It’s been a while, and as I’m currently sat here festering in my room with a hangover that has rendered everything besides sitting, sleeping, eating and watching documentaries as too much effort, I thought I’d write a blog post to give myself the sense that I’ve achieved something today. I thought that the expanse of time that stretched before me after handing in all my uni work would mean that I’d be churning out posts and recipes every few days, but it’s had the complete opposite effect – mainly because I think my brain has turned into mulch with the lack of proper academic things to worry about/think about for the first time ever. I will now legitimately spend a good 5-10 minutes debating over whether to drive to Sainsbury’s or Morrisons, or whether to wash my hair in the morning or the evening purely from lack of anything else going on in my brain right now.
I was going to attempt at a refreshingly lighthearted post on the upcoming general election (I can sense the eyes of everyone reading this rolling back in their head in irritation at the mention at the word ‘election’, so don’t worry, you won’t be getting a rant today about the importance of engaging politically and exercising your right to vote – if you have a brain you already know that), but my housemate, Mark, just came into my room, panicking about the exam he has to sit tomorrow morning. An hour and a half later and I’ve forgotten where my refreshingly lighthearted political post was going, but I now think I want to talk about conversation. Specifically, the kind-of forgotten appeal of putting time aside with no other distractions and no time limit to just talk about things you feel like talking about.
There’s so many distractions that detract from just having a conversation with someone. And I’m not just talking about Facebook or Instagram or the new series of Four in a Bed or the entire boxset of New Girl on 4od – I’m talking about everyday things like the fridge that needs filling and essay that needs writing and the dishwasher that needs unloading even though you swear you unloaded it less than 2 hours ago. I’m talking about the sports that we play and the music that we listen to and the books we read and the movies we want to go see. And obviously the jobs we need to have to pay for all of this (which I am unlikely to get unless the internet swiftly takes New Girl off of 4od and stops producing memes). Basically, what I’m saying is that we have tonnes of stuff going on in our lives and when it comes to the weekend and we finally have the time to do as we please, we (or at least I) find that this time is soon occupied by a number of different activities that don’t allow for that time to just sit with someone, free from any other distractions, and talk.
Topics discussed in tonight’s hour and a half conversation included the pointlessness of exams (obviously the starting point), job interviews, how to tell someone smarter than you that they’re wrong, parents (unrelated to the previous, obviously one’s parents are always right), the ageing population, NHS expenditure, doing things you love vs doing things to please others, touch rugby (if anyone reading this knows Mark, you know any conversation is incomplete to him without the mentioning of touch rugby), dating, sex. It’s a properly cathartic feeling being able to spill whatever’s bubbling over in your mind to someone else and know that you have their complete attention, so why don’t we do this more often? Fleeting conversations and quick catch-ups don’t have anywhere near the same therapeutic value as sitting down with someone with the clear intention to converse, whether you’re debating the outcome of said election (more eye rolls) or debating how much poo you produce over a lifetime (a topic of conversation the other day. The Answer: roughly 11,350kg according to Google. You’re welcome).
One of my other housemate’s said to me a few months go that he thought conversation amongst our generation was dying, and to some extent I can see where he’s coming from. You look around the living room of most households and you’ll see someone bobbing along to music on their headphones, another on their phone scrolling through Instagram (if they are though, tell them to look at my account), and a third on their laptop typing away to a person 50km away rather than choosing the engage with the people in the room. But if people only put these various distractions away for an hour or two and ask each other what’s on their mind, they could start a conversation far more interesting than whatever was keeping them glued to their screen 5 minutes before – like how much poo you produce over a lifetime.
There are a few recipes I’ve been building up over the past couple of weeks that I’d love to share now, but I think I’ll hold off and give a recipe for something fitting to the topic. Below is a recipe for classic scones – a great conversation starter. Go buy some jam and clotted cream, make a batch of these and start arguing over whether it’s jam or cream first (a conversation that reached no conclusion in our flat, but I managed to convert one to the jam-first camp so I’m claiming that as a win).
Basic Scone Recipe (plus a few ideas for adaptations) adapted from BBC Good Food
350g self raising flour
1tsp baking powder
85g butter, taken out the fridge half an hour previously
3tbsp caster sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
A squeeze of lemon juice
1 egg, to glaze
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees fan. Place a baking tray with a sheet of parchment on top in the oven. Mix the flour in a large bowl with the baking powder and salt. Cut the butter into cubes and add to the flour, rubbing with your hands to break up the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Shake the bowl from side to side to bring up any large lumps so you can break them down. Once you’ve done this, stir in the sugar.
- Microwave the milk for about 30 seconds until warm, before stirring in the vanilla extract and lemon juice. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and pour the milk in. Mix together with a knife, before bringing together into a dough with your hands.
- Tip the dough onto a floured surface and fold over a couple of times until the dough is smooth. Pat down to a round about 4cm thick.
- Using a sharp, 5cm round cutter, cut out 4 scones from the dough, or as many as you can make until you have to bring the dough together and repeat the process. I managed to get 8 scones from my dough.
- Bring out the baking sheet and place the scones on the sheet. Brush with the beaten egg and bake in the oven for about 13 minutes, or until golden on top. Give it 5 minutes before cutting them open and smearing them with jam and cream – jam first.
Variations: add a tsp of ginger and cinnamon and 1/4 tsp cloves for spiced scones, add chocolate chips, add raisins, replace the sugar with chives, cheddar parmesan and bits of crispy cooked bacon, throw in some cubes of brie and cranberries. Treat your scones as a base for whatever you’re fancying – I like adding lemon zest and some chopped rosemary sprigs.
p.s. before Mark entered the room and changed my blog topic, I was going to write about the strange loopholes and policies implemented by our government, and I thought I’d share this fun fact with you because I thought it too good not to:
Everyone knows about the ludicrous implementation of the VAT tax added onto tampons, possibly the least likely object to come under the label of a ‘luxury good’. But the madness doesn’t end there. Chocolate biscuits. Rich teas, digestives, shortbread fingers and even custard creams are all considered essential and so don’t come with VAT. But add a layer of chocolate on top? A step too far for HMRC. Likewise with takeaways. Stopping off for a Subway and a pack of crisps on your way home from a night out? Essential. Stopping off for cheesy chips and chicken nuggets en route home? Pure decadence. VAT is added on to any ‘hot takeaway item’, but not cold; funnily enough, that means that any hot pasty or sausage roll that is ‘in the process of cooling after being bakes’ is considered essential and therefore VAT free, but a cheese toasty is not.