private family album, OK? OK.