Those who have read the blog for a while now will be well acquainted with the oatmeal squares that frame each photo. They’re bland, boring… safe. For those who haven’t guessed, it’s not a speciality prop from my extensive supply; it’s the the carpet adjacent to the window; up here in our castle in the clouds.
When we first moved to London, we didn’t know how long we’d stay. We were chasing some adventures and escaping some nightmares. We were in need of some space. The first few weeks while sleeping in friends’ beds while they travelled and later on their couches were chocked with the adrenalin fueled monopoly of real estate hunting in a new city.
Get a bank account. Get a phone number. Get a National Identity number. Go. Go. Round in a square.
Do not pass go. Do not collect £200.
And it turns out Old Kent Road is not sweetly navy blue, or small.
We were drawn south to Borough; a suburb nudging close to the Thames, in sprinting distance to the Tate, The Globe and the markets which triggered our appetite to move to the other side of the world in the first place.
Despite the adage whispered to us in quiet kitchens; ‘West is best….’ other friends remained firm. ‘We’re east. If you go west, we probably won’t see you that much’.
The Central Line can be a sticky divide.
So south was the compromise.
And so after one property fell through, then another threatened to slip, we quickly signed on. ‘Six months’ we said to ourselves. ‘There’s a six month break clause’. We committed to living in what was essentially an executive retreat. A place city men sleep for four hours in between conference calls while their wives learn dressage up north. It was more than we wanted to pay (much more); but we were seduced; by the view over London Bridge, by the proximity to a lovely gym, a library, the markets, and a supermarket at our feet.
Convenience and the face we could move in the next day won us over. We overlooked the fact that our bed is lumpen. That the bathroom has no drainage. That there is no storage; at all. That the fridge is the size of what you’d find holding gin and tonic in a hotel room. And that my electric stove top has all the power of a lost geriatric.
Six months somehow morphed into two years. And it nearly slipped into three.
Until yesterday. When we discovered that our landlords would like to put our rent up next year by 20 per cent.
It was at this point I swallowed hard, picked up the phone and commenced the game of monopoly once more.
This time I’m not being the Scotty Dog. I’m being the boot.
So soon it’s going to be time to leave our castle up in the clouds. Soon it’s going to be time to say goodbye oatmeal squares.
But hopefully we’ll find anew home with a kitchen that can store more than seven spices at a time. Where I can invest in some plates that aren’t all white.
And I can start really cooking with gas.
Chickpeas with chilli, tomato and ricotta
Serves 1 (or 2 with some protein on the side)
This is the sort of one bowl meal made out of supplies from a supermarket (even better if it’s just below your building). It’s quick and nourishing. And it tries to make something more interesting out of the bland oatmeal shades of chickpeas. Chilli, lemon and garlic contribute pep. Tomatoes and spinach add squish. Fennel and pinenuts bring some crunch. And the ricotta is gentle, nursery soothing calm. Which is exactly what you need when you’re spending your days dealing with real estate agents.
This is lovely with a five minute egg oozing on top. It would also be grand as a side to barbecued chicken or lamb.
1 frying pan. 1 microplane or zester.
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1/2 lemon, zested and juiced
1 clove of garlic, sliced thinly
400 gram tin of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 handful of basil leaves
1 large handful baby spinach leaves
12 cherry tomatoes
1/2 fennel, thinly diced
1. 5 tablespoons of ricotta
1 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes
1 tablespoon of pine nuts
Here’s how we roll
1) Place the olive oil in a fry pan with the lemon zest and garlic. Gently heat for two minutes to infuse a little flavour. Add the chickpeas and turn up the heat to high and fry for three minutes.
4) Use the same empty fry pan to toast the pine nuts.
5) Top the salad with toasted pine nuts, ricotta and chilli flakes.
Nb, also excellent when topped with a five minute egg. Take an egg (older is better). Bring a saucepan of water to boil with a pinch of bi carb soda. When the water has come to the boil add the egg. Cook for five minutes and plunge the egg straight into cold water. Gently peel off the shell. The white should be cooked, but the yolk should still bleed.