a note from Hope: Keep Writing number 105 was sent in January 2018 and asked you to recall a meal you enjoyed with others. It was a collaboration between gutwrench press and Tara Hill, a UK artist who wrote this post sharing her story behind this idea. For the collaboration, Tara sent illustrations and a prompt and I designed and printed the final card. Tara lives in Nottingham, England but you don't have to go far to see examples of her illustrations--visit tfhtfh.tumblr.com for prints, posters and fabric designs and to buy prints of her work.
ps if you want to receive letterpress cards like this every month, sign up for the Keep Writing postcard project!
now from Tara:
The reason I chose this subject came from a time when I was feeling depressed, powerless and like I’d really lost my moorings. I wanted to help myself but didn’t know how I could as it felt all encompassing. I didn’t feel equal to much of anything life was throwing at me and as much as I grasped, I couldn’t think of a neat ‘answer’ to it all - something that would solve all of my problems and would allow me to move on with my life. I wanted something big and dramatic that would sort everything out but a. I couldn’t work out what that was and b. I doubt I would have felt up to it if this magic solution had presented itself. I needed to do something, so decided to start small. I hadn’t been looking after myself. In my depressed state I didn’t value myself enough to care for myself and was preoccupied with feeling terrible. I was eating badly and mechanically. I had also been on some medication that had made me unable to eat properly and made me feel physically unwell and lose quite a bit of weight. I decided I needed to sort out my physical wellbeing before I would be able to start working on my mental wellbeing, so I started buying myself nice, fresh food and thinking about what my body needed to stay healthy. I looked through my recipe books and focussed on cooking nice, tasty food that I’d look forward to eating, that was healthy and would give me more energy to help me cope with an emotional state that was very draining. I cooked for my housemates and anyone who came round too. It felt nice to take the time to prepare food and then sit and share it with other people. It was social and it was uncomplicated. When I eat on my own I often eat too quickly and I often want to read something or watch something which means that I don’t notice what I’m eating. Eating with other people slowed me down and let me just enjoy the time at hand as well as being a great way to socialise and enjoy other people’s company.
To start with, it was a conscious survival technique, to help me to be able to cope with things I was struggling with emotionally. However, after a while it stopped being just a coping mechanism and became a really joyful and natural part of my life. It got me into a sort of habit of finding joy in all sorts of every day things, even just riding my bike to work along the canal and enjoying all of the sights, sounds and feelings along the way. I can’t say all my problems were solved as a result of eating better and eating with other people by any stretch but I feel in a much better position to deal with life than I was before. Feeding and nourishing myself helped me to value myself again and to slowly (slowly is important- this has been a long process and not a quick fix) find my moorings again. Eating and preparing food with others helps me get out of myself for a time, which is something that I have found invaluable for overcoming depression. It’s also enjoyable, enriching and helps me to feel connected to other people and the world, that can often feel alienating and scary.
I realise how lucky I am that I can afford nice food, have somewhere to cook it, friends to eat it with and the time to prepare it. I also enjoy cooking, which I know some people don’t. I want to stress that it’s more about taking the time out, paying attention to what’s happening in the moment. I know it’s difficult to do this but even a small thing in a day can be good. It doesn’t have to be some huge, expensive banquet that takes hours to prepare and makes you feel more stressed. Having a tea break and offering to make someone else a cup and then sitting down to drink it together can be enough. In the morning, if I’m on my own I like to feed the cats at the same time as I eat my breakfast. Then, we’re all eating together and it feels like more of an event than mechanically stuffing fuel into myself before going out. Getting that little bit of joy and calmness wherever I can makes me feel so much more connected to the world and this feels invaluable.
