Since the beginning of October—and for ‘up to’ eight more weeks—my Tier 2 visa application has been sitting somewhere in the Home Office, slotted into a stack of bureaucratic paperwork. Aside from the weekly sign-in required of international students (mostly inconvenient, slightly demeaning, and eventually repealed), I never felt like my existence in London was dangling on a thin thread of government regulation… until the looming landmark of graduation somehow drifted past, revealing a visa expiration date on the horizon. Now that day has also come, gone, and left me floating around as a legal overstayer in Southeast London.
There’s an exciting but conditional job offer, which I can only accept if/when a new visa is granted; I can’t sign a lease to settle into a new flat, but neither can I legally leave the country and escape uncertainties by killing time overseas. Days are marked by the number of espresso shots required to maintain a healthy café ‘freelancing’ routine; weeks are marked by couch-hopping to avoid sapping hospitality; months trickle by with every conversation (business or leisure, family or stranger) ending in “Sorry, I can let you know more as soon as I do! It should just be another week or so…”
Although life-limbo has been exhausting in ways, I find myself deeply grateful for a forcibly cleared slate. It’s terrifying and relieving to shed the all-consuming illusion of control—the hubris that would have us book early-bird concert tickets, rearrange lunch plans, and then assume we have any sort of authority over the future. Productivity and responsibility are not omniscience. Micromanagement is not orchestration—and hey, I love management on all scales. But stripped of housing, paid work, and mobility, there’s not much left to distract from the bare bones of human existence. So. If you fancy being thrust into a constant state of existential self-examination and spiritual calibration, have a chat with the Home Office!
That being said, I realise an American citizen’s struggle to obtain a UK visa is rather laughable and crass when contextualised. In the height of my own anxieties, I read horrific accounts of Syrian refugees dying on desperate journeys into Europe. I listened to this podcast episode about a Somali refugee in Kenya winning the US visa lottery, literally. Abdi and countless others that face police raids and capsizing boats on their way to asylum have every right to scoff at my privileged existential crisis. Even the worst I’ve endured (thumb-twiddling, free-loading, and career path flip-flopping) is luxurious.
In the meantime, Autumn is happening quickly. All the signs say so, besides the start of new school year (sob). Everyone started wearing scarves again. Overseas enthusiasm for Halloween is on the incline, but I still managed to half-heartedly bodge a costume and disappoint everyone who touts me as ‘their creative friend’. The John Lewis Christmas advert divided opinions, and Bonfire Night has come and gone; I still haven’t properly burned an effigy. It seems like yesterday I was surprised by the season’s first fallen leaves crunching underfoot, yet today every tree along Camberwell Grove is skeletal and bare.
You’d be right to assume that all the above life-limbo has put limitations on leisurely cooking and photography, so here’s the last dish from that beloved nest I vacated exactly one month ago. Romesco sauce is something I’ve always wanted to experience in context of a big calçotade. During the Catalonian spring onion harvest, calçots are charred over open flame and the tender stems are dipped straight into the smokey romesco. This version with whole roasted leeks and jar-of-kamut-that-needs-to-be-consumed-before-moving-out is a notch less rustic, but still a wonderful way to remember the joys of (quite literally) making a home on Copleston Road. Here’s to sandpaper, uncertainty, and smoked paprika.
Romesco-Roasted Pumpkin, Leek, & Kamut
(inspired by Anna Jones’ A Modern Way to Eat)
- 2 whole leeks, sliced lengthwise
- 1 sugar pumpkin (substitute other winter squash), sliced into crescents
- 2 T homemade romesco (see recipe below!)
- drizzle of olive oil
- kosher salt & black pepper
- 200g (~1 cup) kamut (substitute any chewy grain)
- ~700g (~3 cups) vegetable stock
- 2 T romesco, to toss
- handful of watercress
- squeeze of lemon
Preheat oven to 200ºC / 395ºF. Toss leeks and pumpkins in romesco, arranging on a few baking sheets as necessary without overcrowding. Drizzle with a little of olive oil and salt/pepper and roast for 30-45 minutes, until pumpkin in cooked through and leeks are charred on outer edges. Rotate baking sheets in the oven halfway through.
Meanwhile, cook the kamut on the stovetop with a roughly 1:3 ratio to vegetable stock. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer and cover. When all the liquid is absorbed and the grains have a toothsome chew, toss with romesco sauce.
When the vegetables are roasted and come out of the oven, tip them and the cooked grains into deep baking sheet and toss all together. Pop back into the oven for another 5-10 minutes.
Top with some fresh watercress, drizzling with a final spoonful of romesco and squeeze of lemon.
- 3 medium vine tomatoes, halved
- 4 cloves garlic, whole and unpeeled
- 50g almonds, slivered
- 30g hazelnuts
- 2 medium red bell peppers
- 1 dried ancho pepper, soaked in hot water
- 1 slice stale artisan bread, cubed
- 2 T white wine vinegar
- 1 t kosher salt
- 1 t smoked paprika
- pinch of cayenne pepper
- olive oil
Preheat oven to 175ºC / 350ºF. Place tomatoes and unpeeled garlic cloves onto a baking sheet, drizzle with oil, and put into the oven. In a separate baking sheet, scatter nuts to roast at a lower shelf. The nuts should be done in about 10 minutes, but watch closely to remove when golden and fragrant. The tomatoes and garlic will take closer to 30 minutes, until very softened and edges are browned.
Meanwhile, toast the fresh peppers and dried ancho in a skillet, broiler, or open flame until skins are blackened and charred. Pop the fresh peppers into a brown paper bag and set aside. When cool enough to handle, peel off the charred skin, deseed, and slice up.
Place all the roasted and toasted ingredients into a processor/blender with bread, vinegar, and seasonings, blitzing and drizzling in olive oil as necessary.
When storing in a refrigerated jar, cover the surface in a layer of oil.