Sunday, December 31, 2006

Here and there

We began our New Year break this morning with a trip to the sales where everything was half price at Harvey Nichols and Harrods. M bought a grey Jil Sander suit and several shirts and I bought an armful of Nicole Farhi sweaters. We were thankful we had gone early; as we left around lunchtime, the stores were thick with people jostling one another for bargains or just to ogle.

We stopped off for lunch at the British Library, feeling like students and academics again, and then wandered around the fascinating and comprehensive London: A Life in Maps exhibition at the British Library. The map above shows the havoc wreaked by the great 1666 fire that wiped out much of London's core. Among others, we saw the earliest view of London, from a Roman medal dated 296 AD and a history of the A-Z from 1652 onwards.

Back home and walking down Green Lanes, the rain poured and the skies darkened and the street glistened cheerfully despite the wind. The bright, multi-coloured shop lights were welcoming and warm, headlights bounced off the slick road surface so that it looked like PVC, water dripped down from plastic store canopies, and two little Turkish boys struggled with their black umbrellas in the wind like two old men. Everything seemed alive with illumination.

Regardless, we were thankful to arrive home. We switched on the heating and snuggled up on the couch with steaming mugs of green tea, slices of moist stollen cake, and the weekend FT. Later we cooked a Korean-influenced soup with soba noodles, leeks, red chillies and beef fillet strips and watched the interminable Junebug. I watched this first at the cinema and don't remember it being this tedious. I guess you have to be in the mood.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Happy New Year

I've had such a wonderful 2006 - I've been so blessed. I got engaged, I moved house, I got a new and better job, I travelled to some amazing places... I can only pray 2007 will be as wonderful. Happy New Year!

Too many cooks...

... do not spoil the broth in fact. After the overeating during Christmas, M and I are craving very simple and light foods, facilitated by the gifts of Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Italian cookbooks we received. Aldo Zilli's The Zilli Cookbook and Claudia Roden's Arabesque - A Taste of Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon I have already mentioned below. But we also received Harumi Kurihara's Harumi's Japanese Home Cooking (from M to me) and Fuchsia Dunlop's Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook - Recipes from the Hunan Province (from me to M).

Kurihara's book features mouthwatering dishes such as Aubergine Gratin with Tofu and Miso Sauce, Ginger Pork Salad, and Japanese Style Sardines with Pickled Plums. Dunlop's book features Junshan Chicken with Silver-Needle Tea, Slow-Braised Beef with Potatoes, and Stir-Fried Broad Beans with Minced Pork.

Tonight after work, we stocked up on Chinese ingredients - Sichuan peppers, cassia bark, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine and groundnut oil - for our store cupboard at Chinatown's Loon Fung and on Japanese store cupboard ingredients - mirin, dashi base, firm tofu and cooking saki - from Arigato on Brewer Street in Soho. At home, we stir-fried rice noodles, pak choi, and tofu chunks with slivers of red chilli, garlic and spring onions in soy sauce and red chilli oil and ate it drinking loose-leaf green tea that kept hot in the lidded mugs we'd also bought from Loon Fung.

We felt very healthy.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Old and new

I am so very sad leaving my parents' house today. The next time I most probably will see them will be the eve of my wedding. After all these years, my identity is expanding to intrinsically accomodate another's through marriage. I'm no longer mum and dad's little (and only) girl. My future is about to be irrevocably entwined with another's. I am so very excited to be marrying M, but a part is me is experiencing a loss too.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Zilli and Roden

Mum and Dad bought M and me two cookbooks for Christmas: The Zilli Cookbook - with recipes such as Field Mushrooms with Goats Cheese Gratin, Grilled Smoked Buffalo Mozzarella Wrapped in Parma Ham, Pasta and Bean Soup, Fried Taleggio Tomato and Basil Salad, Spaghetti with Olive Oil, Garlic and Chilli, Pappardelle with Tuna Meatballs, Wild Mushroom Risotto, Potato Gratin with Fontina Cheese, and Turkey Escalopes with Lemon Sauce.

Zilli is proprietor of London's Zilli Café, Zilli Fish Too, Zilli Fish and Signor Zilli Restaurant & Bar, none of which I have visited, but my parents bought the book because I had told them the chef is renowned for his robust and hearty Italian food.

The other cookbook they bought us was one that M has been wanting for a long time now but which neither of us have gotten round to buying: Arabesque - A Taste of Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon by Claudia Roden. We already own her The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand and Vilna to the Present Day, which is filled with lovely recipes such as Meatballs and Apricots in Tomato Sauce, Spinach Risotto, Lamb with Prunes, Lentil Soup, Risotto with Artichokes, Potatoes with Black Olives, and Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts. Half of M's family are Jewish so this cookbook is a staple.

But closely related to this cooking is Arabic cooking and this book is filled with delicious-sounding recipes I can't wait to try: Tuna with Red Bell Pepper Sauce, Tagine Of Knuckle of Veal with Aubergine, Courgette Fritters, Creamy Filo Spinach Pie, Turkish Yoghurt Cake, Roast Chicken with Pine Nut and Raisin Pilaf, and Chicken with Fresh Figs and Walnuts.

M does alot of the cooking in our household, simply because he enjoys cooking more and trying out new recipes. He's very adventurous and maybe it's the chemist in him (he has a PhD in it, though he's now a lawyer) but he loves thinking about how different ingredients interact with each other. Despite rarely making new year resolutions, I may vow in 2007 to cook more. These two books may serve as a good starting point.

Meanwhile, my mum has been cooking some delicious Indian food for Christmas: king prawns with sweet potatoes and spinach, minced beef with mixed vegetables, and cauliflower with peas and potatoes. I'm stuffed!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Offline

I'm taking some of my writing offline for a little while. I truly believe, as Natalie Goldberg says, that handwriting is more connected to the movement of the heart. Good old-fashioned pen and paper is where my writing needs to be right now, so I can be more honest and open and rambling. The last time I kept a paper journal was in 2000 and back then I deliberately stopped because I thought I was becoming too introspective for my own good (it's easy to be so when no one's reading). I enjoy writing in Planethalder because I am forced to focus outwards more. I shall still record my activities here, but I need to write more emotionally and openly for a little while, and here is not the place.

Season's greetings! Orhan Pamuk won the Nobel Prize For Literature - yee-haw!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The best of oneself

To state the obvious, my parents have known me all my years and though they do not know many aspects of my life and the personalities that accompany those lives, they know my temperament better than anybody. So sometimes I find myself thinking, "I can relax, I can be 100% myself with them without fear that they will leave me". And then I pause: "To be yourself" is often not the best thing to be. Surely it is better to be the best of yourself - what I try and be (though sometimes fail) with M and others? And then I think, surely I should be the best of myself around my parents too.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Returning

My life in London is filled with activity, with talk, with motion. For sure, at my parents' house for Christmas, I've been busy filling up my gift registry online, filling out visa forms, helping my father with his wedding speech, buying travel insurance online, emailing my Indian family with our itinerary, watching old 70s sitcoms Terry & June and Love Thy Neighbour on the DVD player we bought my parents for Christmas, shopping, and cooking and eating yummy curries such as cauliflower, beef with mixed vegetables, and king prawns with spinach and sweet potatoes.

