What it’s actually like to lose a parent to terminal illness.

There are those unique experiences that are unimaginable and incomparable. Those experiences wherein you don’t know how you’ll react until it happens. Childbirth. Winning £250 million. Dropping acid. Meeting Beyoncé.

Four months ago, losing a parent was one of those situations for me. Losing my Mum was my worst fear. I solidly believed my life would end on the day hers did. If she were no longer here, there would be no reason for me to exist. I couldn’t picture the eternal darkness of life without my Mother.

Then in mid-January 2016, I was sat in my Mother’s living room and my mother, through laboured breaths said:
“There’s no easy way to tell you this bab, I’ve got cancer.”
I had imagined hearing those words would crush me. I’d collapse to the floor and I’d be swallowed like quicksand. Instead what happened was I hugged her and said “I know.”
As an adept Google Doctor, I had put the symptoms together weeks before any Qualified Doctor and had grieved and wept on the floor, as I waited for them to confirm my suspicions. And now they had.

I remember, during the time when the tests were coming back inconclusive and I welcomed weekends because I knew there would be no good or bad news, I went with my boyfriend to watch The Hateful Eight. The typical Tarantino violence and swearing didn’t stick with me, but the final song did.

“There won’t be many coming home. No there won’t be many, maybe five out of twenty, but there won’t be many coming home.”

As I travelled home, I was silent. Those words seemed like the cancer survival statistics. 20 out of 100 in the first year. 5 out of 100 beyond that. As David Bowie and Alan Rickman succumbed to their cancers, it seemed likely that my Mum would too. When the mortality rate burns into your mind and you learn that cancer takes lives much faster than you thought, you find yourself begging the to the universe to take you instead.

And then you Fix Up. You realise you will die. Your enemies will die. Your friends will die. Everyone dies. I became the harshest realist out there. Life’s not fair but neither is war, famine and poverty. Bring it the fuck on.

That last sentence, I told my mother. It was the only time she heard me swear.

Whilst I was embracing realism and making the most of the weeks, months or years left with my Mum, it seemed like those around me were embracing fantasy. I called it “clinging on to smooth walls”. Despite the diagnosis and both my and my Mother’s fighting attitude but acceptance that the worst was likely, others were “certain she’d pull through this”. They offered quack suggestions and believed in stories of pastors who had been pronounced dead but magically resurrected in the morgue a la Jesus Christ. I countenanced them with a quiet “hm, really?”

At times when people congratulated my strength, they’d add that “I’ll break down eventually.” It felt  they were excitedly waiting for me to collapse. Like there was a script of grieving and loss that I wasn’t following, but I’d fall in line eventually. I thought the same. I waited for the denial, the shock, the anger but none of it came. All I felt was acceptance, and the need to make the most of the remaining time.

During the four weeks of my Mum’s hospitalisation, the car radio seemed to only play three songs.
“My mama don’t like you, and she likes everyone…” “…you got a fast car…” “…it’s not hard to see the GIRL! is mi-mi-mi…”
Once, we changed the station to Smooth Radio. The day of my Mum’s first haemorrhage. They played “Something Inside So Strong” and “Let It Be.”

That day felt like how you’d imagine it. I had been back in London for a few days. I’d taken the chance to wash the hospital stench from my clothes and skin. I’d rollerbladed and dined and laughed with friends.

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Then one morning I got a call. “Come home. I can’t tell you more than that.”

What is it with the older generation and suspense? Not telling news over the phone because you’d prefer to do it face to face? Tell me. Tell me over the phone.

I normally take an hour to dress and leave the house. I got ready and to my station in fifteen minutes. I forgot my phone charger, food and clean underwear. Skank.

That was my Mum’s first haemorrhage during her cancer. The second one would be a week later and she wouldn’t survive.

On that day, my religious friends prayed and we held prayer circles. My Mum became responsive and it almost moved me, a lifelong atheist, to spirituality. It was powerful to see our prayers bringing my Mum back and the overwhelming religiosity got me thinking. It still isn’t for me, but the prayers were comforting and she survived her second brain operation in her life.  

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After the operation, my Mum flitted in and out of consciousness. Her brain seemed to be decaying as the blood loss killed off cells, and she began showing signs typical of stroke – her left side functions were weaker, she struggled with co-ordination and we always had to remind her where she was, the time and day, and the fact she was very ill.

There were good days where she returned to us. I sat next to her with my cousin and two of my closest friends and we chatted, laughed, joked and she texted me that night to say it was “like all of her birthdays and Christmases at once”.

The bad days were like the last day I spoke to her. She couldn’t sign her name on a will document, and couldn’t stop removing her clothes. I had to slowly talk her through her daily menu, and the bright, funny, slick and sharp woman who raised me alone was lost within the frail, emaciated body the illness had made her. Despite this, we ended saying we loved each other in English and Italian. We said ti amo. I think it should have been ti voglio bene. And that was the last thing we said to each other.

You know, I used to call my Mum back to say I love you, because I couldn’t bear the thought of that not being the last thing we ever said.

