Sleep. Hiatus. A View.

“I wound up my clockwork sufficiently to tick out onto the waking streets and buzz a newspaper off the sleep-deprived vendor. Like the rest of the poor in sleep of the coming twenty-first century he was a money junkie, trading shut-eye for a tight fist. Nobody can afford to sleep anymore. Do you realise how much it costs?”
–Disappearance I, Jeanette Winterson

I love my sleep. Love the ritual of clean teeth, the gurgle of gargled water down the drain pipe. The shedding of clothing, as if removing them meant you were rid of the day’s troubles and worries. Slipping between sheets; the tangle of limbs. I don’t often get enough sleep, despite the fact I don’t think I ask for much. Give me at least six hours, I say. Usually I average 4 1/2 during my working week.

“And then I was offered the job of a particle in factory physics. I was offered the job of an electron in an office atom. I was offered the job of a frequency for a radio station. People told me I could easily make it as a ray in a ray gun. What’s the matter with you, don’t you want to do well? I wanted to be a beach bum and work on my wave function. I have always loved the sea.”
–Disappearance I, Jeanette Winterson

The other day, I woke up with a start. Maybe my alarm clock didn’t go off. Maybe I was so sleepy, I turned it off without realising. Or maybe I totally forgot to set it to begin with. Either way, I started the day with a run. Running down the street to the train station. Running to catch a bus. Running, past skyscrapers and concrete empires, threaded between blue skies I don’t have time to glance at. Running, to catch up with the rest of my day. At the end of it, I ran all the way home.

“I know we are walking home by a roundabout route, but after I bought my paper this morning I decided to go to the park and feed the rubber ducks. The real ducks died because so many people were feeding them in the new twenty-four hour working day that not a drake nor a duck had a moment to itself. Some sank under the weight of soggy bread, others exploded. The rubber variety are much more adaptable.”
–Disappearance I, Jeanette Winterson

You know when you’re so out of breath that you can’t whistle? Sometimes I feel so exhausted, that this endless cycle week after week, makes me feel like an exploded duck, weighed down by so much expectation. Expectation of bouyancy. Of being able to fly. At the end of the road, when there’s nothing left of me but a funereal bill, will anyone remember what the duck looked like?

“I flung myself down and watched the clouds bumping each other, the break and mend of a morning sky. My body was relaxed and the ordered chords of my thinking mind began to separate into component notes, to reply themselves without effort, without purpose, trailing into.. sleep.”
–Disappearance I, Jeanette Winterson

Sleep restores me. When he’s by my side, that calm and gently breathing B, shoulders rising and falling, his warmth envelops me like no blanket can. I like turning over, knowing he’s there. That sleepy smile, when he realises I’m staring. The profferred shoulder, then snuggled like a spoon against custard.

I realise life is all about what you make of it. Make your own bed, as they say, and lie in it. One day I hope to achieve that magical balance between life and work. When I finally disappear, I hope it will be on my own terms. In the meantime, I continue to push myself. Push out of bed, push to the train station, push through the day and at the end of it, push home to see the B.

Baked Mandarin Custard :
(serves 2)

80g strained mandarin juice (approximately the juice of 1 honey murcott mandarin)
zest of 1 mandarin
50g caster sugar
3 egg yolks
180g double cream
1/4 teaspoon spices of choice (optional)*

Preheat the oven to 150’C.

Whisk the sugar, zest and juice together to dissolve the sugar. Add the yolks, spices, then the cream, whisking only just to combine. Strain the mixture, pressing to extract any flavoursome oils from the zest and pour into two ramekins. Bake, covered with foil, in a water bath for 25-30 minutes or until the custard is only wobbling slightly.

Allow to cool in water bath, then chill for a couple of hours or overnight, before serving.

(* I spiced this custard with cinnamon and cardamom, in honour of Anita’s theme for this month’s SHF : Spices! The custard was served with mandarin and hazelnut sable soldiers.)

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Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Oh the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful,
And since we’ve no place to go,
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
— Sammy Cahn and Jules Styne.

It never snows where I live, but sometimes, it gets so cold that you almost feel as though wearing three layers and a scarf is not nearly enough. Winter sends some people into the doldrums. It’s too cold to go to the beach, too rainy, it gets dark too early, and we certainly do miss all those glistening Summer berries and brightly coloured stonefruit. What Winter does have to is advantage however, are comforting fruits such as quinces, beautifully fragrant pears, and of course, versatile citrus fruits such as cumquats, lemons and mandarins.

When the chill sets in, I up my hot tea intake. Correspondingly, the pudding consumption meter soars too. Several nights ago, it was slices of spicy fruit cake. Yesterday evening, we had warm chocolate cake with ice-cream. Today, I’ve rediscovered the humble rice pudding. While the rest of the world is flaunting ruby red cherries, bunches of sweet grapes, plums, apricots and donut peaches, I’m all set over here to celebrate Winter, rather than commiserate on what I might be missing out on. I’ve got my fuzzy jumper, slipper socks, wool rug, a big pot of Marco Polo tea and my rice pudding. This one is flavoured with one of my favourite Winter fruits : Mandarins. Mandarins, made into a jelly with mandarin rice pudding, mandarin segments and rice snowflakes. The snowflakes are made by cutting rice paper into snowflake shapes, dousing them in sugar syrup and baking them in a low oven until crisp. The mandarin segments add a burst of freshness to the dish and are spiced with ras el hanout, which contributes a little bit of heat and delight to a cold Winter palate.

Ras el hanout is a special Middle Eastern/North African spice blend. It literally means “top of the shop” and signifies the best blend a spice shop has to offer. Every shop’s blend is usually a secret combination of spices. You might already have your favourite recipe for ras el hanout, but I quite like this one by Janni Kyritsis, which is wonderful in savoury pies or even simply sprinkled over orange segments and eaten with honey and yogurt.

Ras el hanout :
(makes about 3 1/2 tablespoons; from Wild Weed Pie by Janni Kyritsis)

1 tablespoon green cardamom pods (3 teaspoons ground)
1 large cinnamon stick (3 teaspoons ground)
1 small nutmeg (1 1/2 teaspoons ground)
1 teaspoon cloves (3/4 teaspoon ground)
2 teaspoons white peppercorns (3 teaspoons ground)
2 teaspoons black peppercorns (3 teaspoons ground)
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

Remove seeds from cardamom pods. Crumble cinnamon sticks. Chop nutmeg into small pieces. Combine all spices and grind using a mortar and pestle or a spice and coffee grinder. Pass through a fine sieve and regrind anything that’s left behind. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark cupboard.

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