Baryshnikov, Russian Poems, тоска, Pretty Salads and Dim Sum


Baryshnikov, Russian Poems, тоска, Pretty Salads and Dim Sum


I went to see Baryshnikov reading Brodsky at the Apollo the other day. Completely sold out and packed full of Russians. Misha, whose beauty has in no way been diminished with age (and he took his clothes off to prove it), read his dead friend’s poems, sitting in front of and dancing inside of a kind of greenhouse that looked like an abandoned railway station somewhere in Russia. The surtitles glanced off the top of the building like smoke, words of emptiness and despair, of pain and loneliness. And, of course, Baryshnikov is not young, the Soviet Union, from which both he and Brodsky escaped, is gone, but so is so much that was wonderful about Russia and the whole performance seemed to be about loss and decay.  This is what I wander around feeling all the time and for that hour and a half I was not alone. When everyone jumped to their feet with a roar, tears streaming down their (our) faces, I was one of the people who understand this abyss of sorrow in which there is great beauty. I know – in England I’m a weirdo. But in Russia I’m normal. Hooray! It’s SUCH a relief to be allowed to bleak!

There’s a Russian word “tosca” тоска with the stress on the a, unlike the opera heroine, that means a kind of melancholic longing. It doesn’t have an English equivalent but you can use it casually for nostalgic sadness or just a sense of bleakness, sadness. If you’re staring out of the window at the endless snow and someone says, “What’s up?”, you can just say; “тоска”.

That emotion isn’t really allowed in England. There is this feeling in the West that somehow we’re supposed to be happy and content. We’re supposed to find the right partner and a fulfilling job, to keep healthy, stay attractive. Then we feel crap when we fail (as we must). So many of my patients, and, I’m sure, everyone else’s, are mainly appalled by their own failure to have a blissfully perfect life. Russians or, at least, Russian poetry and literature, seem to understand that loss, suffering and crushed hopes and dreams are what life IS. They mourn openly. Or, possibly, ‘it’ mourns openly – the canon.

The night before this an old friend (who lives a life so conventional it’s actually weird and who has tried with all his might to repress his existential grief behind a facade of money and familial duty) sent me a Yevtushchenko poem – Goodbye Red Flag. The last line is “and I weep” “И плачу”. He weeps for the loss of something that he never wanted or loved but the loss is great anyway.

ANYway, mad Russian stuff aside, look at the fabulous dim sum we had before the Baryshnikov. Chinatown being delicious – the fug of smells is so fantastic as soon as you get near. Couldn’t pay for it though because my son had taken my purse out of my bag to get twenty quid for bevs the night before. I am so unsuspicious-looking (never, ever get stopped or searched ever anywhere) that it wasn’t a big deal. Went back to pay later. Oh, but CUSTARD BUNS. Can I just say CUSTARD BUNS.

The food photos above –  roasted salmon on spinach sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, toasted nuts, spring onions, avocado, sugar snap peas…what else? Well, everything. It’s everything salad again. I think lemon juice, salt, spring onions and parsley make life delicious.

The rhubarb cake is the German one I’ve made before and the recipe is a few blogs down. But I can’t stop making it. It’s so beautiful and stupidly delicious. I’ve added vanilla essence and yoghurt to the recipe lately. Seriously, it’s just any simple cake recipe with grated lemon rind in it and you push a lot of rhubarb in. Bliss.

The other salad I sort of Waldorf’d. Spinach leaves and spring onions, watercress and probably some grean beans or peas or something, but then I thought I’d lob some chopped apples in (do not peel them, do not peel anything) and grapes. Then toasted some walnuts and made a yoghurt dressing. Yoghurt, olive oil, lemon juice, crushed garlic, salt and pepper. Oh, and mustard! I know a real Waldorf salad has cream in the dressing but that just seems gross. Then I put sausages on top but it wasn’t pretty so no photo of that. Could have been any meat or fish at all. I live off these salads.

Therapy for lasting change via Skype or even email:

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Chicken Pastilla, Cherry and Pistachio cake, People who think Everyone Fancies them and Tinder’s men called Glen

Chicken Pastilla, Cherry and Pistachio cake, People who think Everyone Fancies them and Tinder’s men called Glen

I hadn’t realised when I posted my last thingy that it was so confessional, or that I was saying anything difficult. I’ve always had a weird thing about writing where I write just kind of to myself or like an email to a friend and don’t ever imagine that other people might actually read it. I mean, with a little blog, of course, that’s usually true, but I did the same thing in my Times column a hundred years ago and was always really shocked when people quoted something very private at me as if I’d told them, which I never would have done as they are a complete stranger. Etc.