On Thursday 11th February, there were plenty of “this is it” moments. You become obsessed with reading the vital signs monitor. Respiratory rates and heart rates and blood pressures. One dear aunt used to remind me to stop obsessing, and when we knew the end was coming the hospital moved her to a room with no monitor so we could focus on the goodbyes not the falling numbers.

I ate only spearmints that day, and refused to go home for the night. I didn’t want “the call”, and her seizures were becoming so frequent that it was likely we were into her final hours.

The sun rose upon Friday 12th. The seconds without breath were followed by desperate gasps, her chest rising like a tide and her pulse thudding through her thin neck. Deep within me I wished that she would just let go and finally choose peace over struggle. Four minutes before her final breath I began writing an entry into my journal. I got to “we have been holding a vigil”.

And then it was over, at 9:22am. Four weeks of hospital visits, shuttling between two cities, crying and laughing, updates and pancake dates with my friends, arguing with a formidable aunt, movies with my cousin, eating only Rice Krispies Multi Grain cereal… it was over.

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My aunt sobbed as she made the calls, but I just wanted to hug my Mum. I lay with her like I couldn’t do for the past four weeks because the large tumour in her abdomen made our traditional goodnight hugs painful. We just hugged until her body became too cold to bear. The family arrived and I kept my face buried in A Thousand Splendid Suns because I wanted to remember my mother alive.

I walked out of the hospital, walking past the same ward where she had birthed me and the first ward into which she was admitted four weeks ago.

I boarded a train back to London two hours later. I ate food that wasn’t cereal, and booked a flight out of the country to escape the questions.

Facebook filled with condolences. In between the mundane were the RIPs. I loved that she was being remembered but I didn’t want it. I didn’t want her remembered like the rest of the dead. I wanted her remembered for who she was, and RIP seemed empty for someone with such a full life.

Leaving the country was my escape plan. I thought that through bowls of pasta al pesto e zola, chunks of pane mantovano, sliding down the most minescule piste in Val d’Aosta and acing games of poker, I could find normality but you can’t really escape.

My Mum’s house was burgled. I rowed with my letting agents over a faulty light. I broke down over insignificant things and declared the year a total write off. As more celebrities died and job rejections came in, I decided nothing good could ever come from 2016. Twenty shit-teen.

March started out in darkness and I nearly lost everything. I didn’t feel like I was being consumed by grief, but I was lying in bed wondering why I was actually carrying on with life. We were a rotten species, humanity. We were all insignificant. If I were to die there would be no impact and I didn’t see much point carrying on with life without my mother. I also didn’t want to attend the funeral. I didn’t want the formality and the monumental death rites. I wanted to remember her in life.

I spoke to a friend who had also lost his mother, who told me to endure the ceremonials as best I could and hold onto my own memories because the darkness of death couldn’t take that from me. I spoke to a friend who told me she had been through the same depressive phase with the same feelings of numbness and pointlessness, and   how she had been reminded that we all DO have an impact. I spoke to a friend who bought me concert tickets for August, prompting me to carry on until then. My boyfriend encouraged me to go on even the smallest outings, to the shops, to the park opposite our flat, to anywhere at all, as long as I was leaving the house. I figured I might as well carry on.

As job interviews fell into place, 2016 didn’t feel like too much of a write off. The day before my Mum’s funeral, I accepted a job.

Judging by how I handled my Mum’s sickness and passing, I expected there would be no dramatic falling on the casket or breakdowns during the speech. I had readied my British stiff upper lip as much as the daughter of a Caribbean immigrant could, and although the day would be heavy, I knew the food would be good.

I had been to only two funerals before: both my grandparents’. Every time I saw the casket and realised they were in there, I shuddered. Decades of memories, language barriers, stories, food, boring visits after school were condensed into that tiny box. I kept the memory of their funeral in my head and dreaded my Mother’s own.

The first sighting of her casket didn’t unsettle me. She was in there, but she wasn’t exactly. My concerns were ensuring my boyfriend, cousin and I got to ride in the Jaguar not the Merc, and the flowers using the regional spelling of “Mom”, not “Mum” like she and I used. The casket, the hymns, the Bible readings all felt like formalities – detached from the reality of anything I had with my Mother. I remembered my friends words, I just had to get through it all then I could remember her in my own way. I kept a stone from her graveside and walked back to the train station with my best friend and boyfriend, my best friend and I singing loudly like my Mum loved to hear.


Nothing about the day seemed real, but occasionally small snippets hit me and rattle through my mind. The cruelty of a certain person’s funeral speech. The echo of certain hymns: “when the roll is called up yonder…”. Occasionally, when I tell my boyfriend goodnight, I freeze. As we filled the grave we sung a song where that word ricocheted through the cemetery. “Goodniiiight, goodniiiight, goodniiiiiiight!” Sometimes I find myself crying about that word.


