Philosophising over a Portuguese custard tart

So I’ve been working on a load of posts about what I’ve been up to over the last month. There’s a post about staying at my favourite castle hotel, one about raving the weekend away at Skye Live and one about a trip to the Outer Hebrides following some boy troubles.

For some reason the writing hasn’t come easy. I keep writing bits here and there but it’s been a struggle; I’m not sure why.

Then sitting at home this evening, under a light dusting of pastry flakes, I felt compelled to share some thoughts…

Portuguese custard tarts (Photo by leitesculinaria.com)

Portuguese custard tarts (Photo by leitesculinaria.com)

It’s been an average day at the gallery. Nicely busy, lots of interesting folk popping in for a chat, normal, good.
After work I nipped into the Co-op to buy a few bits and on my way to the till I noticed a pile of reduced pastries. Amongst the doughnuts and croissants there were a couple of Portuguese custard tarts, an old favourite of mine that I haven’t had in years. I dropped them into my basket.

After supper I put the kettle on and made myself a cup of tea.
It’s a tempestuous night tonight and the sea was dark-grey and dangerous-looking. It’s unusual to see such large, angry swells in the bay and I perched on the windowsill to watch the waves crashing. There’s something peaceful about watching something so powerful from the safety of a warm home.
Also, I think there’s something humbling about knowing how powerless you would be against the force of the water. A reminder of how insignificant we really are.
As I thought about this I shook a tart from the paper bag onto a plate and went to take a bite.

But I didn’t get a taste… I got a clear-as-a-mountain-loch memory.
How is it that tastes and smells can yank up the past so much more vividly than sights and sounds?

Biting down into the pastry I got slingshotted back in time, all the way back to when I first discovered Portuguese custard tarts…

I was in my mid-twenties living in South London. On Saturday mornings my boyfriend and I would wander down the road to the farmers market that was (is?) held at the big church near Oval tube station. We’d nose round, deliberating over which flavour sausages to have for brunch and what type of cheese we might like to nibble that evening in front of the telly (we were softly rounded in that contented-coupley kind of way).
If we felt indulgent we would pick up a couple of treats from the Portuguese cake stall to distract our appetites on the journey home (Oval has a large Portuguese immigrant population and these people know how to make good cakes!)
One day we decided to try the custard tarts, cajoled by the little handwritten sign telling us that they were a handmade speciality.
The tarts were delicious. The pastry was crisp with sugar at the edges and chewy at the bottom where it had gone all eggy and soft. They left a strangely fatty, grainy feeling in the mouth but it didn’t matter; we’d found a new favourite.

Oval farmers' market, South London

Oval farmers’ market, South London (Photo courtesy of City & Country Farmers’ Markets)

That must have been about 3 years ago now and this food-induced flashback made me think of how much life can change.
Maybe not all of a sudden with a shocking tragedy or lucky lottery ticket… just bit by bit.
‘Then one day you look back and everything has changed…’

I often think about how confused 2011 Katie would be if she was suddenly transported into the position of 2015 me.
I wouldn’t recognise the place I live, the people who spoke to me, I wouldn’t know anything.
It’s a funny thought…

C.S.Lewis

C.S.Lewis

Just few years ago I was living in an average flat with a nice boy in an okay part of London.

He’d put on a suit in the mornings and go to work in his government job. When I wasn’t at home trying to paint I’d be selling overpriced polo tat in the Burlington Arcade to fat sheiks with world-class ponies. In the evenings we’d slump into our Ikea sofa and watch TV until it was time to go to bed. Once tucked up he’d kiss me on the cheek then roll over and start snoring. I’d lie awake for hours staring at the ceiling.

It was a nice life. I’d become a bit introverted and didn’t go out with our large group of friends much but it didn’t bother me. My boyfriend was a good guy. I’d just sold my first painting over £1k. My family was happy and healthy.

Fast forward 3-4 years…

I now live on my own in a big old croft house overlooking a picturesque bay. Every morning I wake up to the sea and the hills.
I’m not wealthy but painting commissions are steady. I couldn’t care less about money; the majority of things that make me happy are free. I indulge in my passions, particularly in regards to the environment.
I’ve sloughed off all the fake mates and I now only have a small group of friends who I see rarely but love dearly. We party hard when we meet but when they leave I like to go back to reading quietly by the fire.
My family is now a 14-hour drive away but they’re still happy and healthy. I’ve now met my father, found out I have two beautiful (mostly) grown-up half sisters and my parents have reunited after 28 years. Also, we now have almost as many dogs in our entire family as we do people.
I’ve been through an illness that took me into hospital one week a month for a year and I still keep an overnight bag ready in case I’m admitted again. The outlook on life it gave me was worth every moment of nausea and pain. In hospital I saw how short life can be; every chance and adventure should be grasped tight.
I also smile at stuff more, spontaneously, like a loon. Like earlier today when I stopped to wait for a chicken to cross the road. I was almost late with all the animals on the road this morning but I amused myself by wondering why this chicken might be trying to get to the other side.
When my head hits the pillow at night I’m out like a light.

'Traffic' on my way to work this morning. Animals on the road drive me mad as they're always making me late but they make my drive a bit cheerier.

‘Traffic’ on my way to work this morning. Animals on the road drive me mad as they’re always making me late but they make my drive a bit cheerier.

Don’t these sound like the lives of two different people?

