I have been thinking about cafes and trying to pinpoint exactly what it is about them that I miss. I miss the anonymity, the big windows and a vague sense of something bohemian about all the light background noise. But there is also a drama to it, a spectacle.
It is a public affair with a false sense of audience, when of course we are all just as tangled up in our own reading, writing or tweeting to be paying any outward attention. But the potential gaze of others can spur something in us to put pen to paper.
I have been trying to replicate this environment at home. A kitchen table is the perfect height to lean an elbow on, the perfect width to spread sheets of paper all around and has the kettle in close proximity. But with a high ceiling, it can grow cool and draughty, stacks of mismatched plates can catch my eye and snatch my attention. The bedroom, we all recognise, is one of the hardest spaces to concentrate.
I’ve come to realise that the room itself is of little importance. What makes or breaks a space in terms of how conducive it is for writing, is not the desk, but the plate on that desk. No matter our location, it is food and drink that sustains us. Writing is an exertion, writing and eating must therefore go hand in hand as we drink in the days, words, and caffeine.
Tea and coffee, of course, come to the fore. The ritual of a moka pot, pressed and lit on the stovetop, the spooning and spilling of grounds, a cafetiere plunge. A tea bag dropped in the mug, sometimes missed, or an accidental bag of loose leaf providing unexpected pleasure; the scooping of leaves into a strainer left to steep, the strays drifting to the bottom and stirred up like silt when milk is added.
In one of the university’s many infamous wellness tip collections, ‘healthy snacks’ are encouraged ‘to keep you fuller for longer’. But what snacks can we actually depend on? What if the thought of ‘ants on a log’ or a celery stick covered in peanut buter, dotted with raisin ‘ants’ evokes a feeling similar to that of tyrpophobia?
And so here is an incomplete list of the things I’ll have at my desk, and things that that you should too.
- Grapes. A punnet of grapes is the ultimate indulgence. Slumped elegantly like a muse, they make any desk the potential site of a still life. They satisfy a sweet tooth, as addictive as any food that is small, sweet, and comes wrapped in plastic. Sable grapes are worth a mention at this point as they are in season and taste like wine.
- Nuts/some kind of nut butter. Almond, peanut, sesame, none of it matters; as long as it is sufficiently oily and can be slicked onto a teaspoon straight from the jar. Aldi’s Meridian rich roast dupe is a steal. Similarly, your choice of almond, brazil, walnut, isn’t relevant. What’s important here is quantity, you want to be able to dart in and out of that bag, snaffling mindlessly, rustling about in its depths like a squirrel.
- A jar of olives, down to its last briny depths. This BBC good food article says that olives are good for you, though it also deems a healthy portion as ‘about four to five olives per adult’ which is laughable. If you ‘don’t like olives’, it’s time to grow up.
- Dates and tahini. Perhaps reverting back to our second point, but essentially, anything dipped into tahini. A date, an apple, 30p ‘essentials’ white chocolate from Lidl.
- Leading us onto chocolate, of any kind. An explanation seems patronising. Biscuit wise, many supermarket own brand bourbons/custard creams are accidentally vegan. However, if an excess of palm oil troubles you, Casa Italia Didsbury sells bags of buttery goodness for when you are willing to splurge.
- Finally, toast. It feels silly to even be writing this down. Anything that can be toasted: bagels, hot cross buns, crumpets, anything that buys you time to procrastinate by watching the thin wires of a toaster glowing softly into cherry red.
This is a simple list. It should be added to, daily, with whatever you want eat that brings you joy.