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We miscalculated slightly this year and ended up with a 6-foot Christmas tree in our tiny, tiny living room. For scale, I finally calculated the square footage in our flat: 341. This includes tiny entry and hallway, tiny bathroom (I sidle past the sink sideways, and that isn’t even unusual in this city), and tiny shower room (don’t mistake the “bathroom” for a room with a bath).

Or to put it briefly: The tree looked a lot smaller outside.

During Christmas proper, anticipation covered our hastily re-arranged living room in a rosy haze of anticipation. By the time Hogmanay rolled around, though, excitement had given way to resentment. Twelfth night or no twelfth night, the tree had to go.

Now that I have my living room back, things feel a lot more peaceful around here. I have a much greater appreciation for the spaciousness of my living room, now that the furniture is where it belongs. I can settle down to my grading with a serene heart.

I’m certain it will last until at least the third exam paper.

And now, a page from Captain Brid’s galley book, where the rule of thumb is “cook at 350F”.

Quick Sweet Potato and Black Bean Bake

1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes
1 package mushrooms
2-3 spring onions
1 can black beans
1/2 shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Heat oven to 350F / 180C.

2. Peel sweet potato and cut into 1/2 inch cubes. Place cubes in a steamer insert (I like and use this one) or small non-metal colander inside a larger bowl. Add 1/2 inch water to larger bowl. Cover and microwave on high for 13 minutes. Use an oven mitt when uncovering to avoid steam burns.

3. Meanwhile, chop mushrooms. Fry in olive oil on medium-low heat for about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Drain and rinse black beans and add to frying pan once mushrooms are done, just for a few minutes to give the beans a little heat. Chop spring onions.

5. Mix all vegetables in a baking dish and season with garlic powder, onion powder, basil, and salt. Sprinkle cheese over the top. Bake 8 minutes.

Total time 25 minutes. Serves 4 as sole side dish, or 2 as a whole dinner.


Chopping and microwaving is the fastest way I know to cook sweet potatoes. You can also “bake” them in the microwave by piercing them, putting them in 1/4″ water, covering and microwaving on high for about 20 minutes.

Consider covering things with a plate or a silicone baking pan instead of plastic wrap when microwaving. It’s better for the environment and doesn’t stick to the sides of the bowl or deflate weirdly afterward.