When I started my job, it became almost every night that I would think “I have to tell my Mum this!”
I wanted to tell her about my cute little uniform with the hat and apron, chat about my new team, tell her about the minutiae of my day and every time my hands reached for the phone like it always had done since I moved away at nineteen, the realisation that she wasn’t at the end of the line struck like a bolt. She wasn’t going to pick up with a “hulloo-OH?” or my favourite, when she’d ask her friends on the house phone to call her back later because I had called her on the mobile. I used to do that. I used to call the house, hear it was engaged then call the mobile knowing she’d terminate the other call for me. She loved hearing the most mundane crap about my day, and telling me the most mundane crap about hers.

Now, when anything happens, I’ll tell her in my head. It doesn’t quite feel right, and neither does resting in the knowledge that “she already knows” but it’s all I have, and no one quite cares about my mundane shite like she did. I tried to write a letter, and even that felt arbitrary and disconnected. Maybe I’ll find what works for me some day. I have a whole lifetime, there’s no rush.

It’s been four months now, but this feels like my new normal. It feels like it’s always been this way. I’m still waiting for my grief to become how everyone says it will be, but I hope it never does. There are times when I feel like it’s here, my typical grief experience is upon me, but it fades and I return to feeling peaceful and balanced. My normal is a feeling of understanding that it has happened, and carrying on because I know I can survive. I know that everything in life that I expected to consume me and envelope me in darkness I have actually survived and seen daylight again. My normal is carrying on because I’m interested to see what’s next for me, and knowing that there’ll be darkness again but if I can survive and feel balance after losing my greatest inspiration and hope, then I can survive anything at all.

Cinnamon French Toast Bites

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This was a Recipe Tin Eats kinda week. For dinner yesterday, my boyfriend and I devoured Nagi’s deliciously sticky Hawaiian chicken, and this morning I woke him up with scrumptious cinnamon french toast.

I have a confession though.

I’ve never made nor eaten french toast.

I don’t know why! When I was wee, I tried “fried bread” and found it vile, and I’m not a big fan of egg so I assumed I’d just hate it. But I love, and I mean LOVE breakfast and I was missing out on such a fundamental breakfast food! So I decided to find a recipe that wowed me and that’d be my french toast-ginity lost.

It happened to be this one, by Nagi at Recipe Tin Eats.

I followed her recipe pretty rigidly, because obviously I was a first timer and boy was it the most soft, pillowy, sugary, cinnamony breakfast I’ve ever had!

I changed a few things up – mostly just the bread, instead I used slices of a small white baton. And she’s right! It tasted exactly like soft fluffy cinnamon doughnuts from the fair!

Ginger Snaps Autumn Apple Crumble

Ginger snaps Autumnal Apple Crumble

Ginger snaps Autumnal Apple Crumble

I’m never not in the mood to bake, but over these past few days I decided to tick off a few baking bucket list items – apple crumble and french toast.

My boyfriend and lovingly titled “Fridge Cleaner” (because cooking for him helps me clear out my fridge) had a few days off so we decided to spend it eating luxuriously. Comfort food for dinner, dessert and breakfast? Oh yes please.

I had decided on a Recipe Tin Eats dinner, Sticky Hawaiian Chicken which I’ll talk about later, but for dessert I wanted to do a family favourite – Apple Crumble (or, in the US, apple crisp). My Mum is the queen of family meals, and almost a decade ago, my brother dated a lovely woman and the two of them, and her two kids and many dogs would come over every Sunday for a big Sunday Dinner of rice, chicken, roast potatoes, vegetables and yorkshire puddings followed by warm apple crumble and Dream Topping. It always went down a storm.

When I decided to make apple crumble for dessert, I wanted something flavoursome, with a tasty, sweet caramel and a crispy topping. Fundamentally, I wanted to make something my Mum would be proud of. Yet I struggled to find a recipe I liked and that used up all the ingredients I wanted to use up. So reaching back to when I lived at home, I copied my Mum’s techniques, with a few additions of my own, and there we have it! Ginger Snaps Autumn Apple Crumble. Welcome, Autumn!

Ginger Snaps Autumn Apple Crumble.

Serves 2

Filling

  • 3 small apples or 2 large apples: I used Kanzi apples because they’re so juicy and a bit tangy. My Mum always used “cooking apples”, but I’ve seen people include any.
  • Maple syrup: Around 3tbsp
  • Packed light brown sugar: 3tsp
  • Nutmeg: 1 tsp
  • Cinnamon: 1 tsp
  • Lemon juice: 2tbsp

Topping

  • Ginger snaps: 8/10 individual ginger snaps
  • 1 stick of butter
  • Maple syrup: 1 tsp

How To:

