The isolation diaries | part 7

Anyone else now at that stage where they want to walk to the top of the nearest hill and scream at the sky? Just me?

At one point last week I went to make some pasta for lunch and on opening a packet of penne the contents exploded all across the kitchen and I found it absolutely hilarious, genuinely marvelling at how it was the most exciting thing to have happened all day.

Speaking of pasta, I decided to attempt making a spinach & ricotta cannelloni for the first time using a BBC Good Food recipe! Initially I was shocked at the amount of cheese it instructed me to buy (Parmesan, two balls of mozzarella, two tubs of mascarpone and three pots of ricotta) but dutifully stocked up, not realising until I was preparing the ingredients that it made enough to serve ten people. We have a lot of leftover cannelloni in the freezer if anyone fancies a dinner party when lockdown is over.

We don’t have a piping bag, so I assumed the makeshift suggestion of using a plastic food bag with the corner snipped off would suffice. I don’t know if you have ever dealt with a spinach and ricotta mix, but it’s very messy. After several despairing trials, which included squeezing the stubborn filling into fragile pasta tubes with the food bag, a funnel and even my bare hands, I resorted to jamming it in with a knife (this was time-consuming albeit your best bet, unless you’re wise enough to own a piping bag).

My approach to debuting this meal followed the same structure as most of my cooking experiences: vaguely stick to the method but don’t go out of the way to buy anything that’s not in the cupboard, season with whatever you want, swap Parmesan for cheddar, forget to check the clock when sticking tray in the oven, then react in a sincerely puzzled fashion when it tastes odd (I don’t recommend trying this at home).

Luckily the end result was a somehow a success, although it was a bit touch and go after I assumed that red wine would be an appropriate substitute for red wine vinegar. I didn’t think to taste my tomato sauce concoction until until after I had heaved the pan off the hob and split it between two dishes, and a small spoonful confirmed that it was far too sweet. My brother recommended I drizzle in some balsamic to balance the flavour out, so I obeyed and hoped for the best.

Overall rating: 8/10. It was a huge faff, but so worth it for a deliciously stodgy, cheesy comfort meal, which I feel we all need right now. Surprisingly the dinner was a hit with every member of my family and this is a rare achievement. Needless to say though I will not be recreating it until I have invested in a piping bag.

I was recently browsing Urban Outfitters to track down a dress I had fallen in love with whilst shopping earlier this year (spoiler: I bought it), and happened to come across this groovy puff-sleeved gem.

If I am buying new high street clothes, which is very unusual these days and most likely a result of lockdown restrictions estranging me from my beloved charity shops, I put a lot of consideration into each garment to ensure I’m not being impulsive.

The process involves many checkpoints. Even if I’m treating myself to an item for a special occasion it has to be versatile enough for me to style up again and again and not purely a fast fashion trend that will decay in the back of my wardrobe.

If it passes this first hurdle, the next test is to refrain from ordering instantly and only go to checkout if my thoughts keep wandering back to the item(s) in question – which was definitely the case in terms of these dresses. The final – and arguably most important – step is to be 100% sold when premiering it (and not just satisfied enough that it balances out the effort to return the parcel).

The fresh, fun shape of this frock makes me feel elated and elegant and is unlike anything else I possess. I know that it will serve me well in spring with chunky Docs, right through to sticky summer days paired with sandals. I adore the unique square neck, exaggerated layered details and dainty line of buttons to fasten it up.

There’s nothing more liberating than a loose, freeing outfit that allows me to breeze along in, and that’s exactly what the floaty skirt and poplin material compose.

I should point out my disappointment when a button fell off as I was trying it on, obviously making me question the quality. There were spares attached to the label and it wasn’t an issue to sew it back on, but I still contacted UO for advice and they refunded me 15 percent (I wasn’t complaining for the money, rather some reassurance), which I reasoned was fine as on the whole it seemed well-made and was in the sale for £34. Plus by this point I was so besotted with the dress I couldn’t let it go!

From one end of the spectrum to the other: this black bikini used to belong to my sister before she donated it to me, and has since joined me faithfully on every holiday. The simplistic monochrome style means it’s ideal for slipping under clothes ready to strip down and jump in the sea after a long day of exploring, and is neutral enough to mix and match with different layers.