I’m thinking hard; trying to sieve through the categories of my life to find out what’s still the same.
Other than getting continued love and support from my favourite people (and the art career) there’s not much, barely anything at all…

However… I still enjoy custard tarts.
(Even though Co-op custard tarts don’t really come close to the authentic Portuguese ones we ate back in London. Those were pretty special)
But, though the quality of the pastries has got worse, I’d say that my life is unequivocally better.

As I said in a previous post, I had intended to return to London life this Spring. I was going to get back to little rented flats and brunches in Clapham.
But I can’t leave yet, my life here is just right for me at the moment and I couldn’t change it now. Even a proper custard tart isn’t worth going back for.

52d68f9c44bf0673dd947e634b8dc380

I wonder what’s next..?

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15 thoughts on “Philosophising over a Portuguese custard tart

  1. I clicked ‘Leave a Reply’ but I’m not even sure what to say. I’m just a stranger sitting over here in front of my computer in the Pacific Northwest relating on so many levels to the steps & decisions you are making … with one huge exception: you are braver than I. Thank you for telling your story! You make me wish I’d made different decisions in life while at the same time, you’re describing how that might have been so … somehow cathartic ;>]

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    • Hi Christi,
      What a lovely message! I can’t believe I have a reader in the Pacific Northwest, that’s awesome!
      I’m not sure my move was brave at all, more like an oh-it’s-now-or-never moment! I’m very lucky that it’s all worked out nicely for me but I’d definitely recommend taking a chance if you see it -I don’t think it’s ever too late 🙂
      xx

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  2. I read your blogs and immediately can see your life. It sounds amazing. I wish I’d had the nerve to do what you’ve done. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. That CS Lewis quotation really strikes a chord… it calms me when I worry about the future. Your reflections are really lovely to read. Looking forward to the next one.

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      • I’m still pootling along in London -trying to get inspiration for my next adventure- which is what I think lead me to reading your blog! You are as extraordinary as ever! Skye sounds blissful- I’m so glad it is treating you so well Xx

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  4. Hi Katie,

    I can relate to a lot of things you wrote. In 2008 I got Necrotizing fasciitis (flesh eating bacteria) in the left knee and stayed in hospital for 2 months, after that I had to revalidate for 6 months doing exercises to learn how to walk again. My whole life changed for the better experiencing this. I broke up a relationship that wasn’t going anywhere. I met the woman of my life and married her. Started traveling a lot (also to the Isle of Skye) and we got a wonderful son named Seppe.

    Now I’m thinking about settling somewhere more rural than the city of Antwerp but that gives a lot of practical and emotional hurdles to overcome. I would love to live on the Isle of Skye but I’m not sure how we would financially survive.

    Hope all is well with you.

    PS: We love to eat: http://www.pasteisdebelem.pt They are the real deal. 🙂

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    • Hi Dirk,
      That’s such a lovely story. I keep seeing all these cheesy quotes online saying things like ‘If you feel like you’re going backwards remember that arrows have to be pulled back to shoot forward’. They’re a bit naff but there’s certainly a lot of truth in that train of thought.
      Yes, I think it’s a big move to make if you’ve got a family to look after. Although a lot of the people here who have made the move always say it’s thje best decision they’ve ever made!
      K x
      ps: That website made me hungry! Craving one of those tarts in their photos now!

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      • Hi Katie,

        I hope you have recovered after cleaning up the beaches of Skye. Great initiative. A shame some people leave all that thrash behind.

        Did you already encountered midges (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midge) over there? When we went to Scotland in 2009 we bought everything we possibly could to protect ourselves but we haven’t seen one! 🙂

        Annoying that after a long winter you finally can go outside and then these little monsters attack you.

        Are you planning on staying there for a while? I was thinking of coming to Skye in September. Would be great to have a chat.

        Enjoy life on Skye!

        Dx

        PS: Some memories of 2009. https://flic.kr/s/aHsjDbgjek

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  5. Hi Katie,
    That’s so true, how a taste, a sound or smell can evoke so many memories good and bad. Your life has certainly changed upside down, inside out from what I read in this post and all sounds good now. I’ve found life seems to change dramatically in the seven year cycles and I’m soon heading into a new cycle so I hope that’s the one which takes me to live in Skye. Here’s a link to see which cycle you are passing through.
    http://www.spiritualgrowthkeys.com/cycles-of-life.html
    You got me thinking that all the good house moves I’ve made have had a certain tune to them. As I drove away and on to my new life I would play this on the car radio, if you can get beyond the pixelated video and 80s mullets it’s a nice tune

    Keep enjoying those Portuguese tarts 🙂

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    • What a lovely message!
      That’s an interesting idea, I’m going to read more into it. My Mum works in pharmaceuticals/medicine and has often said that health seems to change in 7 year cycles too (for example, people developing hayfever around the ages of 14 or 21). Interesting stuff…
      Also, epic record! It made me smile, thank you!
      K x

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      • The health thing is interesting too, I’m sure I’ve been getting hay fever through my 40s! Glad you liked the tune 🙂

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  6. Hi Katie! I’ve great news. We (a friend and myself) just booked a flight to inverness arriving on the 31st of August and leaving on the 13th of September. We’re planning on staying a week on Skye and a week on Harris/Lewis. I definitely want to meet you (if you want that too). My female friend went to Antartica as a guide several times and is a great photographer so you will have loads to talk about. Will you be around then? I’m so excited. Never been to Harris/Lewis and can’t wait to be back on Skye.

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