  1. Preheat your oven to 180°C, or 360°F.
  2. First, crush the ginger snaps. Typically, you might want to use a blender but I crushed by hand with a rolling pin. You want them to be mostly crushed, with a few larger crumb size pieces of about a centimetre.
  3. Rub in all the butter, until it’s combined and the mixture comes together in a crumbly and sticky texture.
  4. In a bowl or jug, add the lemon juice, maple syrup and spices.
  5. Now move onto the apples. I cut the apples into thin slices, but cubes and chunks are fine as long as they are all roughly the same size to cook evenly.
  6. Add the apples into the wet mixture of lemon, syrup and spices and mix until the apples are nicely and evenly coated.
  7. Layer the apples in an oven dish** – one even layer sprinkled with 1 teaspoon of sugar, then another then another. I got to three layers.
  8. Gently pour over some of the remaining wet mixture to nicely coat it.
  9. Top the apples with an even layer of the cookies until covered.
  10. Pour the remaining teaspoon of maple syrup over the crumble.
  11. Add to your warmed oven and allow 20 minutes to cook uncovered, followed by another 20 minutes with a foil covering***. Take out once you can poke a fork through the apples and feel they are completely soft, and the topping is hard and glistening.
  12. Allow to cool at room temperature for at least 15 minutes. Serve with ice cream, custard, dream topping or whipped cream if desired.

Enjoy your syrupy, caramelised, sticky, delicious pie!

Notes

**I served mine from a large ceramic pyrex and that’s what we ate out of. You can easily transfer to a bowl if you’re more classy than my boyfriend and I, but it’s a syrupy, soft dish that won’t work too well if you serve from, say, a springform tin. It has to be transferred straight from the oven dish into the receptacle you’ll be eating it, either a bowl or a mouth!

*** Covering with foil is so important with this dish. Because the ginger snaps have already been cooked, they burn very quickly. Mine burnt within 10 minutes at 250°C so I had to start again – uncovered for 20 and covered for 20. The colouring of ginger snaps makes it hard to judge when they’re cooked, but as a rule, if the apples are softened and the top is crisp and no longer sticky, you’re good to go!

Macaroni Cheese: For Heavyweights

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Don’t be a weakling. Succumb to creamy comfort food that’s easy enough to make to be a week night meal.

Growing up, my mum was an avid home cook, but she always had a few frozen staples that she’d whip out. Chicken drummers and Heinz Spaghetti in Tomato Sauce. Cod in butter sauce. And Findus Macaroni Cheese, scorched in the oven for forty five minutes and presented in its cardboard wrapper. It was my favourite.

They then changed the recipe, and it was a long while until I enjoyed true macaroni cheese again. I tend not to enjoy my mum’s homecooked version – too floury, grainy and not enough cheesiness. Eating it at a restaurant, the cheese is a little too overpowering and it’s forgettable. My version, perfected over years of following and adapting and experimenting? It’s yet to be questioned.

To buy

Pasta: I recommend actual macaroni for authenticity, but it’s just as good with conchiglie, penne, rigatoni and any other shapes that hold sauce well. One cup per person.

Grated cheese: The more variety the better. Choose cheeses based on their effect. I occasionally buy a four cheese mix of mature red leicester, edam, mozzarella and monterey jack and add parmesan. This is a lot easier, and you use the same amount of cheese but with more variety. If I can’t get this, then simply a strong, sharp cheddar and parmesan (for a kick and the topping) is good enough. I add cheese to taste, but it’s usually about  1/2 a cup.

Milk: Full milk or half and half is ideal, but I regularly just use semi skimmed. Typically I estimate this, but I’d say I use about a cup and a quarter per serving to get a creamy sauce when cooking.

Flour/Cornflour: Either is good, although less cornflour is needed to thicken the sauce. About a tablespoon and a half per serving, but adjust for a just thickened, creamy sauce.

Bacon: I typically use smoked reduced salt Danish back bacon or lardons. I experimented with ham and chorizo and was unsatisfied. The chorizon was too overpowering. 1 slice per serving.

Butter: Any. I use about a tablespoon of butter.

Black pepper. 2 pinches.

Panko: Any breadcrumbs will do, but panko is already crisp and gives a lovely crunchy topping. About 1/8th of a cup.

Parsley: Fresh is ideal but I usually use dried. Enough to just sprinkle on top.

How to:

First, pre-heat your oven to 190. Or whatever helps your oven to do its thing.

boil your pasta until al dente. Set aside and drain the pan of any water. You’ll use it again to save on washing up (and this dish is difficult to wash up!)

Add butter to the saucepan, and allow to melt. Then, add the bacon let it sizzle until brown.

Whilst waiting for it to brown, mix in a measuring jug the milk and flour until combined.

Once the bacon has browned, transfer to your newly dried saucepan and add the milk, stirring until it just begins to thicken. If it starts to boil, remove from the heat immediately and add cheese. Stir until the cheese is molten, and then add pepper. Remove from the heat. Stir until mixed in, and add the pasta to the sauce

You can now transfer to a baking dish or pyrex. Mix panko with a little more grated cheese and parsley, spread evenly on the pasta and then sprinkle on some parmesan and place in the oven for 45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and bubbling. Take it out, and enjoy either in the baking dish or transferred to a plate.

Serve with some veggies, a salad or as a side dish for a chicken main meal. However you present it, it’s sure to please a crowd!

