Heart-warming rewards

Clients don’t always realise what goes on behind the scenes on their behalf. Nor do they know just how much time we spend on their accounts – even if we’ve agreed a rate for a fixed number of hours or days. For most of us it’s always more and, often, very much more. Promising less and delivering more is a good policy – provided you don’t let circumspect over-servicing slide into resentment-inducing exploitation.

If we needed our clients to recognise our hidden hard slog we wouldn’t be working in isolation and uncertainty, lurching from project to project, ever hopeful of the big break that allows us to raise our rates and lower our stress levels. We’d be on the other treadmill – the one that brings a steady income (and a life driven by someone else’s timetable, commuting, office politics and always having a CV on the go).

Which means we also don’t go through the agony of appraisals – or the ecstacy when a boss dishes out some praise. So, when a client bothers to thank us formally – by email or letter – it’s time to break open a bottle of fizz … or pull open a filing cabinet and slip the evidence into a Nice Comments folder for safe-keeping.

Which is why, today, I printed the early morning email from a client, on her way to France for 10 days, saying she was thrilled with the newsletter I had recommended (for years) and devised and written (in a hurry when her enthusiasm kicked in), and which was set into a beautiful design by a website/newsletter designer I’ve worked with several times before.

Words on the page, not just spoken, can be especially powerful if freelance life is proving a struggle. On days when life is exceptionally grey, a quick saunter through that folder warms the heart and renews flagging enthusiasm.

Body-warming indulgence (two bean chilli with avocado and sour cream)

1 tin red kidney beans

1 tin black beans

1 tin chopped tomatoes

2 English onions

1 red pepper

1 red chilli

1 tsp hot chilli powder

3 cloves of roasted garlic

Half fat crème fraiche

Olive oil

Himalayan salt


  1. Chop the onions and the red pepper. Deseed and finely chop the red chilli. Drain the beans (I always rinse them, too, to get rid of the sludge).
  2. Sweat the onions, the red pepper and the chilli in the olive oil, covered, for about 10 minutes stirring from time to time so they don’t catch. They should be soft but retain their colour and shape.
  3. Mash the flesh of the garlic cloves and stir it into the onions and peppers with the chilli powder. Let the mixture bubble for a few minutes, stirring frequently to make sure it is all well-blended.
  4. Add the red kidney beans, the black beans and the tomatoes. Stir to combine and let it bubble very gently, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes stirring occasionally to stop it sticking on the bottom.
  5. Roughly chop a small handful of coriander leaves. Top the chilli with a dollop of crème fraiche and sprinkle over the coriander.

Did I say a dollop of crème fraiche? It dropped from a large spoon ...

Way back in the mid 1970s I worked in a Tex-Mex restaurant near Boston, Massachussetts. Owned by my cousin Janet, La Piñata had a strong and loyal following for its heartily good fast food – before fast food became a derogatory term. I arrived, in need of being rescued after a very grim five months as an au pair in Toronto, and had my self-esteem lifted when my tips rolled in at between 20 per cent and 25 per cent because of my English accent (we all shared our tips equally, you will be glad to know). Though it’s impossible to believe now, with my dysfunctional late-start-to-the-day existence (the morning is the middle of the night to me), I loved the buzz of our sunrise trips to the market every day and ran on a high till long after the restaurant closed, not that much before midnight. It was hard work but how the adrenaline flowed.

We made a mean chilli – but all the food was good (Janet’s recipes, not mine) and nothing has matched it though the Texas Lone Star in Gloucester Road came close (its Chiswick sibling never quite made the grade, somehow).  I haven’t yet tried Wahaca.

I should have used Jalapeño peppers for this but I’m a big fan of red chillies which gave it a fresher taste. It’s a meat-free version only because I tend not to eat meat at lunch (except in tiny quantities, and whenever were those two words possible with chilli?)


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