But going home to my parents' house is like returning to the womb. They live in suburbia and there is little to do except eat, chat, think and dream. A kind of hibernation takes place when I visit them alone - my chance to operate at my own pace, to be still, to reflect.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Changing for the better

How has life changed since I started dating him?
  • I was out and about when I was single, but it was often easier to be a couch potato. It's less easy with him because he loves being active.
  • I pay much more attention to my grooming habits and the way I look in general.
  • I eat better: He loves good quality food and loves cooking; I'm inclined to eat junk. Living with him makes me eat better!
  • I don't succumb as often to lazy thinking: He has a curious mind and is always reading The Economist, Wallpaper, the Financial Times, or Wired. I enjoy reading these much more now we're together and can chat about what we have read.
  • I don't overthink things or sweat the small stuff: Perhaps he's a classic man, but with him I have fewer opportunities to dwell on things I can't change, and endeavour to change the things I can.
  • I've watched a lot more Asian movies and listened to a lot more Latin and North African music since I've been going out with him. Whole new cultural worlds have opened up to me.
There are many more...

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Wintering

We spent yesterday morning in a travel agent's office off Oxford Circus booking our trip to India next year. The rest of the day was filled with shopping and cooking. We bought Christmas presents from Liberty and Muji. For ourselves we bought kitchen utensils from Pages Catering shop on Shaftesbury Avenue and French kirsch and Polish bison vodka from Gerry's Wines & Spirits on Old Compton Street in Soho. We also treated ourselves to a couple of cookbooks from Borders: Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries: A Year In The Kitchen and Silvena Rowe's Feasts: Food For Sharing From Central and Eastern Europe.

Before I met M, I had little exposure to Central and Eastern European or even Jewish cooking - surprisingly, since I had always loved Mediterrean and Middle Eastern food, and since my father, who had spent time in Germany as a young man, used to cook sauerkraut for me as a child. But M's grandfather's family was Jewish and from the Ukraine region and his Jewish grandmother's side was Polish, and M has an acute love of Jewish and Central/Eastern European food.

Sour cherries, smoked fish, wild mushrooms, sweet quince, figs, pomegranates, poppy seeds, pearl barley, lentils, beetroot, gherkins, walnuts, coriander seeds, caraway, cumin; beef goulash, chicken Kiev, braised lamb, stuffed dolmeh, moreish pierogi... The ingredients can all be found on our doorstep on Green Lanes in Harringay. Shops specialising in Iranian, Greek, Turkish and Polish food abound here. We're very lucky.

When we returned home, M made Rowe's classic beef Stoganoff and served it with peas and grilled balls of mashed potatoes. He seared a pound of beef fillet strips in a little butter for a couple of minutes, then added a diced medium onion, salt and pepper and fried for a few more minutes before setting aside. Then he added more butter to the heavy Le Creuset saucepan and sauted 400g diced brown mushrooms for 5 minutes. He returned the beef and onion mixture to the pan, sprinkled it with a tablespoon of cornflower and a teaspoon of English mustard and stirred well. He continued to stir whilst he added 200ml of beef stock (made with 2 Oxo beef cubes). He popped the lid on and let it simmer. After 20 minutes, he stirred in 125ml of sour cream and let the mixture cook on a low heat for another 10 minutes. Before serving, he sprinkled in 2 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh parsley.

It's not been all eating chez Planethalder. I've been feasting on books too. I finished the brilliant Chinese novel The Uninvited and have since been engrossed in Hanif Kureishi's portrayal of a man's infidelity and the breakdown of his marriage.
"It is the saddest night," Kureishi's protagonist begins in Intimacy, "For I am leaving and not coming back. Tomorrow morning, when the woman I have lived with for six years has gone to work on her bicycle, and our children have been taken to the park with their ball, I will pack some things into a suitcase, slip out of my house hoping that no one will see me, and take the tube to Victor's place."
Clear eyed and unsentimental stuff.

It's Sunday now, and the sun is streaming in through the kitchen window. Our windows are steamed up - a sure sign it is chilly outside. We've eaten toasted bagels with cream cheese and raspberry jam and drunk several mugs of coffee. M is now at the gym, but I don't feel guilty because I went to the gym all of last week at work. So I've moved the laptop onto the kitchen table and am writing and surfing in between flicking through magazines and Nigel Slater's cooking diary.

M will call me when he's on his way home and I will meet him at our local Polish grocery store to pick up pickled herrings with red and green peppercorns, beetroot caviar, gherkins in brine and black rye bread for our lunch. We'll also pick up a chicken from Baldwin's as we plan on cooking roast chicken for dinner tonight, stuffed with chunky bulgur wheat mixed with lemon zest, raisins, pine nuts and parsley. But before dinner we will go to Hampstead and re-visit our wedding venue to check it out once more to get a better idea on the lighting and decorations we'll need for next February and where the musicians will perform.

Though we are out and about, and though we are both busy at work and planning our wedding, we're generally visiting less museums, art galleries and theatres than usual. Winter is a time for hibernating, for cosying up inside in the warmth, for turning in early and sleeping in late. Winter is for cooking and eating, for curling up on the sofa and chatting, for reading snuggled up inside a duvet, for watching trashy American dramas or Asian horror films on DVD, for shopping and treating ourselves, for dreaming and reflecting and appreciating what we have right now rather than what we don't have. I haven't made new year resolutions for years. I never resolve to do new things until the first shoots of Spring appear around March. Only then am I ready for the new. Until then, and a February wedding notwithstanding, these are the days for standing still and wintering.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Eye-watering

Last night's trip to Umu was an exclusive affair. From the moment we walked down the quiet little Mayfair sidestreet and slipped through the gently swishing, filmy rust curtains and sliding wooden door into the darkened, wood-panelled dining room, we knew we were in for a very special experience. At the counter, Japanese and Western chefs were slicing blocks of raw tuna into fine slivers and shaping grated daikon into perfect cylinders, waiters swished around entirely clad in black, and the buzz of contented diners filled the air.

This being London's first, true Kyoto restaurant, we decided to choose one of the classic kaiseki tasting menus: deep-fried tofu in a fish broth; salmon, tuna and rock eel sashimi with one of those daikon cylinders; a kind of egg custard with mushrooms and fish; deep fried lobster wrapped in a yuba roll; grilled sea bass with a tademisa vinaigrette; steamed shiso rice with flakes of sardines and capers; red miso soup; vegetable pickles; and green tea ice cream.

Everything was feather light and velvety soft in our mouths, and yet curiously substantial at the same time. We were certainly eating earthy food with ingredients that tasted like they'd been transported that day from the mountains around Kyoto, and yet it was all so refined.

There are around 100 varieties of sake on Umu's menu. The French sommelier was as passionate about sake as he was about wine and after a glass of champagne, each course was matched with a different variety of sake. I have never drunk such pure sake before: except for the sake served with our dessert which was cloudy and sweet, the liquid each time was crystal clear, subtle and filtered.

An eye-wateringly expensive but stunning experience. This now rates as my favourite Japanese restaurant along with Roka in Fitzrovia.

Friday, December 15, 2006

An off day...

... well, not quite.

