Trigger warning: This article deals with topics of mental health, OCD and food-related issues.
I’m a week and a half into my lockdown. Our prime minister in the UK has just told everyone that they must stay home, but fear and mixed messaging around who is vulnerable means I’m already compliant. I haven’t been to the office for a month – again, a result of fear that my chronic illness might have left me more vulnerable than others.
I’m undeniably sad – aren’t we all? It’s the heavy kind of sadness that renders you immobile, though there’s still the energy to cry. I sit in bed in the same pyjamas for days, working from 8 am to 7 pm as a minimum to avoid the news (it makes me cry) and meal times (they make me angry). I miss Pret, and my boyfriend, and planning for the short-term future with confidence and certainty.
After just two appointments with a psychiatrist, who I’ve been waiting to see for a year, all of my upcoming appointments have been cancelled. I don’t know if I’ll remain on the books or have to go back on a waiting list post-pandemic. I’ve self-referred to my borough’s NHS mental health services, but an assessment phone call reveals nothing can be done right now. When services re-open I can try again.
I’m allowed to come off the strongest of my medication for my chronic illness: an immunosuppressant that makes me feel sick and makes my hair fall out. This decision means I no longer fall into the group of people that need to shield at home. Coming off the medication for the first time in two years is a good thing, a sign it has worked, and my body is finally healthy enough to try functioning without it – but there is an undertone of fear. What if I flare up without it? What if I need to go into hospital, and can’t because services are shut down? What if I go to the hospital and get the virus while I’m already unwell?
I have anxiety and mild depression and have spent the last year and a half battling dermatillomania: an OCD-related condition known more commonly as skin picking disorder. Severe anxiety, and an anxiety-rooted fear of being sick, has resulted in patterns of disordered eating.
Nausea, caused by my chronic illness and the medication I take to control it, makes me anxious. Anxiety makes me feel nauseous. This carries me straight to panic, filling my stomach with something heavier than butterflies… The cast of STOMP during a particularly energetic rehearsal. A kid’s birthday party at a trampoline park. It’s an endless cycle that makes the prospect of eating less attractive than a man who calls his ex-girlfriend crazy.
When I do eat, it’s oven food or ready meals. Meals so quick and low effort I have no excuses for not making them.
In an attempt to settle my brain, six weeks after I stopped going out, I decided to move into my boyfriend’s house. With just a cabin suitcase full of clothes, a backpack for my work things and a tote bag of leftover, panic bought supplies, I walked the 2 miles from my home to his.
We have established a new routine, something I find comfort in. I start my working days making breakfast for us both, taking my time to fill the Moka pot and avoid burning the coffee. On half of the days of the week, I cook and he washes up, and we swap roles for the other days.
I have made lentil chilli, risottos, a gnocchi bake and countless cookies. I have spent whole days in the kitchen, making brunch, then picnic snacks for the next-day (sweet and savoury souffle pancakes), and dinner (roasted tomato and broccoli quiche, in homemade pastry, served with salad and croquettes). I’ve thrown together an onion gravy, made curry and flatbreads, baked chocolate cake and made fridge cake.
On my first week here, I burned an onion to a crisp, and on week six I served up still-slightly-frozen veggie sausages. And things still go wrong – I only feel capable when I’m following a recipe to the T, and I still get in a flap when I feel out of my depth. If too much is happening at once, like the oven timer beeping as the pasta water boils over, I feel a wave of panic.
But I also wake up hungry, almost every day. I’m always counting down to payday takeaways and a Friday morning trip to Gail’s for coffee and pastries to bring back and eat in bed. I at all times have at least five tabs of things I’d like to make soon, and I look forward to finishing work, finding a podcast and laying out all the ingredients I might need.
I’m not saying lockdown cured me. I still wake up in the middle of the night anxious and am a long way from having recovered from dermatillomania. But this slower pace of life has allowed me to explore new food and making an occasion of dinner has encouraged me to make the effort with something more than just toast. While I know there will be ups and downs – these things don’t change overnight – I’m embracing my new healthy body, free of the chronic illness I have battled for almost four years and finally enjoying food.