On this occasion I wore it for a bank holiday sunbathe in Costa del Cradoc (a.k.a my garden), served up with my new favourite Brewdog IPA, Hazy Jane. I’m not a great lover of ales or fruity beers, but Brewdog have really nailed their branding and I always anticipate discovering the latest flavours – this one is especially refreshing on a hot day. I’m also very impartial to an Elvis Juice!

As a child, if we were spending a summer’s day at home, I would gather a collection of my most important belongings into a bag (probably my Tamagotchi and some sparkly lip gloss) and set up on a towel in the garden. I’d slather on suncream and savour the chill of an ice lolly, pretending I was at the beach and our paddling pool was the sea.

There’s a nostalgic resemblance now in the unexpected release of being unable to travel in a bid to salute sizzling weather, instead reverting to the simplicity of arranging a blanket (or as I have opted for, the more lightweight and aesthetic tablecloth) on the spot in the garden I’m most fond of. The ice lolly has been swapped for the tangy nectar of beer and the Tamagotchi for my iPad, but the purpose of relaxation remains the same – and so do my clumsily bruised legs.

In a book-related update, I participated in an exciting Instagram exchange that involved posting one copy of my favourite novel to a stranger, in the hope that the chain would continue and I would also receive some. To be honest I would have been over the moon to get even one, but THREE books have arrived in the mail so far!

Being sent a book that has inspired or changed the life of another person, or maybe encouraged them to see the world through an alternative lens, is a rush similar to the thrill I encounter when thrift shopping. That primal surge of joy to be consuming something that has touched and been loved by someone you have never met – it amplifies that the object or story really does have a life of its own and we play a mere part in observing and recycling it for future generations to enjoy.

The idea is so appealing to me because I tend to get stuck reading thrillers from the bookshelf downstairs, or sticking to authors I know I like. This concept will hopefully push me to break free from those premonitions and opt for content that is outside my comfort zone, to help me continue learning and challenging my perceptions rather than (guiltily) choosing a book by its cover.

I’m glad that the selected books, which I am now carefully storing on my bedside table, do not all fall into the categories I would usually read. I have tucked into Factfullness by Hans Rosling as when I shared it on my Instagram stories lots of people commented to tell me how brilliant it is! I will share an update once finished; currently I’m a couple of chapters in and it has already sparked my curiosity. I jump between a steady flow of fiction and non-fiction, however shy away from lots of statistics and research so I’m intrigued as to what my opinion will be.

The others are The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly, which has the most beautiful binding, and Until You’re Mine by Samantha Hayes, which sounds right up my street in terms of investigative suspense!

In my mind, books make the best gifts; if in doubt around a birthday present I compile a stack, and feel very touched whenever my friends pass any onto me. For Christmas Beth gave me Diary of a Drag Queen by Crystal Rasmussen, declaring she thought of me when she read the blurb (which in truth could be mistaken for a page out of my diary if I kept one).

I adored the outrageous, unapologetic and bold way that Crystal shares their story, intertwining the past with present and sharing analysis on emotions, dreams, drag and life as a queer person. As someone who is constantly trying to improve ways I can be an ambassador for the LBGTQIA+ community, it was a useful tool on my journey, helping to educate whilst holding its own as a riotous, delightful, reflective memoir to drink in.

The rigid lifestyle transformation encompassing lockdown has enabled me to solidify my identity and let go of symbols I assumed I needed to help define me.

I adopted black eyeliner into my make-up routine, as many teenagers do, while in high school. I was pretty self-conscious about my looks and thought the signature flicks were a welcome distraction from my freckles and the plainness of the rest of my face, so much so that it became a bold form of expression.

For years I robotically painted the liquid onto my eyelids every morning, fearing the outcome if I were to omit the sequence (a friend once told me I look dead without it), despite nothing dramatic happening when on the odd occasion I’d be running so late I couldn’t apply it.