M awoke at 7 and brought me a steaming mug of coffee in bed. As he got ready for work, I switched on the radio and groaned as it was still set to Radio 2 from my last listen (to Jonathan Ross on Saturday, two weeks ago). I listened long enough to be surprised by Terry Wogan playing U2 and Razorlight. His irritating drivel, though, eventually forced me to feed my digital Walkman through the stereo speakers. I sipped coffee, read InStyle, Heat and Glamour magazines, and dozed off until 10.30am as The Killers, Gwen Stefani, Interpol and The Rolling Stones played in the background.

The last few weeks at work have been hellishly busy and stressful, with multiple big projects careening into the holiday season without so much as a pause for breath. Each and every one of my clients is rushing to achieve deliverables before the Christmas and New Year slump, which means no let up for me either. Each day I dream of the luxury of even an hour just to focus on a single project and have time to think clearly, deeply and strategically. I'm immersed so much in micro-management, that I'm becoming frustrated at not having the time to step back and view a project as part of the client's bigger picture. I also want to be able to think more about getting new business.

Christmas week is fast approaching, and it's my choice to work through most of it. Between Christmas and New Year, I expect the office will be quiet, the phone will rarely ring, and deadlines won't be looming. This will be my chance to pull back and calmly assess my clients' objectives and expectations; my chance for some strategic thinking; and, of course, the chance to reflect upon my own career goals.

So yesterday, when the office manager said I still had holiday to take, I took it gladly today and hoped no one would ring me from work. When I finally arose from my slumber, I washed, showered and went to my desk and saw the detailed To Do list I had scribbled out last night:
  • Buy presents online
  • Arrange Indian internal flights and hotels
  • Clean the house
  • Do two loads of laundry
  • Confirm our dinner reservation tonight
  • Order repeat prescriptions
  • Put photos in albums
  • Check credit card balance
  • Investigate conversion of Super 8 to DVD
  • Block unsolicited marketing calls by registering at TPS
  • Go grocery shopping for meals this weekend and next week
When I compiled the list last night, I did so enthusiastically, thinking Yippee, a day free to catch up on personal stuff. This morning I was thinking This reminds me of my To Do lists at work, and All I want to do is veg out.

In the same way that I yearn for uninterrupted time during the week to do some deep and clear thinking about my work, so I yearn for an uninterrupted stretch of time in my personal life to not think at all - to empty my mind of white noise and simply to be in the moment with a clear head and a rested body.

So I compromised with myself. I set out to tick off as many things on my To Do list as possible by 2pm and then give it all up to do absolutely nothing. And the compromise actually made me tick off most of it! The rest can wait until the weekend (grocery shopping) and next week (Super 8 to DVD, photos in albums).

So what have I been doing since 2pm? Eating eggs on toast, drinking coffee and green tea, surfing the blogosphere, reading, dreaming, sitting around alot. Quite simply, being blissfully slothful.

In a few hours I will get ready to meet M and treat him to a fancy birthday dinner in town. But for now, just chilling.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Celebrations

Friday began with the work Christmas party at Kensington Roof Gardens inside a cream and red ribbon marquee that felt like we were at a wedding dinner. The buffet menu was superb and served pork loin, roast turkey, salmon fillets, spinach and ricotta parcels and all the trimmings; an infinite variety of salads, from Caesar salad and Moroccan couscous to beetroot salad and tuna pasta; assorted deli meats and cheeses; and divine desserts from strawberry cheesecake to Christmas pudding and fancy custard.

The foodie celebrations continued on Saturday with a trip to Lowestoft's The Swan Inn with my parents and M to celebrate my mum's birthday. The restaurant is renowned for its excellent fish dishes and we stuffed ourselves with huge, crumbly cod fillets with chips, salad and coleslaw. M had a whole lemon sole, which was equally tender and melt-in-the-mouth delicious. Mum loved the glittering brooch we bought her to wear on her winter coats.

On Sunday, we celebrated M's birthday with home-cooked broad bean and cauliflower curry, chicken biryani and mushroom curry. Mum had bought M a birthday cake and we lit the candles and dimmed the lights. M was delighted: he hadn't had a birthday cake since he was a child. Come to think of it, I've not had a birthday kid since I was a child either! My parents bought him Heston Blumenthal's In Search Of Perfection cookbook for his present. Before we left my parents' house on Monday, my mum prepared a spicy chorizo and chickpea stew which we mopped up with focaccia bread.

We'd stuffed ourselves silly for four straight days and so when we returned to our house, all we craved for dinner was simple food. We ate chunks of feta in herbs and olive oil, flat Turkish bread warmed in the oven, green olives stuffed with pimento, quince jelly, slivers of manchega cheese, baby gerkhins and fresh pineapple chunks with freshly milled black pepper.

M finally got to open his presents. I'd bought him a year's subscription to The Economist, Tenchu: Time of the Assassins on PSP, In The Mood For Love soundtrack, and the Bechers' Typologies of Industrial Buildings.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Simply delicious

It's been a couple of nights of really simple yet delicious homecooked fare. On Sunday we bought a huge carrier bag of vine tomatoes. We gave half to his mother who was visiting, and on Tuesday night, M blanched then peeled the rest of them, then roasted them whole in the oven for half an hour with some garlic cloves and, towards the end of the cooking time, some fresh thyme. When they were roasted, he removed most of the thyme then mashed the garlic and tomatoes a little and served them with freshly ground black pepper, freshly grated parmesan, De Cecco spaghetti and gusty Rioja.

Tonight, he fried chopped bacon from Baldwins, with olive oil, garlic, freshly ground black pepper and cooked butter beans. He whizzed fistfuls of fresh parsley and Italian virgin olive oil in the blender to make pesto and served the lot with De Cecco spaghetti.

Don't worry, he loves cooking. Anyway, I'll make it up to him: I've booked a table for two at über expensive and über exclusive Japanese restaurant UMU in Mayfair next week.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Hunting and gathering

As I barely get a lunch break during working hours, my only chance to shop during the week is after work. That's when all my Christmas, birthday and personal shopping gets done. Tonight, I stepped out into the windy, black night illuminated by Christmas lights, store neon and traffic headlights and braved the manic Oxford Street crowds as they jostled me into one shop after the other.

I was hunting for an outfit to wear at the office Christmas party this Friday night. I'm not a natural born shopper - easily irritated by the crowds and depressed by the sight of myself in tiny, overlit and unflattering fitting rooms - but it's getting easier as I get older to limit myself to the styles that I have learned through long and bitter experience actually suit my body type and personality. Usually this means alot of black and I wasn't straying far from my clothing norm tonight.

At Monsoon I tried on a thousand tops, skirts and dresses and finally struck gold with a long black skirt emblazoned with gold, silvery-grey and dusky pink embroidery along the hem and with a pretty black ribbon tied as a bow along the waist. I also bought a necklace cascading with tiny, glossy black beads and some silver and black drop earrings. Tomorrow I'll buy a simple black cashmere jumper to wear with it, and with the classic black pumps I already own I'll be set.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Four things

Four jobs you have had in your life:
Supermarket checkout clerk, high school teacher, university lecturer, interactive marketing manager.

Four films you would watch over and over:
2001: A Space Odyssey, American Beauty, In The Mood For Love, Out Of Africa.