Eating London: Fratelli La Bufala and Franco Manca

Might I have to change up the cuisines a little more often? I don’t know. This edition of Eating London is, of course, Italian restaurant inspired. I thought the next time I ate out at a restaurant, it would be at San Carlo Cicchetti. I had my order planned and ready and was looking forward to tucking into some crisp gnocco fritto and seventy odd other plates of food. Instead, we went to Piccadilly’s Fratelli La Bufala.

Fratelli La Bufala

Upon the recommendation of two equally Italian friends of my boyfriend, we had been meaning to eat at FLB for quite some time. Apparently the food was “not cheap, but good.” Don’t forget, we love cheap. He moreso than I. Whereas I will delight in sourcing my meals from Waitrose, he converts me to the Lidl and Aldi bakery dark side.

Anyway, we’d planned a weekend date night, but last minute invited a friend as we bumped into her. We made fairly quick decisions on our orders – for me, scarparielle, for my boyfriend, pizza fritta and for our friend, fried aubergines. I ordered a bread basket side. Arriving at a little before 6pm, we were promptly seated without a wait and served bilingually by the staff. The restaurant was fairly empty, but pleasant and quiet enough to converse.

Now, what you should know about Fratelli La Bufala is that the name is a bit of a give away to their speciality. It didn’t occur to me until the little buffalos haunting the menu, and the constant reiteration that beef would be served as an alternative to buffalo meat led me to read their sections on the benefits of buffalo. It’s a “delicate flavour that everyone can appreciate“, apparently. I wouldn’t know. I stuck to the classics.

Back to our meal, it’s a good testimonial for them to say I finished the meal before remembering to take a photograph of our food. Our friend’s baked aubergines were crisp and neatly fried like chips, and my boyfriend’s pizza fritta was absolutely loaded with ricotta and salami. There was no tomato in sight, the calzone functioning as a pizza bianca, but the reviews were that it was delicious. And my scarparielle…

Bucatini spezzati drowned in a chunky, peppery tomato sauce and sprinkled with cheese and basil pesto. I’ll never not love tomato-y pasta, but the added kick of the red pepper flakes made this dish super hot. It was perhaps a little too hot to eat without a lot of cold water, and those who aren’t fans of spice might be too weak for this, but I loved it. I’m not a total heat-queen, but I’m also not afraid of a little spice and for me it adds excitement and challenge to what could have been an ordinary dish. The cheese was a nice addition though didn’t add a great deal, but the basil pesto was completely knock-out. If I hadn’t already been converted to pesto from frozen, on-offer pizzas, I’d have become a card carrying basil pesto fanatic the moment I tried this dish. It was just delightful, the right touch and a nice herby flavour to cut through the heat from the red pepper.

My dinner-mates were mopping up the tomato sauce and whole tomatoes from my plates when I’d resigned myself as unable to eat anymore. And that’s the other thing. The portion sizes are perfect – and by perfect I mean huge. I’m either ordering three small plates or I want the portions to be filling. And all our dishes hit the mark in that respect.

Rating: 4.7/5

Best for: Filling, authentic Italian food in central London at a price that isn’t too wild.

Would I go there again?: Yes, definitely. Not as immediately as I’d like to return to Polpo, though.

Franco Manca

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I started a new job! On the one hand, it’s retail which I can safely say is not my dream, but on the other hand it’s an income that can support me until I find something that is closer to what I want to be doing. The key benefit is that it’s in Covent Garden, not too tricky to get to from my house and close to a lot of good (and bad) places to eat.

After my first full day shift, I persuaded my boyfriend to make today the day we finally got a pizza from Franco Manca. When I first mentioned it,  he was unconvinced by the low price and the fact that it’s London, and where outside of Italy does truly good pizza? But after his perusal of the website he decided they must be “honest, darling – and probably good” and he was converted. So now it was just a matter of finding the day to do it.

Tuesday wasn’t the perfect day to eat there, actually. I ordered an online shop to arrive between 10pm to 11, so we’d have to rush home. Thankfully, Franco Manca allows for take away, so after a little struggle to find the eatery, we walked in and asked for our pizzas. A simple tomato, basil and mozzarella base, with the hope of some exciting specials. Bresaola and arucola, perhaps. Prosciutto. Unfortunately, they were all out, but offered us cooked Gloucester Old Spot ham. My boyfriend turned it down. English ham, and all that. I don’t know why he derides English ham. Oak smoked is lovely. Anyway, instead we decided to pick up some ham from Sainsburys and make our pizze a bit less ordinary. They also offered us buffalo mozzarella, which we accepted. So we got two margheritas and were asked to wait outside a while until they were cooked. I was a little put out by this, there’s no real space to wait indoors in the Covent Garden branch, but it was maybe 10, 15 minutes before our pizze came in delivery boxes and we could get our extra ham and go home. I chose speck, he prosciutto.