A meal I remember
I went round to a friend’s house one weeknight as I hadn’t seen her for a while and she had plans to leave for another city in the near future. It was summer and we decided to have a BBQ in her garden on a little disposable BBQ left over from a party. We improvised with stuff we already had in that needed using up- I brought round a load of broad beans that I had a glut of from my garden and then a bunch of veg that was on it’s way out. She had a load of veg too and we got it all out and prepared it together, deciding what we’d do with each thing as we went along. I love doing this as it feels creative and it’s so nice to share ideas with someone else about how to prepare things (even if you disagree). Also it cost us next to nothing but we ended up preparing a banquet just for the 2 of us, all out of stuff that might otherwise have ended up getting thrown away. We went outside and put it on the BBQ, but we live in England so even at the height of summer it started chucking it down. We left the BBQ on the floor under a table and went and sat inside, watching it smoking through the rain, hoping our food would cook. It was still balmy and light outside. We chatted while we waited for stuff to cook and picked at bits that didn’t need cooking. It was fun to dash out in the rain to get the cooked bits and then lay them out on the table. It took so long for dinner to be ready but in this time we had really interesting conversations about the world and things going on in our lives whilst working to make something together. We talked a lot about future plans and I felt inspired by all of her plans and how she was making them happen. We also came up with a new snack by accident! We left some of the broad beans in their pods on the BBQ for too long and then when shelled, they came out all smokey and lovely. We put them in a bowl with some salt and they were delicious to pick at.
On it’s own, sharing this particular meal didn’t bring some sort of epiphany. It was a lovely evening with an interesting and inspiring pal but not some groundbreaking event. Its significance comes as being just what it was, a fairly normal event but one we took time out to do, rather than staying in because we felt like we didn’t have time or it was too much bother and just messaging each other instead.
VEGAN NETTLE GNOCCHI
I made this one up after a pal invited me out for a walk, to go and pick some nettles with her at the very start of the summer, as she wanted to make some tea. It was a bloody lovely afternoon and I think of it when I make this recipe. This is also a great one to prepare with someone else. It’s a bit fiddly to do at the end so you can work as a team, have nice chats and get it done more quickly.
- 3 large handfuls of nettles (leaves only- be sure to pick early in the season when they’re young and tender)
- 1 large baking potato
- ½ cup soya milk (or any other milk substitute. Water might actually work too, give it a go)
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 tsp cider vinegar (or lemon juice, whatever you have to hand. I reckon white wine vinegar would work too)
- Salt to taste
- About 300g plain white flour. Have quite a bit more to hand though, just in case. Flour measurements for this sort of thing can never really be accurate as there are so many variables- the exact size of the potato, the exact amount of nettle leaves, even the ambient humidity of the room can affect the amount of flour needed. So maybe have about 500g available to you, just in case. You can use wholemeal flour but it makes them a lot heavier.
- Bake the potato in the oven for a good hour or so. It needs to be soft and fluffy inside and then you need to let it cool. (Tip- have baked potatoes for dinner the night before and just bake an extra one and put it in the fridge until you need it). Once the potato is baked and is cooling get started with the other bits.
- Boil the nettles for 5 minutes, then drain and rinse with cold water.
- Put the nettles in a food processor with the soya milk, the oil, the vinegar/ lemon juice and salt and then blitz until smooth. If you haven’t got a food processor you could just chop the nettles up really finely and then mix then things together yourself.
- Scoop the potato out of its skin and evenly combine them with the nettle mixture in a large mixing bowl.
- Add the flour slowly until it forms a dough that is soft and springy but not sticky
- This is the stage where it’s best to recruit a pal. Put some flour on a work surface. Split the dough into tennis ball sized pieces and then roll them into long sausages. Chop the sausages into pieces about 2 inches by 2 inches and then roll each piece in your palms into a little ball. Put them to one side on a floured plate but try to make sure they don’t touch each other if possible. Get someone to help you here as it can take a while and be a bit repetitive!
- Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil then reduce it to a simmer. Put the gnocchi you have made in and leave them until they rise to the top of the water. This should take about 5 minutes. Drain and serve!
- I think these are nice served with olive oil, fried garlic, lemon zest, chilli flakes and spinach. Or you can just leave the lemon zest, chilli and spinach out and just add salt and pepper. Try using spinach in place of nettles outside of nettle season.