Four places you have lived:
Hull in North England, Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota, Dehra Dun in the Indian Himalayas, Brixton in South London.

Four TV programmes you love to watch:
Sex And The City, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Six Feet Under, Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

Four places you have been on holiday:
Goa, New York City, Thailand, Czechoslovakia.

Four sites you visit daily:
BBC Technology, New York Times Technology, Bloglines, Flickr.

Four of your favourite foods:
My mum's cauliflower curry, my dad's spring onion and potato curry, Wasabi's spicy sashimi salad, M's borlotti bean and parsley risotto.

Four places you would rather be right now:
I can hear M cooking in the kitchen, I'm on the computer, it's cold outside but warm inside - can't think where else I'd rather be right now. Okay, that's cheating: On a longtail boat cruising the back canals of Bangkok; walking along Brooklyn Bridge towards the shimmering Wall Street skyline; browsing the colourful wares on sale at Paltan Bazaar in Dehra Dun, India; eating delicate tuna tartare at Roka on London's Charlotte Street.

I tagged myself on this meme, but it's fun nonetheless and the first meme I've ever done.

Important to be

And when most of your waking hours are spent handling one crisis at work after another, it's so important to remember to step out of the office, and out of your worries, and simply lose yourself for a minute in nature's explosive abundance. Even in the city.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Important to say

When wedding planning gets on top of us and makes us anxious, it's so important to remember to say, "I can't wait to marry you!".

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Raw silk, sweet jelabis and fluttering butterflies

Halal mutton and lamb; colourful rolls of raw silk and viscose; plastic mannequins swathed in embroidered saris; yellow gold or costume jewellery; crates of baby aubergines and tiny red chillies; window displays piled high with sweet yellow ladoos and milky white rossogollas... A wander down the tiny stretch of Turnpike Lane North is as much an assault on the senses as a walk down the much longer and much exhalted Brick Lane.

As we live just down the road from Harringay's own Little Bangladesh or Little India, we thought it couldn't hurt to see what was on offer in terms of wedding gear before we headed out to Brick Lane, Tooting or Wembley. We didn't expect to find just what we wanted right on our doorstep: raw silk blouses for my sari and jewelled bindis for my face; then we walked back home along Green Lanes peering in at the dazzling yellow gold and white gold displays in the windows of Turkish and Greek jewellery stores and found the perfect necklace, earring and bracelet set.

Having found what we wanted, it seemed a waste of time to visit Brick Lane as we had planned, but I hadn't visited East End's Little Bangladesh for a while and was craving genuine, home cooked samosas. So we took the 141 to Finsbury Circus and cut across Spitalfields Market, buying chocolate truffles with lime, chilli and vodka, and with rose cream fillings from Montezuma's on the way. Brick Lane is half shut on a Saturday and is grossly over-rated in terms of "Indian" food, but there is one place that is worth a special trip - Sweet & Spicy: a cheap East Bengali cafeteria with steel utensils, formica tables and posters of short, stocky Bangladeshi wrestlers. We ate large spicy plates of delicious vegetable samosas, fish curry and chickpea curry, followed by bright orange, and very sweet jelabis.

Our bellies satisfied, we went to Kings Cross and took the train to St Albans where our friend J was sharing and celebrating her birthday with her 1 year old daughter S. We played and drank and ate and chatted away until everyone had gone home. J's partner D is my witness at the wedding and so the four of us chatted wedding logistics: how much alcohol we will need (lots), from where (most likely Calais) and what types (red, white and cava); the different types of music we are having (live Indian classical band plus a mixture of our favourite music from Wong Kar-Wai soundtracks to Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground); who would be making the speeches (my dad, M, and D) and when (during dinner, between courses); and lighting (white fairy lights outside, but we need to revisit the venue to see if the existing indoor lighting needs augmenting).

The closer we get to the big day, the greater my relief and anxiety. We've already checked many of the major things off our list (venue, dress, photographer, music, food, invitations...), but there are still so many minor but necessary things to do (hotels for the guests, table decorations and favours, shoes and makeup...), plus there's the possibility things may go wrong (the key thing today, for example, being our wedding cake)... so the butterflies keep fluttering away.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The biggest thing

Me: "Did you call the wedding venue about the music today?"
Him: "No, I didn't get time. Perhaps you could do it tomorrow."
Me: "But that's why I asked you - I'm struggling to find time."
Him: "Okay, I'll try and do it."
Me: "I've done practically everything..."
Him: "But I did the biggest thing."
Me: "Yeah, what?"
Him: "I asked you to marry me!"

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Just swell

I would love to write more about work on this blog because so much happens - good and not so good - during my day that it is a shame not to reflect on it all. But I love my job too much to risk jeopardising it. However, two things happened yesterday that made me glow for a while: I got headhunted (I said a polite not now) and a colleague wrote a glowing email about me to those higher up the company chain, just because he wanted to. Now ain't that swell?!

Hunger for sea snails

I'm home alone tonight and curled up in bed in thrall of Geling Yan's The Uninvited. The novel's characterisations unravel as quickly as the plot and both spin out of control into a terrific, white-knuckle read.

Dishes made from a thousand crab claw tips, minced pigeon breasts with mashed tofu moulded into tiny snowballs and garnished with tiny flakes of spring onions, peacock with diakon radish cut and dyed to resemble feathers, sea snails minced with veal and wild mushrooms and squeezed back into the shells, raw veal on jellyfish, shark fins...

Such elaborate dishes are a far cry from the "dark gruel made of tree bark and sorghum" that Dan Dong and his wife Little Plum grew up on in the impoverished Chinese province of Gansu. They are a far cry from the plain noodles and expired canned goods they now subsist on in the city of Beijing, where they marvel at the urban paradise unfurling around them. Little Plum "roams the supermarket, admiring stacks of dish detergents, napkins and bath towels as if they were flower beds or pavilions in a park".

So who can blame Dan when he stumbles upon the realisation that he can eat dishes of untold delicacy and sophistication simply by pretending to be a journalist attending one of the numerous business conferences the rapidly expanding city is hosting day by day, and get paid to do so for a positive write-up. In an ironic twist, he realises he can actually write better than most of the hacks around him who are also just attending the conferences for the food and for the money and are writing self-censored and inaccurate articles.

As he evolves into a genuine journalist himself, he finds himself approached by ordinary people with their own tales of corruption and injustice in this new and vibrant country. When one of his exposés appear in print, Dan becomes embroiled in the same murky underworld he is seeking to expose. Construction workers ask him to help them fight against their shady real estate employer, but Dan's efforts are thwarted when the real estate agent offers him his longed for own apartment. Eventually Dan is torn between his thirst for justice and his hunger for sea snails.

Geling Yan was born in Shanghai but is now free to express whatever she wants about her homeland as it hurtles into the 21st century, having emigrated to the United States after the massacre at Tiananmen Square in 1989. She is a leading figure in China's post-Tiananmen literary diaspora, and in The Uninvited (her first novel written in English) she has produced a sweet and sour account of life in modern day China.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Planet's wedding nightmares

I woke up this morning from my first real anxiety dream related to my wedding day. I can't remember all of it, but I do remember that on my way to the wedding I realised I had forgotten to buy a bindi (that stick on round disc many Indian women wear in the middle of their foreheads), so I noticed a young Indian woman walking towards me on the street wearing just the kind of silvery, sparkly bindi I needed to match my light grey and silver wedding sari. I demanded she stop and look in her handbag for a spare but she could only produce a fushia pink one the size of a ten penny piece.