On the tube, we gobbled a slice to the envy of an American who groaned about how good Franco Manca was. Later, when she disembarked at Euston we mutually agreed that she was after a slice. Unfortunately not, lady. Buy your own. The cooled down slice wasn’t the most desirable, but we were too hungry to form an opinion.

At home, we warmed it for no more than 5 minutes in my oven and layered the ham on our slices. This was when we truly understood what the hype was about. As you will learn, I am quite committed to being anti- experiencing joy, so I initially told myself I’d maybe eat no more than 3/4 of the reasonably sized pizza. It was enough for one – enough to be filling without being overwhelming.

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When I took the pizza out of the oven and tried the freshly warmed slices, I decided to forgo my commitment. I’ll admit that the real delight is the mix of tomato and the buffalo mozzarella. Simple, delectable and like a velvety warm blanket on a cold night. The mozzarella is thick and chewy but compliments the sauce and base perfectly. The only dilemma was the crust. Where usually I resent any crust neglect, I wasn’t a huge fan of the very blackened sourdough edges of this pizza, and thought it added a little negative taste to what was otherwise delicious and very moreish. Overall though, I concluded that this pizza was indeed worth all the hype.

Rating: 4.6/5

Best for: Large, simple pizzas dotted around London at extremely reasonable prices.

Would I eat there again?: Yes, primarily for convenience and price. Although, it was delicious and one of the better pizzas I’ve had in the UK.

also yes, I went back to the cereal cafe. It’s still delicious. And french toast crunch? Perfect.

Eating London: Bodeans, Cereal Killer Cafe, Polpo, Maxwell’s Bar and Grill.

2015 in London restaurants.

Cereal Killer Cafe, Shoreditch and Camden

I will admit it. I was looking forward to Cereal Killer Café coming to London. I love cereal and I was excited about a café devoted entirely to my favourite food. I didn’t care that the owners were bearded, and I found a lot of the criticism levied at the café was ill-thought out. I mean sure, you can have a box of cereal for the price they’re offering a bowl, but you can also make four + meals for the price of one restaurant meal. Yet still, it took me until April to go with my best friend and fellow cereal addict.

The first time, we went to Shoreditch Cereal Killer. It was a little tricky to find, especially not knowing the Shoreditch area and there not being much signage. Once inside, you’re greeted by and treated walls and walls of cereal – or if the visual cues aren’t enough, a chalkboard menu. There’s UK, US and European cereals, many types of milk and all the toppings your heart desires.

My friend ordered the Spanish Choco Flakes with a twinkie and another topping that I forget, and I ordered American Rice Chex, Spanish Estrelitas and Party Rings. Cereal has never been so fun, or filling.

The Shoreditch cereal café was full of 90s nostalgia, like waking up and immediately living in your favourite Nickelodeon show. The interior design was absolutely delightful, there was nothing I didn’t love about Cereal Killer Shoreditch.

And then they opened the Camden restaurant. Fairly soon after it opened, we visited the Camden café.  It’s located in one of the foodie markets of Camden, but a little more hidden and trickier to find. One of the twin café owners was there, but we avoided disturbing his busy-looking meeting. This time we went for similar meals, Choco flakes and Estrelitas with Crunchy Nut Clusters. I still  don’t really like the new Clusters recipe, but Estrelitas are as delightful as ever. And the new café was beautiful. The walls are beautifully decorated with the same 90s nostalgia and well, the tables and chairs are really tables and… beds.

Rating: 5/5

Best for: 90s nostalgia, cereal lovers, lovers of quirky London ideas

Would I go there again?: Definitely, they’re always adding to their menu and I would probably also choose the Camden café

Polpo, Chelsea

Polpo came recommended almost a year before I actually went. After seeking a restaurant for my graduation meal, we considered Franco Manca and Fratelli La Bufala but ultimately loved the small-plates (cicchetti) style tapas of Polpo, and it was close to where my boyfriend needed to be so we went.

Polpo Chelsea is very easy to find, located in Duke of York Square, near Sloane Square tube station. As soon as we arrived, a friendly waiter began joking with us. We were seated in a lovely spacious area, near enough to other tables to ogle their food but with enough distance for it not to be uncomfortable. The decor is nice and understated.

Going off the recommendation of three small plates for two, we ordered Foccacia to share, meatballs and spaghetti for individual consumption, my boyfriend ordered chicken cotoletta and I had esse biscuits.

The foccacia was lightly toasted, but quite oily. Still delicious. The star of the meal were the meatballs. I had spicy pork and fennel, and my boyfriend ordered the classic beef and pork. They were divine. The right side of spicy, but I like the heat. Some others might find it too spicy. The tomato sauce was just delicious, absolutely divine. I only ate a little of the Cotoletta, and by the time we devoured the four little lemony S shaped biscuits, which had a gingery undertone, we were very full. Overall the meal was phenomenal, I still think about that tomato sauce…

polpo

Rating: 5/5

Best for: People who love to steal food from other people’s plates, great Venetian food.

Would I return?: Give me a day and the time.