ANYway, it was really touching to get so many kind messages and comments about my impending operation and how odd it is to get to the end of fertility.

I wonder how I might be attractive still, just from a mammalian point of view, and how it will feel. Glanced at Tinder again as I occasionally do and am appalled by the number of men called Glen. What’s with that? Though this is the least of their worries, obviously. Seriously though, there were four Glens on my last scroll. Is this WHY they’re single? Or is it the yellowing teeth, greyish complexion, motorbike in the background, description of themselves as “fun-loving” or the list of negatives – no time wasters (what the fuck are you doing with your precious time, Glen?), no heavy drinkers (oh dear), no one night stands (you should be so lucky).

Speaking of being so lucky, I’ve got a few friends who think everyone fancies them. This has always been a source of great bafflement to me since no supermodel could guarantee (or imagines) that everyone fancies them and none of these friends is that.  Also, who cares if that fat, old, drunk man wants to have sex with you or not? I was thinking about this in terms of being beyond sexual notice (re. hysterectomy) and remember being pregnant and feeling – God, who am I if I’m not foxy? I don’t even know.  When I sat next to men at dinners before I was pregnant they looked fucking delighted, if a bit nervous. Once I was pregnant they looked up blankly and only what I said counted. Clearly a lot of people live like that all the time but I hadn’t before. I now realise, that like my weird friends who think everyone fancies them, I was used to being objectified, took it for granted, objectified myself, encouraged or forced it. I hated it and hated not having it. I kept my eyes down a lot and was rude a lot, just to get people to back the fuck off. So, it’s not really that they think everyone actually fancies them, it’s that they only see themselves as either fancied or not fancied. There’s no other category for women who view themselves in the male gaze and are resigned to, or encourage, objectification. Okay, long and heavy, but maybe post-fertility will be this liberating area of total post-objectification (though psychoanalysis pretty much put paid to that anyway).

So, back to hormonal comfort food. Both these things are from the Honey and Co. cookbook. The cake is really easy (blend and cook) and the pastilla is way easier than they make it sound. You just fry chicken and onion in spices, wrap it in butter-brushed filo pastry and bake it for fifteen minutes. Honestly, it’s that easy. There is no need for all the pan swapping and stuff the recipe insists on.

Cherry, Pistachio and Coconut Cake

190g sugar (they suggest half normal, have light brown, but, seriously, any is fine)

180 ground almonds, 30g ground pistachios, 45g dessicated coconut, 50g self-raising flour, pinch of salt

1tsp of mahleb (crushed cherry stones, for sale in Middle Eastern food shops but I’m sure it would be good without this and you could just put vanilla essence in)

150 melted butter, 3 eggs

300g cherries (I used 1 and a half tins of Waitrose stoned cherries drained of their “light syrup”, really delicious and a hell of a lot easier)

50g chopped, crushed or whole pistachios

So, mix everything except cherries and chopped pistachios together in a bowl or blender and put in a parchment-lined cake tin, heavy frying pan or whatever. Chuck the cherries and pistachios on top and bake until golden on a middlish heat with a pan of water in with it. Best cake ever.


6 chicken thighs (pigeon? anything probably), salt, pepper, 100g dates, 3 onions, a cinnamon stick (or some ground cinnamon), a chilli, 2 tbsp of ras el hanut spice mix, 240ml water, pack of filo pastry and some melted butter.

They make it sound complicated and have you frying chicken, removing it, doing other stuff, putting stuff aside. No need. Fry all the filling ingredients in olive oil until the chicken and onions are nice and brown, then add the water and simmer for …half an hour? Longer if you like. Cut all the chicken up or pull it apart. Line a heavy frying pan, baking tray, cake tin, with buttered filo pastry. Add the filling (drain it first if too wet), close the pastry so it’s a pie, patch up with more buttered filo if it splits (mine did) and bake in a hot oven for fifteen minutes. This is so easy and so delicious. Eat it with watercress in salt and lemon juice. I did.

(The recipe says for 6 normal people or 4 shameless ones – me and my son at the whole thing in one go….)

