Um, but how do you cook an artichoke

And other burning questions

One of the joys of my now-sedentary life is getting a weekly box of fresh produce from a nearby farm. It’s like a grab bag for grown-ups (or for those sickeningly sycophantic kiddies who actually like their veggies).

As with all grab bags (or what South Africans more charmingly refer to as ‘lucky packets’), the box always contains a few surprises. Like this week’s artichokes. In Salt Fat Acid Heat, the Goddess of Home Cooking, aka my fave Samin Nosrat, decrees that they should be grilled; as a loyal disciple of hers I feel wont to obey. HOWEVER, with wildfires still singed on our landlord’s memory, braaing (BBQing) is strictly verboten. (When the neighbour does it, it’s agonising — I start drooling every time I see smoke and linger by the hedge to see if I can catch another elusive whiff.)

If you have any ideas how to do this thing justice, or indeed any other hot tips (eg how to make homemade sriracha), let me know.

Yes, those aren’t artichokes in my hand above. They’re fresh garlic — part of a supplementary haul on a recent visit to the local farmers’ market, a food-finding mission that (along with the occasional UPS delivery) doubles up as the highlight of our weekly social calendar.

I wrote a thing for the BBC

It’s a feature about how wildlife are currently faring right now (spoiler: not wonderfully). It also looks at how our destructive relationship with animals and their habitats helped get us into this mess. To avoid future disruptions of this scale, we need to drastically change the way we treat wildlife.

Read it on the BBC.

Irritations and consolations

Inspired by the hits and misses shared at the end of each episode of the wonderfully silly At Home with Amy Sedaris, I thought I’d inflict mine on you.

May’s spectacular misses:

  • The car that was dispensing free cash for the fun of it from its open sunroof to a swarm of beachgoers in Daytona on Memorial Day. They should ban the sale of cars with sunroofs in Florida henceforth

  • South Africa’s (now revoked?) ban on the selling of open-toed shoes (because that’s just a brilliant public health strategy, right?)

  • Dominic Cummings’s dress sense. Google Image him and shudder

  • Tara Reade. I mean, c’mon

  • Constantly converting cups into grams all the time, like I’m some sort of metric messiah (if only my memory and multiplications were better — then the iPad wouldn’t always be getting smeared in flour)

  • Pivot — I used to love Scott Galloway and Kara Swisher’s biz-politics-tech podcast but just can’t anymore — the immense self-regard! The inane banter! The smug name-dropping! But worst, the breezy, superficial, authoritative pronouncements that occur regardless of whether or not they’re actually knowledgeable about the topic they’re discussing

  • DuckDuckGo’s pathetically imprecise search results. Is a search engine that respects your privacy but is just as effective as Google too much to ask for?

  • Couldn’t get past like page 68 of Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders’s Booker-winning novel. All those witty graveside ghouls... so infuriatingly post-modern. What about you? Did you read it? Did you love it?

Charttopping hits:

  • Making lists. Nothing beats it when trying to create the temporary illusion of control — or when day-dreaming about life in 2023. Oh the places we’ll go!

  • Drinking rooibos tea from a Stanley flask and pretending that I’m on a dawn game drive

  • Close encounters with a grey fox, bunnies, deer, Steller’s jays and a sleepy sea lion. In lieu of Lucy, my absent Weimaraner (she refused to board the last repatriation flight out of Cape Town cos, as a snobby German breed, she’s only prepared to fly Lufthansa), California’s wildlife are going to have to stand in as my interim pet(s).

  • Call My Agent — the chic, funny and surprisingly touching French comedy on Netflix (thanks, Bill!)

  • Music:

    1. Part 1: Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia album (esp. “Physical”) — for when I want to pretend it’s still mid-February and I’m drunkenly bopping about and joyously hugging random single straight girls in a smoky, sweaty Las Vegas gay bar

    2. Part 2: Celeste — whose husky, powerful vocals and timeless fusion of jazz, R&B and pop offers a timely soundtrack to those melancholy moments when you feel like a spot of inconsolable wallowing. Fittingly she was crowned BBC’s Sound of 2020

  • Finding an $8 Spanish white blend in the supermarket that’s remarkably drinkable (in a strange quirk of economics, anything at that price produced in California is truly execrable | as you may rightly suspect, I was forced to leave my wine snobbery behind in South Africa | I have not resorted to home-brewing or making moonshine in the garage… yet)

Game viewing from the stoep, California-style: a bunny {L} and fox {R} recorded by antiquated iPhone’s camera on two separate occasions. Purple circle artist’s own. Know any recipes for rabbit stew? Asking for a friend.