While she was rummaging through her bag for me, I noticed my sister (I do not have one in real life) driving by and I hailed her down and asked that she turn back to the nearest Indian dress shop and collect a light grey blouse for me under my sari because I hadn't managed to buy one before. She protested, saying how would she know which one would fit as they would all be off the shelf, but I screamed at her to just get one that looked like it would fit me.

The wedding venue was already packed by the time I arrived and I was alarmed that the venue manager hadn't arranged any of the chairs in the ceremony room so our guests had to enter it carrying their own chairs.

My father was fretting, not knowing what to do in order to escort me down the aisle, so much so that I considered asking my mother to do the honours. On top of all this, the caterers hadn't even cooked the meal we would eat less than an hour later.

Three months to go...

Venison and mushroom stew

Last night, M fried a medium red onion with a teaspoon of caraway seeds, a teaspoon of paprika and two cloves of garlic until the onions started to soften and glisten. He added 500g diced venison and fried until sealed. He covered the meat with water, added fresh thyme from three sprigs, brought to the boil then covered and simmered on a very low heat (1.5-2) for 2.5 hours, making sure the stew was gently bubbling away and checking periodically that the meat was covered with water at all times. At the two hour mark, he added chopped brown mushrooms and simmered for another 30 minutes. We ate with mashed potatoes that had been formed into small balls and grilled until the tops were brown. All washed down with a very good Malbec.

The entire meal was surprisingly light, but the venison could have easily have been replaced by extra lean beef.

Delicious. Tonight he'll add more water to the leftovers, with broad beans and diced potatoes to make a slight variation to the dish. Can't wait!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Sunday catchup

Wow, check out this haunting photo of NYC in the pouring rain and shrouded in fog by one of my favourite blogging photographers Blue Jake (click link for larger). It's raining here in London with thunder and lightning so although poor M has had to go into work, I am spending my Sunday tucked up warm at home and catching up on reading the blogs stacked up unread in my Bloglines account, such as Japanese-based Neomarxisme and Laughing Knees, California-based little.yellow.different, and NYC-based Le Petit Hiboux.

I'm also reading Siri Hustvedt's What I Loved - a sometimes absorbing read about the lives of a writer, an artist, their wives and their children in NYC that is meant to be a thriller but I'm already a third of the way through it and have yet to reach the murder mystery part of the book. Hustvedt writes sparingly, much like her husband Paul Auster. Her prose is taut and lean, but her subject matter - artists and writers - is a little claustrophobic, self-indulgent and not fully-formed. Still, the son is now dead so I'm hoping the plot will shift up several gears, so I will persevere.

In recent weeks I have picked up a number of books now collecting dust on our bookshelves that I can't wait to read next: Vikram Seth's Two Lives, set in India, Israel, Palestine, post-war Germany and modern Britain and covering the true relationship between Seth's great uncle Shanti and Seth's German-Jewish great aunt Henry; J.M. Coetzee's Slow Man, set in Australia, about the relationship between a French-born invalid, his Croatian-born nurse and a celebrated novelist; Natsuo Kirino's Out, a crime novel about four women who work the night shift in a Tokyo factory packing lunch boxes; Ha Jin's Waiting, about the illicit love affair between a married Chinese army doctor with country ways and an educated modern nurse; Dai Sijie's Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, set at the height of Mao's Cultural Revolution, about the sons of two doctors sent away to re-education camp; Geling Yan's The Uninvited, about an unemployed factory worker who realises he can eat sumptuous meals if he pretends to be journalist and learns more than he cares about China's murky underworld; and Kiran Desai's Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, about Indian Sampath Chawla who is such a disappointment to his family and community that he takes refuge in a guava tree and is then mistaken as a holy man and seer. And of course, I'm dying to get my hands on Thomas Pynchon's new 1000+-word behemouth Against the Day that M bought yesterday and is now reading.

M will be back home later and he's left a pack of venison defrosting on the kitchen counter to make rich, dense venison and mushroom stew with fried mash potato balls for dinner. Right now, I better put the laundry on and then call my parents for a lovely long chat. Then I will have fish fingers and chips for lunch. M keeps me healthy. I eat so much more junk when he's not around. And yet he gets so many more colds than I do. Go figure.

Bejewelled

Saturday began with a new haircut and restyle for me in my local, cheap hairdressers where the Greek stylists save all conversation for each other, leaving me free to ruminate on my own thoughts, while they listen to Greek pop music, smoke cigarettes and watch the passing traffic. M was also having his hair trimmed at the nearby barbers. Then it was home for two fried eggs, sunny side up, on toasted sesame bagels plus steaming hot mugs of smooth, though to the point of bland, freshly ground Kenyan coffee. Over breakfast, we read an evocative piece in the weekend FT about a columnist's dusky jaunt across the magnificent Brooklyn Bridge and remembered our own morning walk across the brooding East River, along tens of thousands of tons of masonry, just a few weeks ago. I read a piece about coloured diamonds, where I learned that just one stone in 10,000 are fancy coloureds, a mere 50-60 carats of pink are mined in a year and that whereas in 1982 a carat of pink cost £1,000, today that carat is worth at least £200,000.

The article inspired me to trek off, sans M, to Somerset House, on the northern bank of the Thames, to the Tiffany exhibition, where I greedily peered at glittering dragonfly hair ornaments made from gold, silver, diamond and sapphire (above), fringe necklaces spun out of gold, amethyst and nephrite, a gleaming sterling silver mesh halter top (below) and a 128+ carat diamond Bird on a Rock brooch.

I'd had a lot on my mind, but the jewels had thoroughly replaced low emotions with sparkle and beauty and I felt wonderfully refreshed as I left the gallery. I walked into the equally dazzling golden autumnal light and strolled a little along the Thames thinking how good it is to be alone sometimes, breathing in and out to my own rhythm, moving at my own pace, truly free to drift here and there on my own whim. Since I've become part of a couple, because we both enjoy very similar things, and because we love each other's company, days apart like this (work days excepted) are rare. As an only child who's spent most of her life pleasurably alone, days like today are so necessary in order that I retain a sense of who I am as an individual and that I give myself space to dream.

I ate a sushi lunch of salmon, tuna and cucumber rolls at the no-frills Kintaro Sushi cafe in Soho where a group of Indian and Japanese students hotly debated various economic theories of consumerism behind me. I popped into the National Portrait Gallery on my way home and saw the very lacklustre Photographic Portrait Prize, then I hopped onto a bus for a long ride home, forgoing the busier, speedier tube. M prepared tabbouleh dense with pomegranates, walnuts and parsley with pan fried chicken and freshly made harissa as he talked about his day perusing DVDs in HMV and Virgin and books in Borders and Waterstones. As we drank Rioja, he drooled with excitement telling me about his discovery of Thomas Pynchon's new novel Against the Day - a behemouth at 1000+ pages. Its release had caught him by surprise as he'd not seen it reviewed anywhere.