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Everything cake, Hysterectomy, Being a Therapist doesn’t mean I’m happy, Sorrentino

I was having dinner with a friend at Satura in Lucca (boring restaurant with lots of deep fried stuff) and telling her how weird it is to be having a hysterectomy (soon) and how sad. Only a couple of years ago I was hoping to have another baby somehow or another and even browsed some donor sites, but it was all really expensive and I wasn’t sure enough to do it. I was aware that part of wanting another baby was to do with the doors closing and not wanting to move into a different phase of life. Also, I suppose I wanted another bash. Marriage over, kids very grown up and I wanted to scream; “No! Wait! I haven’t finished! I didn’t get it right! I want another go!” So, I didn’t do it and now there is such a mess in there that it all needs to come out. And I will be past fertility, empty inside, and on towards the grave. I was devastated when it started looking like this would happen, but now I’m just looking forward to not feeling like quite so much shit all the time. My friend said; “Well, you’re a therapist so you must be able to process it.” Sure. Kinda. I mean, the trouble with having studied psychoanalysis is there’s nowhere to hide. I can’t adopt ten kids and pretend it’s altruism or buy a motorbike and have my breasts enlarged or anything defensive like that. I have to face the loss, the grief, I know what it’s about, and then be sad. Is it better? Well, probably, but it doesn’t mean the loss and grief isn’t there. It just doesn’t get wrapped up in other crap where it doesn’t belong, doesn’t get messy. But it’s there. Or, rather, here. As, for now, is my defunct womb. Ugh.

So, more happily, Sorrentino. Loved La Grande Bellezza and the same friend of bad Lucca restaurant told me to watch Youth and The Young Pope. Hate Michael Caine, no interest in Jude Law, wasn’t very excited. Until I watched them. Youth is incredible and sad and made me feel I’m at the Michael Caine, Jane Fonda end of things when really I’m probably the same age as Rachel Weisz, but I don’t look it. I look at least twenty years older than her. Anyway, endings, new beginnings. Sad. No new beginnings for me, I think now. The Young Pope is, at least on the one hand, one of Sorrentino’s beautiful love letters to Rome. My daughter is at school in Rome so I like watching the city in the pink light, especially in Sorrentino’s passionately romantic hands/eyes/lens.

This is everything cake. Leaving La Casa Rosa for a month in London and wanting to make the house smell of comfort before deserting it, daughter already gone back to school, suitcases in the hall, dogs anxious. I wanted to use up the fruit and dairy stuff. So I did.

A bar of any chocolate (though this is dark 70%, but milk or white or no chocolate would be fine), sugar, flour, butter, eggs, vanilla essence (I add loads of this to all cakes) ricotta or cottage cheese, or philadelphia, yoghurt or none of the above, apples, pears. I guess at the measurements and just see how it looks in the blender but it’s probably something like this.

200g flour

150 butter

3 eggs

200g cottage cheese (or whatever)

200 sugar

teaspoon of baking powder

100g chocolate, chopped into little bits

slug of vanilla essence

any number of apples and pears cut into pieces and tossed in dark sugar and cinammon if you like.

Blend everything except the chocolate and fruit. Then stir the chocoalte in. Put mixture in tin (or roasting tray or iron frying pan or whatever) lined with baking parchment and chuck the fruit on top. Cook until it looks lovely. Put a dish of water in with it so the bottom doesn’t burn.

Feel wistful. Eat hot.

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My Birthday, Forte dei Marmi, The Augustus, Cheescake, Oysters and Omar Sy


My Birthday, Forte dei Marmi, The Augustus, Cheescake, Oysters and Omar Sy


Omar Sy, just gratuitous because I love him. Look how handsome! I kind of force myself to dream about him by thinking about him as much as possible before I go to sleep. Or maybe I’m kind of hallucinating since I’m often quite pissed at that point. ANYway, happy birthday to me, I am very old indeed. I made the Honey and Co. cheesecake, oh God, it’s fantastic. So, I’m in rural Italy so whatever complicated pastry they use who even knows and you can’t get it here. So I made crispy vermicelli (boil, then fry in butter until golden and crispy) and used that as the base. I put some honey in the fying pan too. The cheesecake was Philadelphia with vanilla essence, 50g of crumbled feta and some honey. Then toasted pine nuts (didn’t have pistachio nuts) and pomegranate seeds. Heaven. Went to Forte dei Marmi and the Augustus hotel. My birthday’s on the 11th but Boris Johnson and the other G7 foreign ministers were in it that night so I had to postpone birthday until the 12th. We were the only guests on the first night of the season and the staff weren’t tanned yet, putting the canopies up on the beach tent things, painting all the white slatting, doing the flower beds. We know the owners which always makes me think there’ll be a discount and there never is, but somehow it’s comforting to wander around in a bikini and see Titti in his tweed suit, tie, brogues and v-neck cashmere (Italians are still freezing when English people are swimming in the sea and sunbathing) directing builders around the place, air heavy with orange blossom or honeysuckle or jasmine or something that smells of summer and laziness. The dogs were allowed on the beach as it was just pre-season and they went nuts fighting the growling surf. IMG_1557Went out for oysters to celebrate being ridiculously fucking old and they served wine in a green plastic bucket, the kind you make sandcastles out of. Pleasing. Had a massage from a Chinese lady who works the beach all summer, 10-20 people a day after Easter (just us and the very beautiful German family next to us, though not very near across the meticulously raked sand [saw the blonde afro boy doing the raking] with a newborn baby [jealous] on April 12th) and was thinking about being touched. I’ve read about massages for the very elderly in homes and how wonderful it is just to be touched by another person. Was feeling this myself and melting under the bliss. Very rare for me these days and strangely lovely. I was wondering about the incredible loneliness of the mentally ill and how rarely touched most long-term mentally ill people are. It must be important for sanity. Assuming one isn’t a physical abuse victim, but maybe even then, when it’s controlled and seen.