Here are some of the recipes I’ve been experimenting with in lockdown:
Roasted vegetable tart
The best thing about this recipe is that you can do with it what you want. I absolutely hate courgettes so you won’t catch me adding them to this tart, but go for it if you must… The second best thing is how easy it is to create a really pretty dish for picnics or an alfresco dinner!
- A whole roll of ready rolled puff pastry (help yourself out and just cheat when it comes to puff pastry!)
- A handful of baby plum tomatoes
- Vegetables of your choice! Try to go seasonal if you can, but bell peppers (red, yellow and orange work best for me) and red onion (cut in rings or strips) always work
- 1-2 cloves of garlic
- 2 tbsp of olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Wash the tomatoes and cut them in half (this should speed up the roasting time!). Put them in a roasting tray, with olive oil, a pinch of salt (I like rock salt for this kind of thing), and your garlic, crushed. Shake the tray about to get everything coated in the oil, and get it in the oven (around 180°).
- While your toms are roasting, get the pastry out of the fridge to soften a little bit, and get started on chopping up your veg. You want them to be about the same size, so everything cooks evenly.
- Roll out your pastry, and use a knife to score a rectangle about an inch smaller the whole way round. This will create a nice puffy crust, and help you with fitting all your veg on.
- Start with your roasted toms and garlic, and then layer on your veg.
- Follow the cooking instruction on the pack of pastry, or just keep an eye on the tart! You want the edges to be puffed up, and golden brown!
- Serve up with salad, and other summery treats!
During that mini heatwave we had in London a few weeks ago, I made a quiche – even the pastry. But it wouldn’t be a dinner without some stodge so I also made some broccoli and potato croquettes.
- 250g potato (I used some leftover mash)
- 100g broccoli, broken into little florets
- 1 medium egg yolk
- 30g cheddar
- 15g plain flour
- 1 medium egg beaten
- 75g breadcrumbs
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- Boil the potatoes till they’re cooked, drain them and mash them (over the heat to remove any excess water) with some salt and pepper.
- Boil your florets till tender, drain and then dry them off on some kitchen roll. Chop the broccoli into smaller pieces, and add to the mash with the egg yolk and cheese. I skipped on the egg yolk here as I put so many in the quiche and massively regretted it! Divide the mixture into 6-10 balls, then roll them into a sausage shape. Chill for 10 minutes in the freezer, to help them keep their shape.
- Put the flour beaten egg and breadcrumbs in three separate bowls. Roll each croquette in the flour, then egg, then roll in the breadcrumbs.
- Heat the oil in the large frying pan, and fry each croquette for about.5 minutes, or until they’re golden. Dry off with kitchen roll.
- Serve with salad, a sour cream dip, or maybe a homemade quiche! You’ll see in the photo that skipping the binding egg yolk stop made mine a bit of a mess, but they were definitely yummy!
Pret Choc Bars, at home
Lucky for us, Pret has been releasing recipes for some of their best-loved treats, from cookies to macaroni cheese. I completely missed them sharing their Choc Bar recipe (my absolute favourite treat, for all occasions) and made my own recipe.
- 150g unsalted butter
- 3 tbsp caster sugar
- 3 tbsp golden syrup
- 6 tbsp cocoa powder
- 225g Digestive biscuits, crushed
- A handful of raisins, or sultanas if you’d rather!
- 110g milk chocolate
- 110g dark chocolate
- Butter and line a 15-20cm tin with baking paper.
- In a large saucepan, melt the butter, sugar syrup, and cocoa powder. Once this is melted and combined, stir through the crushed biscuits and raisins – it will take a little while to get everything combined but the achey arms will be completely worth it! At this stage, you can add other things like marshmallows, Rice Krispies…
- Pour the mixture in your tin, and smooth out. Stick this in the fridge while you melt the milk and dark chocolate together. Microwave them in 20-second bursts, stirring in between.
- Once melted, pour the chocolate over your mixture, and smooth out again. Put this back in the fridge for at least two hours before cutting into squares, or bars for a real Pret experience!
Written by Izzy Kennedy.
Izzy works in public sector social media, in London. After work, and sometimes before, she can be found reading women’s fiction and feminist or sex-positive non-fiction, listening to podcasts, making Spotify playlists and taking photos of the meals she cooks, sunset she watches and flower she walks past.