He'd also bought an old-fashioned chocolate Swiss log - the kind both our mothers had served us as kids during the 70s and 80s. We ate the dessert watching the very excellent psycho-chiller The Eye by the Thai directors the Pang Brothers. The movie is about a blind girl in Hong Kong who gets cornea implants from a Thai girl who'd committed suicide, and begins to see ghosts and the Black "Wu Chang" or Black Reapers who escort the newly dead to the "afterlife". Fantastically scripted and shot, I could watch this (and the sequel) over and over again.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Merry London Christmas

The lights on Regents Street are wonderfully gaudy (above), as they should be, as are the lights cascading down the front of Hamleys toy store (below). I couldn't resist joining the tourists and taking photos after work. I love London on dark winter nights: so many multi-coloured lights reflected from blazing shop windows or puddles in the road; the hustle and the bustle of Londoners and tourists alike; tired or excited office workers scurrying home to the warmth or into bars for the first pint or cocktail of the evening. Still so much life. This city has a density and grandeur that perfectly suits the winter season.

I told M I'd meet him at Waterstone's book shop on Piccadilly. To be precise, in the reference section browsing books on all things wedding, including the funny pink Anti-bride Wedding Planner. Not very cool, I know, but hell it's my guilty and relatively secret pleasure. We ate chicken teriyaki and udon noodles, deep fried tofu and spinach with sesame sauce at the always fabulous and very packed Japan Centre close by and then made our way home where I convinced poor M to watch several episodes of the sixth season of Sex and the City with me, before he got the chance to persuade me to watch Hong Kong gangster film Infernal Affairs.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

McFado

Okay, a thoroughly misleading title because contemporary chanteuse Mariza is nowhere near chav territory and hers is not watered down music. Instead, she is the bleached blonde, sultry Mozambiquan and Portuguese mistress of soulful, bluesy, melancholic and joyful fado. We've seen her twice before, at the Barbican and the Royal Festival Hall, but last night she "fulfilled a dream" by playing at the Royal Albert Hall and it was the most intimate performance so far despite the grand and opulent surroundings.

Perhaps because the stage was so small; perhaps because she was flanked not just by her usual quartet of adufe drum, acoustic bass and Spanish and Portuguese guitars but by a classical 15 piece string section; perhaps because at one point she leapt off the stage and sang, sans microphone, in amongst the crowd; perhaps it was because we were just eleven rows away from the stage; perhaps it was because we knew her mother had flown in from Portugal to see her sing last night; perhaps it was because her duets with singers Jaques Morelenbaum, a Brazilian, Tito Paris, from the Cape Verde islands, veteran fado singer Carlos Do Carmo, and Portuguese heartthrob Rui Veloso felt more like jamming sessions in a small, smoky Lisbon bar; or perhaps it was the way her voice effortlessly moved from breathy whispers to soaring elegance in the space of a single stanza that made it feel so intimate.

A truly sexy and spine-tingling night.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thrashed, well not quite

We went to the Arsenal v. SV Hamburg match last night at the Emirates Stadium and the Gunners won by 3 goals to 1, all in the second half. It was thrilling, but the team limped along in the first half, passing a lot but rarely shooting. The winning goals were both terrific and a relief and I suspect if Hamburg hadn't been such a poor team, the Gunners wouldn't have so easily won.

I'm the type of supporter barely tolerated by real footie fans: supporting a team because my partner and his family do. Before I met M I had little interest in the game save for some cosy memories of watching it on TV as a child with my Dad, who himself only watched it to win the Littlewoods pools. I rarely tell genuine supporters if I've been to a game for fear of exposing myself as a footie charlatan. I want to learn more about the game - its rules, its history - but get discouraged by how much there is to learn (and by asking silly questions). So I settle for simply enjoying the game whilst I'm there and largely forgetting about it when I'm not.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Chorizo, chickpea and spinach stew

Those Brindisa chorizo sausages were begging to be eaten so I skinned and sliced them and stir fried them with chopped garlic and whole cumim seeds for a few minutes. Then I added a teaspoon of smoked Spanish paprika and half a teaspoon of dried red chilli flakes and stirred some more. Two tins of chickpeas and some boiling, salted water to cover went in. I brought it to the boil then simmered for 15-20 minutes. Finally, the fresh spinach went in and stayed in for another 5 minutes.

Warm, hearty and spicy. We ate it with torn off pieces of warm, crusty flat Turkish bread and drank it with gutsy Malbec.

We cook so much, I need to try and write some of the recipes down here.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Day in brief



Big box of oranges bought for £4.99 on Green Lanes this evening; two framed prints of Indian Chola sacred bronzes from today's exhibition at the Royal Academy on Piccadilly.

Foodie heaven

I nipped out into the crisp sunshine this morning to Yasir Halim for croissants, feta boreks and lamb kibbes for our brunch and then we hopped on the 341 to the stalls of Exmouth Market. We filled our bags with sweet raisin bread, creamy gorgonzola, smelly brie that later stank up the bus on the way home, manchega, and strong Vietnamese coffee beans from the Ca Phe Vn stall. We paused in the cold sunshine for a stand-up lunch of hot chorizo, roasted red pepper and rocket baps from the Brindisa stall, then went to their shop further down the road and bought quince jelly, dried grapes still with their pips and stalks, chorizo and Spanish white Albarino Laxas wine.

We entered small independent bookshop Metropolitan hoping to browse an eclectic range of fiction and hoping to stumble across some unusual titles. We were disappointed to see the usual suspects lining their shelves. We withstood the awful country music blaring from the speakers long enough to grab (and buy!) a copy of Geling Yan's The Uninvited, about an unemployed factory worker who discovers that by posing as a journalist he can eat the finest cuisine but in so doing can also discover some deadly secrets about Beijing's corrupted underworld.

We caught the 341 to Newington Green Fish Shop for four meaty sea bass (all for just a tenner), and then caught the bus back to Green Lanes where we bought a whole chicken and free range eggs from Baldwins and vine tomatoes, clementines, lemons, fennel and parsley from a Turkish grocery. We dumped our bags off at home then strolled out again, this time across Finsbury Park where we basked under the chilly sunshine and russet red and golden yellow Autumnal leaves, thinking how lovely the park now looks and feels with its busy children's play areas, its basketball and football areas, its tennis courts and trendy wooden cafe. Then we took a detour through Stroud Green admiring the houses and liking the diverse area enough to pause in front of the estate agents' windows.

Onto our favourite Happening Bakery by the tube station where we stocked up on freshly baked sesame and plain bagels, as well as a couple of apple strudel slices for dessert later. And then home, where we snacked on raisin bread and brie, and drank Earl Grey loose leaf tea with cornflowers from Soho's Algerian Coffee Shop and watched horror movie The Pulse, about Japanese teenagers in Tokyo investigating a series of suicides linked to a webcam that promises visitors the chance to interact with the souls of the dead.

For dinner we're eating sea bass steamed in the oven with fennel, parsley and lemons, accompanied by sauted potatoes and tomato salad; with our apple strudels for dessert. I can't wait.