Therapy via Skype or even email:



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Easter at La Casa Rosa, Full Nest, Asparagus wee

Easter at La Casa Rosa, Full Nest, Asparagus wee



Asparagus wee is the main problem at La Casa Rosa this time of year. Big bunches of really thin asparagus are everywhere and I use them instead of lettuce as a salad base. When everyone has asparagus wee the whole bathroom smells quite gross all the time. I remember reading an Iris Murdoch book where she writes in the first person as a man and says his “urine was deliciously scented with asparagus.” There is nothing delicious about it. Well, about the asparagus there is. The kids went out together in Lucca, which they hardly ever do, and they came home in a taxi through the thick fog up our quite scary mountain, nine minutes before curfew at 12.51am. I was upstairs in bed listening to them laughing in the kitchen and eating lamb and prune meatballs (from the Mamushka cookbook – recipe in a previous post). I’m so close to empty nest that full nest is incredible bliss. So, hot cross buns with cranberries and figs from the Waitrose magazine (and Sheba Anvari’s put-a-pan-of-water-in-the-oven-with-the-bake tip meaning cooked in the middle but not burnt bottom) on Good Friday. I mean, seriously, when they’re hot and you can taste the cardamom, dip in melted butter… and just….yes. Then Easter Sunday roast potatoes (don’t peel them or boil them, but cut them small, toss in lots of olive oil, garlic, rosemary and salt and cook until crispy) and lamb from the Honey and Co. cookbook. Well, I cheated and used Marco Pierre White too. Basically, Honey and Co. have you marinating the lamb in rose petals, cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, ground coriander aaaand….garlic, olive oil. But there’s lots of naffing around with plums and taking the lamb out four times to do stuff to it. Marco just puts it in covered with foil for four hours. So I did that. Oh, and half a bottle of white wine, I used Prosecco. And cook forever. That’s it. The whole house smells SO good. Oh wait, chuck a lot of parsley over the meat before you serve it. It should just fall apart. Pomegranate seeds would be nice, but I didn’t.


Therapy via Skype or even email:

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Coming Home, the Mont Blanc Tunnel, Steak, Chips and Asparagus

Coming Home, the Mont Blanc Tunnel, Steak, Chips and Asparagus


It’s a really, really long way from London to Lucca. Got in the car with son, two dogs, a lot of stuff, left at 6.30am and got halfway, Rochefort sur Nenon, at about six. Thierry runs the hotel there, the Fernoux-Coutenet, and he lets me stay in it even when it’s shut (The Shining). He is always in a bad mood, but he has lent me his car, pushed mine, had me over for dinner when the restaurant was shut, and generally been home for ten years. When people talk about French people not being friendly, I have no idea what they mean.  Swallows, blossom, an otter by the canal, fat lady running (me), labradors swimming. Then thundering off again in the morning through the Mont Blanc tunnel. Last time I drove through it I broke down in it. Bastard tunnel. On the other hand, stopping for real coffee in Aosta on the Italian side is the first bit of the welcome home experience. My son watched films on the laptop, and I listened to S.Town, the podcast sequel to Serial, though not about Adnan or anything. In fact, it started out as a murder investigation, downgraded to a treasure hunt and eventually just profiled a guy in Alabama who may or may not have had mercury poisoning and got addicted to eroticised pain. Basically, a profile of mental illness without really looking at the mental illness. Annoying. Whatever. Getting bored by stories of America. I mean, enough now. I want to hear a profile of some rural Chinese man or something. America, America. Still, I carry on consuming it. Speaking of consumption – got home to La Casa Rosa and paradise. Pear blossom smells incredible, both children are here (neither of them children any more) and we lit a fire, had baths and I made steak and chips. This is me crowd-pleasing for the kids and hardly needs a recipe but here it is anyway.