Maxwell’s Bar and Grill

Having a difficult relationship with food means I like to very much be in control when I go for meals, and I tend to panic if a meal is thrust on me and I can’t check it’s something I like, the size of the plates, the calorie content and so on. Maxwell’s Bar and Grill wasn’t my choice, but I went along anyway and after a day of anxiety, I decided I wanted the mac and cheese and that was what I’d have! No use plumping for soup just because you’re anxious!

I arrived early and was tagging along to a family meal. They had only booked for four, and when I arrived there was an issue and they thought they might have to seat us as two pairs. I waited at the bar for my family to arrive, and luckily they could seat us all as a party of five.

Coming from a family of terminally late people, we had less than an hour and a half to eat our pre-theatre menu dinner, so we ordered all our food at once. The pre-theatre allows for 2 meals included and sides as an extra – 2 macaroni cheeses, one Old Timer burger, one soup and bread, one caesar salad with salmon, one half bbq chicken, 2 cheesecakes and one ice cream.

I had a couple of fries and my macaroni cheese which was one of the best I’ve eaten that wasn’t made by me. Four cheeses and “curly” macaroni (cavatappi) with a biscuit crust. It was a really nice touch and came in a little skillet. The cheese really came through in the sauce, but oh my was it filling. I managed about 4/5ths and my cousin only less than half. It wasn’t that it wasn’t lovely, because everyone else polished it off, it was just very filling. The fries were also crisp and flavoursome and the bbq sauce smelled delicious. Although I don’t think I’ve quite yet found “the” American for me, I did really enjoy this meal.

Also, the service was fairly decent, and it’s right by Covent Garden station so access is not an issue.

maxwells

Rating: 3.9/5

Best for: Inexpensive Covent Garden dining, typical American cuisine experience.

Would I return: I’d probably visit a few other American restaurants first, but I’d like to go back.

Kitchencraft for Students.

I was, from the moment I bought my Cookworks mini-oven to the last, a pretty avid university cook and baker. I made everything from pastries, to cakes, to stews. My best friend and I created “Stir It Up Bakery”, where we’d bake and cook together. Together we discovered Italian patisserie and the unforgettable gumbo.

I hate the idea that students live on Pot Noodles and toasties. I hate pot noodles, and whilst I’m partial to the toastie I think it’s great fun to cook home made meals with friends and some are surprisingly easy.

A few weeks ago I compiled a list of university essentials, and I was proud of my kitchen list and advice, so I’m sharing it here. Bear in mind, I have always had my own kitchen. If you share, you may not need some of these items, or you may need less.

TISH JARRETT’S GUIDE TO SUCCESSFUL KITCHENCRAFT.

Kettle – Necessary for hot drinks but also speeding up meals which require boiling water. Also great for hot water bottles

Toaster – check if your flat provides this but my cheap, melted Sainsbury’s Basics one has lasted two years.

Toastie maker – Natural companion to the above.

Melamine/plastic plates and cups – Because ceramic ones may be cheap (£12 Sainsbury’s Basics) but you will end up replacing them again and again.

Mini oven – If you choose a studio with no oven, there’s only so many times microwaved meals and cakes-in-mugs will be tolerable. Get a mini oven and get cooking you a roast.

Huge set of forks, knives, spoons, teaspoons – You’ll lose them down the back of places so get a big set.

Dish drainer – Else your washing up will eternally be soapy and wet and stinky.

Storage jars or containers – for badly opened bags of flour, pasta and rice

Foil tins – If you can and do cook, batch freeze in foil tins. They can also double up as lazy disposable bowls and plates.

Carrier bags – Multi functional as mini bins, handbags storage, storage for other carrier bags… I’m very defensive over my carrier bag supply and refuse to throw it out at the end of the year. They’re so handy.

Bin – Mainly if you’re in a studio flat. In a normal flat you may not need one, but in a studio get a quality bin that won’t reek last nights dinner into your living and sleeping space

Selection of knives – One sharp knife for slicing and peeling fruit, a bread knife, a knife for meat, and any other funky knives

Kitchen scissors – good for use outside the kitchen also.

Weighing scales, measuring cups and spoons – Scales are good but only really useful for UK recipes. A lot of American recipes use cups and teaspoons, so also invest in them so “what’s 2 cups of flour in grams” does not become stuck in your Google suggestions. You cannot use a drinking tumbler as a measuring cup.

Skewers – Toast getting jammed in the toaster (turn the toaster OFF first), chicken kebabs, piercing film before cooking, piercing jacket potatoes

Tin opener, ladle, wooden spoon, potato masher, rolling pin, chopping boards – Honestly you’ll rarely use them but you’ll need them and be glad they’re there. Potato mashers  with a grid are a nightmare to wash up, and I never used them for mash, but I did use it to mash down chunky veg for gravies. Anything can be used as a rolling pin if it’s round – before I bought one I used an old thick tube from cling film.