How I love the weekends. And it's still only Saturday!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A blessing and a curse

'A sister is both a curse and a blessing'

Last night M joined me for another Kali's Asian Women Talk Back festival play at the Soho Theatre: Behna by Sonia Likhari. The play is set in the hothouse confines of Cheema's Southall kitchen and explores sibling rivalry across two generations - between the Punjab-born mother and her sister, and the mother's two British-born eldest daughters. It opens with the family celebrating the pre-wedding Ladies Sangeet Night of the youngest of Cheema's three grown up daughters and over two intense hours explores the sibling rivalry and love unfurling across a year or more.

Cheema and her sister share memories of childhood together and chide each other over the way they've brought up their children. The sister is particularly wary of the way Cheema lavishes attention on her nephew Raju - the only boy in the family - and it is later that we discover Cheema had secretly donated her egg to the sister. The sisters bicker between themselves and with their mother Cheema who goes on about having wanted a boy; but one sister defends the other against taunts of being "hello Moto" fat by the other's own husband.

A taut and explosive drama that was far more engaging in its myriad intercepting relationships and emotional touchstones than the previous night's Deadeye.

Afterwards we ate raw papaya and peanut salad, meaty, boneless fillets of pomfret fish in a pineapple sauce and beef with ginger and spring onions at Malaysian-Thai restaurant Malaysia Kopi Tiam further down the road on Dean Street. The guys at the next table proclaiming exploits in Bexleyheath and recounting various SciFi movies they had seen drove us from our seats. Bellowing boys aside, it was a great night.

Tonight, I had drinks with colleagues after work where we each proclaimed what we would do if we won Euro Millions tonight. I was the dullest for wanting to invest half of it immediately and stay at work because otherwise I would quickly be bored, but redeemed myself when I declared I would also buy an apartment on the Upper West Side, another one in Bangkok and a house in Notting Hill or Hampstead. I would also stay in the most chic and expensive hotels wherever I travelled, indulge in lots of spa treatments, especially those that involved my feet, and would buy our parents lovely homes right round the corner from where we lived.

Then I met up with M in John Lewis where I camera-snapped the Dualit toasters, Le Creuset pots and pans, Global knives, high thread count Egyptian cotton white duvet covers, and Egyptian cotton bath towels we both liked as a reminder to put them on my wedding gift list. I'm such a cliche!

Now we're back at home. I've chatted to my mum and dad on the phone. We've just eaten spaghetti with artichokes and parsley and walnut pesto that M made from scratch in his new mini food processor, and now he's making mojitos for us to drink while watching The OC.

This is the life.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Deadeye

Last night I saw a play at Soho Theatre as part of the Kali's Asian Women Talk Back festival showcasing new writing by British Asian women. The centrepiece of the festival was Amber Lone's Deadeye, about the tension between family loyalties, traditional cultural values and individual freedoms. Brother and sister Deema and Tariq are keen that their lives do not end up like that of their parents - sitting around dreaming of things that can never be theirs, but they are constantly battling their own parents' expectations of them to live by traditional Indian values. The father dreams of buying million pound houses in the Cotswolds and quick rich schemes whilst sitting at home pontificating from his sofa; his harassed wife nurtures Kashmiri plants in her Birmingham garden while growing ever frustrated by the telephone and electricity being cut off and being deserted by her children; the son Tariq living a life of oblivion hooked on drugs and booze and moving in currupted circles; and daughter Deema, going to college and applying for jobs she fears she'll never get because she is desperately trying to cover for her brother as well as turn his life around. So well-acted by the small cast that I ended up loving and hating each character intensely.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The daily read

Seeing as I spend most of my working day online and on email, I've signed up with the DailyLit, who will send me a chapter a day of Edith Wharton's House of Mirth to my inbox which I can read during my lunch break. There are lots of other choices from, Jack London to Charles Dickens. Seems like a good idea, let's see how I get on.

Update: I got my first installment at work yesterday (above). It popped into my inbox at 12.30pm. 828 words of Wharton magic to read with my sandwiches at my desk and it took me just 10 minutes to read. 153 installments to go - about 5 months worth of reading. M can read several books at once, but I need to immerse myself in a book at a time. I'm reading Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty on my commute and in bed - a beautifully written modern Jamesian novel about political and gay life among the upper classes in Thatcher's Britain, so the Wharton email read should serve as a refreshing, bite size alternative.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Thirty something

The everyday angst of yuppie thirty-somethings living in late 80s suburban Philadelphia: smug marrieds Hope and Michael; Michael's friend Elliot who runs an ad agency with him and whose marriage to Nancy is beginning to crack; and Michael's womanising best friend, Gary, and his on-off-on affair with Michael's arty and flakey cousin, Melissa.

I was addicted to this TV show in the late 80s and early 90s. Why oh why isn't thirtysomething out on DVD yet?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Improving the world

We went to the Hayward Gallery's How to Improve the World: 60 Years of British Art exhibition yesterday and had so much fun being surprised at every turn by the eclectic mix on show. Anish Kapoor's Untitled, 1995, swallowed me into its hollow, silver centre as a little girl laughed excitedly at it by my side; Patrick Caulfield's Dining Recess, 1972, soothed me with its cool, impersonal, cartoonish simplicity; Roger Hiorns' Nunhead, 2004, had two BMW engines encrusted with copper sulphate crystals and spun me back to my school days; Peter Doig's Red Deer swirled in front of my eyes in a metalic haze of reds and golds and oranges and reminded me why I love painting so much; Glenn Brown's Decline and Fall reproduced Frank Auerbach's dense, heavy painting of the same name with such fine, meticulous brushstrokes that it looked like a printed reproduction; and Steve McQueen's Bear, 1993, film was powerfully, and homoerotically charged.

But the most pleasure I had was nostalgic. Richard Long's Stone Circle and Sarah Lucas' Self-Portraits, 1990-1998, took me back to my undergraduate days in Goldsmiths College, London; and David Hockney's We Two Boys Together Clinging, 1961, David Bomberg's Trendrine, Cornwall, 1947, that under-rated expressionist Leon Kossoff's thick, encrusted Children's Swimming Pool, Autumn, 1972, and Frank Auerbach's dark and muddy Euston Steps - Study, 1980 took me all the way back to my teens and my first ever exposure to modern art. It's amazing to me how much of the art I was exposed to when I was a teen was British, compared to the literature I gorged on which was largely American.

At Waterstone's bookshop on Piccadilly, afterwards, I browsed a book on wedding bouquets because I have no idea what type of flowers I want to walk down the aisle with save for the fact that they have to be white, and M bought The Game Cookbook by Clarissa Dickson Wright. The book covers recipes for partridge, pheasant, quail, grouse, wood pigeon, duck, goose, venison, deer, elk, moose, rabbit, caribou and wild boar - eeeek. He also bought a book on poultry cooking.

Then we hot-footed it for an early evening showing of the movie The Prestige at the Odeon West End in Leicester Square. Set during turn of the last century London, the movie is about aspiring magicians Robert Angier and Alfred Borden - sworn ememies determined to out-do each other and who both learn their craft under the renowned illusionist Milton. Featuring Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine and a very excellent and surprisingly far-from-wooden David Bowie (photo right) as reclusive inventor Nikolas Tesla, the film's hefty 150 minutes rushed by in a tightly wound, complex pattern of twists and turns that left me breathless and thoroughly entertained.