Steak, chips and asparagus

Fillet steak, garlic, mushrooms, red wine, potatoes, asparagus, parsley, spring onions, lemon juice.

Slice the potatoes quite thinly and boil them in very salty water. I never peel potatoes. I mean, let’s face it, we’ll be dead for the whole of eternity. If I were immortal, I might peel one one day just to see what it’s like. However…etc. Seriously, they’re nicer roasted, fried whatever, with skins on anyway. I even mash them with skins on, so there.

Rub a bit of olive oil, a lot of pepper and some salt into the steaks and put them in a bowl (or whatever) with chopped up (or not even chopped up, but peeled) garlic.

Boil the asparagus for less than a minute, put them on a plate with chopped spring (or normal) onions, parsley and lots of salt and lemon juice. In spring I use very thin asparagus, sold in big bunches here in Tuscany, as salad base instead of spinach leaves. Every day. Obviously, you could have beans or peas or anything. Feta too if you’re hungry, but that might slightly interfere with the Frenchiness here.

Fry the boiled potato slices in olive oil and roughly chopped garlic until they’re crispy-ish.

Fry the mushrooms in a bit of oil and garlic and when they’re brown, throw the steaks in. Lev, my son, likes his blue, so ten seconds either side. Get the steaks out and chuck a glass of red wine into the frying pan with the garlic and mushrooms. Reduce it a bit, or don’t, pour it all over the steaks.

That really is it.

Therapy by email or via Skype if you like:

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David Bowie, Cats, Everything Salad and a Patient who Hides

IMG_0870Slightly lurid picture of Everything Salad there, but the only one I’ve got. Wait. Has it got some weird filter on it? Possibly.  So, I was watching a picture of David Bowie flash up on the TV yesterday, all bony and glazed-eyed (him not me), and wondering why it is that I have always hated him. I mean, not him personally. I didn’t know him and am sure he was lovely – everyone says so and I believe them. But I never really liked the music (except for the obvious few that real fans probably hate – Changes, Modern Love….the easy ones to like), they aren’t coming on my desert island, and I’ve always found his face too hideous even to look at. This occurred to me. He doesn’t like me. Aloof. Distant. Other worldly. He doesn’t beg for our love in the way that Elvis did, the way most singers do. His seduction (at least in public) is the type I hate most – “I am really fantastic and I don’t give a shit about you.” A lot of people love that. I hate that. How is that attractive? I don’t know. It isn’t. I want someone in this world to show some vague flicker of interest in me (by the way, this is not going well as a goal so far). It’s the same as people who like cats. They always say; “They’re so cool. They just don’t give a shit about you.” Right. Okay. Cool. “Dogs are so pathetic because they love you so much. So needy.” Right. Okay. Cool. I want to be adored! I’m needy! I need to be bounded up to and loved. And I want my celebrity to love me, to need me, to ask me to love them. This was my David Bowie epiphany. I know everyone will hate this.

I had a patient who cancelled because she’s too sad to talk to anyone. I wrote an email saying she doesn’t have to talk. That I’ll be here during her session time if she changes her mind at any point during her hour (that mean 50 minute hour) and we can just sit here if she likes. That spending time with someone (albeit on Skype) with someone who is thinking about you and with you can be really helpful. Sounds so unconvincing, doesn’t it? So many people feel like they have to keep talking to the therapist, that they have to feel vaguely sociable to go to their session. But it’s your space and you’re allowed to sit there in silence, fall asleep (there’s a great Stephen Grosz chapter about a sleeping patient) or be rude and aggressive. It’ll get interpreted (“You can’t find any words today,” “You want me to watch over you while you sleep,” “You seem angry today” or whatever) but you’re allowed to do it.

Everything Salad! 

Here is my recipe. Find all the food in the house. If it needs cooking, cook it. Put it all on a plate with lemon juice and salt on it. Eat. I make this all the time.

It’s not as good without: toasted nuts, spring onions or crispy fried salted onions, crunchy fried garlic, a big handful parsley (I can’t be bothered to chop parsley. I mean, why?).

It’s good with any combination of these: spinach, watercress, asparagus (cooked very briefly, still crispy), chopped peppers, beetroot, lettuce, sugar snap peas or green beans (blanched), peas, fried halloumi in chilli, crumbled feta, boiled eggs, crispy bacon, baked, grilled or fried salmon, prawns fried in garlic, fried mushrooms, butter beans or any canned beans either raw or fried, new potatoes, a handful of cooked pasta, rice, chopped apple. You get the picture.

Therapy via Skype or email:

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