Fossicking about in the analogue undergrowth

During this eternal sped-up slo-mo spring, I’ve been oscillating between feverish bursts of productivity and glassy-eyed inertia. I’ve managed (just about) to stay on top of deadlines, but with a media diet that has left precious little energy or inclination to tackle Worthwhile Things during the time that’s become available because both travel and travel writing (previously, a not insignificant portion of my output) have both evaporated.

Instead: feeling guilty. Guilty at how my novel-in-progress has foundered on the quicksands of digital distraction. Guilty that I’ve devoured hundreds of articles online, but haven’t been reading Crime and Punishment or Emma. Guilty that I haven’t yet started trying to learn Portuguese again (for the eighth time). Guilty at how my (admittedly sporadic) attempts at HIIT, press-ups and yoga have dwindled to nothing (though the lack of an electric mixer and food processor is doing wonderful things to my arms).

Anyway. I didn’t need Poirot’s deductive powers to conclude that technology (or rather my relationship to it) was making May’s bumps bumpier. That the sheer volume and intensity of information barrelling into my eyeballs has been largely to blame for my scattershot attention and feeling, at times, exhausted, unproductive, angry, overwhelmed.

Look, even though I ditch social media, I’m no luddite. Technology has had a profound and in many ways positive impact on my life. Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to be a freelance writer over the last seven years while travelling on five continents (melting ice-caps, please forgive my carbon-intensive sins). I wouldn’t have met my husband, and I wouldn’t get to connect with friends and family right now.

Nevertheless, I’ve been reminded (yet again) that when work and pleasure both involve staring at a screen for many hours at a time, then stepping off the dazzling Information Superhighway and spending time in the analogue undergrowth is vitally important. It might seem difficult or counterintuitive at first, but in making this a part of your daily or weekly ritual, you’re soon seduced by the almost transgressive thrill of temporary disconnection — and the cool, shadowed calm that typically ensues.

The Church of Screenless Saturdays

I recently began practising a “digital sabbath” on Saturdays — no phone, screens, internet. Instead, I make food, scribble in notebooks, daydream, nap, play boardgames (thrashing your other half at Scrabble is even more satisfying than steaming beets correctly, it turns out). When I return to the digital world on Sunday morning, it feels like I’ve had an invigorating mini-break.

I’m trying to bring a little bit of that stillness into daily life. On evening neighbourhood walks, for example, the phone typically gets left at home. I play jazz while cooking instead of listening to podcasts. And, I’ve also unsubscribed from a whole bunch of daily email newsletters (which typically are the entry-way into exhilarating, compulsively fascinating — but ultimately exhausting and depressing — internet rabbit holes).

The Financial Times cruelly refuses to deliver its sumptuous Weekend edition to the rural wilds of Northern California. Instead, I’m rediscovering the quiet, bordered joy of print with subscriptions to The New Yorker and Atlantic. Those exemplars of middlebrow American intellectualism aren’t exactly Austen or Dostoevsky, but for now, they’ll do.

Although there’s a way to go, I’m cautiously optimistic that the slow, upward crawl towards sanity has begun. What about you? Are you glued to Insta (or ChatRoulette/Only Fans for that matter — I’m not gonna judge)? Are there any cures or coping mechanisms you’re deploying to exquisite effect?

Here be sea lions!

If you’re here you’ve made it to the very end of a longer-than-usual dispatch — well done! I’ll be pithier next time, promise.

Keeping in touch is more crucial than ever before — but, because I’ve abandoned social media, I started these monthly-ish missives using old-fashioned email instead. Replies are always welcome and appreciated (especially if they contain Samin’s autograph, Tevas the colours of the South African flag, or a case of Stellenbosch Cab Sauv).