For the most part of isolation, it has seemed unnesseccary to indulge in my traditional make-up routine – especially the intricacies of eyeliner. I have been relishing in sporting a bare face or dabbing on very basic products (I owe my life to Glossier’s BoyBrow) and getting more comfortable in my own skin, letting my natural features shine through.

While eyeliner is a sleek and sophisticated gem (when done right), I don’t need it as a mask to hide behind and will be more selective about when I use it in the future (hellooo 15 more minutes in bed!).

Another label I have been provoked to ditch is the one surrounding my dietary habits. I proudly announced I was vegetarian around five years ago, desperately clinging to this tag as if was some kind of achievement, despite realistically being pescatarian and also sneaking the odd burger here and there.

Like most trends, I jumped onto the veggie bandwagon because I thought it was cool – or more appropriately ‘indie’, which I was determined to convey as a teenager (same applies for nose piercings, smoking and drinking pints).

While I still drink pints, have a nose piercing and (unfortunately) smoke, it’s dawned on me that limiting myself to the pressure of being vegetarian – and retreating in shame when I mess it up – isn’t productive or necessary. Why do I have to slot myself into a box around the food I eat?

Even the term ‘flexitarian’ has been coined to group those who (like me) switch between vegetarianism, plant-based diets and meat. But it’s more complicated than that; there are distinct reasons behind the options I choose.

To start with, I was never all that fussed on meat; chicken, pork, lamb, a roast – these never enticed me. I started to question the rationality behind the dinner plates laid in front of me (regrettably watching loads of those horrible slaughter house videos on Facebook) and concluded that I wasn’t okay with eating animals – and I’m still not, to an extent.

While I think the world may be a better place if more people opted to eat veg more of the time, I don’t judge anyone else’s choices in regards to this. I found it too difficult to cut out fish entirely as seafood brings me so much joy. I have never properly cooked meat and don’t intend to, however I crave a Big Mac about once a month and let myself give into that temptation. I guess because it’s disguised in a bun, with that delicious burger sauce and questionable lettuce, I’m not confronted with guilt about where it comes from.

There are other conflicting areas though: I drink oat milk because I prefer the taste and texture, however I eat a lot of cheese. Ultimately I’m against the mistreatment of any creature, but I don’t feel comfortable going vegan as my heart isn’t in it to commit. My aims have grown to be more in line with the ethics of helping combat climate change so I endeavour to make choices that reflect this, like adhering to a 99% meatless palette.

I’m dropping the ‘vegetarian’ title because I don’t want to feel ashamed about eating the odd bit of meat when on the whole I feel satisfied in playing my part. The key perpetrators of inquisitiveness and my subsequent humiliation around the topic are ironically meat-eaters themselves, and I no longer want to be subject to infuriating questions, such as, ‘how come you won’t eat meat but will eat fish, don’t they have lives too?”.

Regardless, and hypocritically given that lengthy speech, lockdown has marked the chunkiest stretch of time in years that I haven’t wolfed down a maccies (or gone on a night out – I’m calling it: they are definitely related).

My body is undoubtedly thanking me for two months of not going to the pub for one pint with mates and ending up falling out of a taxi at 4am, although I think I’ll have a newfound appreciation for those kinds of hangovers when they’re up for the taking again.

The foggy lens into festival season is slowly focusing into a sad reality and it’s apparent I’ll have to kiss goodbye to my prayers for Shambala (the one festival I had booked for summer) going ahead. This is a blessing, though, as it means maximum precautions are being taken; even if doesn’t ease the weight of the heavy hearts we hold.

2020 is a write-off for physical parties, but not for love, compassion, Zoom calls (anyone else done with quizzes now?), musty-smelling letters tugged open with eager fingers, and big dreams. The summer of 2021 will be a haven of hugs and kisses; an opportunity to feel grass between toes and plaster faces in glitter, to dance the humid nights away in crocheted two-pieces and wake up in a field with loved ones. I’ll even be grateful when I step barefoot into a small pool of warm Carling that’s spilled out from a leftover can outside the door of my tent.

In the meantime, I’m breathing in the Welsh mountain air and thanking my lucky stars for the peaceful views documented above, all taken within a mile radius of home.

Lily x

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