Cling film, kitchen foil, kitchen towel, greaseproof paper

Alcohol things – Honestly I don’t drink so knock yourself out with these, I have no suggestions

Oven trays – I had two really deep ones and two shallow ones. Great to have a selection because they’re a nightmare to clean

Soft washing up sponges, dish cloths, scouring pads – Soft sponges for things that have been soaked or are easy to clean, scouring pads for greasy dried on things and a dishcloth to do any wiping.

Pizza cutter

Pie dishes and pyrexes

Measuring jug

Saucepans – I have two that are equal size, perhaps 7 inches and a smaller 4 inch milk pan, all of them I cannot survive without

Frying pan and wok – I never had nor used a wok, but it’s good for stir fries. I used my frying pan occasionally but I couldn’t have been without it.

Muffin and cake tray – Not essential unless you really do like baking

One or two tupperwares – your parents will ensure you graduate with sixty tupperwares so don’t ever buy any during uni and start with the minimum. I graduated with two drawers full of tupperware and lunchboxes that I rarely used.

Colander – permanently used

Sieve

Decent cheese grater

Mixing bowl

Sandwich bags 

Teatowels

Oven gloves

GROCERIES

Buy whatever you like to eat, but basics like salt, black pepper, paprika, parsley, basil, lemon juice and vinegar get used several times a week and lasted the three years. I’ve never had to replace my tube of salt, my bag of black pepper or my “starter herbs”, and only had to replace my vinegar and lemon juice once. I don’t use ketchup, mayo, bbq sauce or anything like that but they’re good beginner purchases.

Advice on regular replaceables:

I tend to buy kilos of flour and the larger packs of sugar because I know they’ll get used. I take advantage of discounts on things I buy often – if it’s 2 for £3 on cheese and you know you’ll be buying cheese again soon, get two and pay the extra 50p now rather than paying extra later. I found it difficult to burn through whole packs of milk and eggs as I used them only occasionally, so if I was buying some I’d usually plan the week’s meals around using them up. Smaller loaves of bread are better if you’re going to be the only one devouring them. Self-raising flour usually goes unused and I prefer plain + baking powder.

Frozen veg is your friend. Keep a supply in the freezer, defrost when you need them and bung them in meals. I found that with veg, no matter how much I bought, even the smallest amount was too much for a meal for one unless I was batch cooking, so frozen was really helpful.

Things I ended up buying loads of:

Baking/cooking butter. I called my fridge an unsalted butter graveyard, as I’d forget whether I had any in, knew I needed some for a dish and would just buy a new one than risk it. I’d get home and find I actually had two perfectly good packs of unsalted. Same usually went for things like stock cubes/stock pots. Keep a list of what you have in, check it when you’re doing a big shop and bring a shopping list with you.

Cooking Advice

  • Learn some good bases and you can easily adapt them into home cooked dishes: a good tomato sauce (pastas, meat and fish dishes), a good white sauce/bechamel (lasagne, fish pie, cheese sauces, chicken pie), a good mince (shepherds/cottage pie, ragu, lasagne, chilli con carne) and a good stew or curry.
  • Roasts may take a long time but are effortless – after a few minutes prep you can throw everything into one roasting dish and go back to Netflix/studying. My favourite roast is belly pork.
  • Rice is your friend but you really need to master it because leftovers are tricky and can make you ill if not cooled and stored properly. Measure out the right amount exactly because estimating will always always end up with too much rice. For the water, I use the finger trick – level out the rice in the pan and fill the water up to the first knuckle. Then you can throw it with anything like prawns, pork or chicken and spices and veg.
  • Shortbread is ridiculously easy, takes three ingredients and can be customised in a variety of ways. Always impressive.
  • Boil, then roast or grill bacon for an alternative to frying. Boiling it first makes it a lot less salty. A small amount of fried onions and bacon smells amazing and kicks up base dishes like stews, minces, and tomato sauces.
  • Season your food. Always accompany flour with a pinch of salt, black pepper kicks up a lot of things. Basil makes tomato sauces dreamy, smoked paprika, cumin, cayenne is great for spicier dishes, dill for fish, ginger, vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, cloves, nutmeg etc are great “secret ingredients” in baking and usually form the base of most “pumpkin spice” mixes. Parsley can go with a lot of things, it’s my go to “I have no specific seasoning for this dish” and goes in my mash, alongside some salt and pepper. Bay leaves are disgusting when actually eaten but throw them in all your soups and stews. Rosemary and thyme I use on my roasts. Only this year did I bother to buy any.
  • Decent spice blends to buy would be: garlic seasoning (good on spicy wedges and in quick sauces, I use it all the time), cajun seasoning or a chilli powder (for spicy chickens and stews), curry powder (I don’t cook curries but useful for those who will)
  • You can also add a teaspoon or so of sugar to your stews and gravies, and also tomato paste.
  • Cooking spray is great and better than heavy vegetable oil, but olive oil really does have its purposes.
  • Frozen veg. I was so emotional when the time came to throw away my huge, space consuming bag of frozen onion.
  • Batch cook your base dishes and freeze them