Failing to get into our favourite Japan Centre nearby, we ate a lacklustre dinner at Taro on Brewer Street, Soho, where we had tuna and California sushi and then M had beef teriyaki and I had crispy chicken teriyaki.

Back at home, we watched a couple of episodes of The OC, season 3 - my newest boxset addiction. I realised as we were watching it that over the past few years I have bought and watched quite an array of TV boxsets as it's much easier to watch them in my own time than regularly on TV when they first air. So far, my collection includes: Sex and the City, seasons 1-6; Six Feet Under, seasons 1-5; Northern Exposure, seasons 1-4; The Waltons, season 1; Buffy the Vampire Slayer, seasons 1-7; The X Files, seasons 1-10; The OC, seasons 1-3; and the most excellent Curb Your Enthusiasm, seasons 1-5. That's not to mention complete season cartoon boxsets such as Futurama and Family Guy. We're watching The OC in manageable chunks over many weeks, as we did Curb Your Enthusiasm; but left to my own devices, I can easily set aside entire weekends watching back-to-back episodes, which I did on my own, of Sex and the City, Buffy and The X Files.

Today, it's Sunday, and we've eaten croissants from Yasir Halim bakery whilst reading the weekend FT; I've researched wedding readings and wedding music online; we've been shopping; M has put chicken wings on the boil in a large pan with celery, garlic and carrots for chicken soup and he's prepared a roast chicken stuffed with lemons for me to put in the oven later while he's watching an Arsenal match at the Emirates with his Dad; I'm doing the laundry; and now I think I'll sort out some CDs and put some photos into albums before settling down to a few episodes of The Waltons before M gets back.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Adrift

I woke up languidly this crisp and sunny morning to the voice of Scott Walker on Tilt - a sonorous voice by turns confrontational, febrile and melancholic, singing obliquely about cockfighting, the death of Pier Paolo Pasolini, and South American refugees, and backed by haunting instrumentation ranging from London Sinfonia strings, Central Methodist Hall Pipe Organ, hand cymbals, drums and electric guitar. His latest album The Drift is no less bleak, austere, chilling and breathtaking. I am simply in love with this man.

Last night, M emailed me at work and asked whether I'd like to go out for drinks at the Pearl Bar & Restaurant in Holborn. It wasn't planned and it felt like a date. We sipped morello cherry mojitos, cassis cocktails and lemongrass martinis under delicate pearl drop chandeliers and lofty grey marble columns and flirted and chatted and gossiped our way through a wonderful evening.

Pearl is a bar and restaurant from the creative team who designed Nobu and the Metropolitan. In a former life, it was the grand banking hall of the Pearl Assurance Building. We perused the menu, created by Jun Tanaka, and vowed to return for a special meal there.

Last night, though, we rushed through the rain to our favourite Korean restaurant Bi Won where, surrounded almost entirely with young Japanese, we ate seafood omelette, spicy pickled cabbage or kimchi, bi bim bab - a stew of vegetables, beef and chilli paste on a bed of rice and a raw egg broken on top, served sizzling hot in an earthenware bowl- miso soup with soft squares of tofu, and seafood soup. We had no room for dessert, but it was okay because Bi Won always serve you four slices of juicy sweet oranges at the end of your meal.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Nearly there, but not quite

We've nearly nailed our guest list, we've nearly ordered our invitation cards, we've nearly chosen one photographer over another, we've nearly signed the contract with our Indian classical trio, we've nearly chosen three courses for the meal, we've nearly placed our alcohol order on Tesco.com to collect from France, we've nearly chosen the flowers, we've nearly registered for gifts at JohnLewis.com. We've nearly, nearly, nearly, but not quite done everything we need to do to get married. So many nearly but not quite dones. Anxious, me? Well, yes actually.

Homespun wisdom


"A man is judged by the way he's handling a job he's agreed to do. Give less than his best - whether he's writing, chopping wood or farming - and he's failing alot of people. Most of all, he's failing himself" John Walton to his son John-Boy.
Oh, the wisdom of a father to his son. How I love The Waltons. Still haven't gotten beyond episode 7 of my season 1 DVD boxset, but I'm getting there.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A suitable boy

A childhood friend of mine was born in England and raised as a Muslim within a tight-knit Bangladeshi community in Balham, South London. She called me tonight and regaled me with her usual tales of dates set up with suitable boys chosen by her friends and family. She is a westernised Muslim; she wears western clothes and makeup; she is encouraged to date unchaperoned. At 31, she is already considered over the hill by many of those close to her and the pressure is on to find her a suitable match.

Her sister agreed to an arranged marriage early in her twenties and is happily settled in the US with her husband and two children. But my friend is not having similar luck - the chemistry is not there with one man, the other is not attractive enough, another bores her. She wants to see few of them again, few of them want to see her again.

Each time we meet up or chat on the phone, each time she meets up or phone chats with her friends and family members, the conversation is the same. In fact, because they want her to get married soon, it's the same conversation family members want to engage in again and again too.

When I asked her what she chats about with the men she's set up with, she said she asks them questions about their job, she asks them questions about their attitude to relationships, she asks them whether they want marriage and children. I was there when she grilled one man on the phone before she had even met him. He never showed up for their blind date the next night. Few men I know like to talk about emotions and relationships. Fewer still like to be grilled. She's got a PhD from Cambridge, she works as a scientist in a laboratory, she's quick-witted and vivacious and yet all we've ever talked about is men and relationships.

I'm no expert and we've all been there, talking about relationships (or the lack of) well into the night, ignoring the drooping lids of the people around us. But tonight my friend asked me to be honest with her, and so I told her: stop grilling the guys; stop talking ad nauseum about your relationship woes with your friends; you have an interesting job so talk about it (I still don't know exactly what she does each day); read a newspaper and go to movies (she dislikes going alone) and have well-formed opinions on things; go for walks in interesting places; do things differently. In short, be interested and curious about life beyond relationships.

Not only will men then find her more interesting, but she'll be more interested in them. In fact, she'll be interested in life beyond men, period.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A trip to the library

'To say it is expensive is a little like saying Dolly Parton is quite a big girl' Jay Rayner, The Observer.

'This is generally the sort of food I would run naked to avoid. But on the plate, some of it was innovatively, ululatingly sublime... a bewildering variety of dishes that looked both supremely elegant and as if someone had wiped their bottom on them' A.A. Gill.

Last night I dined out in sumptuous style with clients at Sketch's grand Lecture Room & Library in Mayfair. Sketch spans several floors of a grade-II listed 18th century townhouse. It encompasses breakfast and lunch rooms, patisseries, bars, brasseries and fine dining rooms, each with its own personality. The Library was elegant and comfortable with velvet-plush, jewel-coloured armchairs, deep-pile rugs, white linen tables, large Georgian-style windows and an ornate domed ceiling. The service was impeccable with wait staff rushing to pull back your chair every time you left for or returned from the glass and crystal encrusted toilets. Each toilet cubicle resembled a musical box, complete with toilet rolls suspended from Swarowski crystal chains and piped in music.

Our meal was a rollercoaster ride of seven courses from the tasting menu that left us stuffed by the end of the night. I can't remember all the delicious morsels that kept appearing under our noses so I've had to remind myself by going to the Sketch website, reminding me that along with our Chablis, Bellinis and beer, we ate:

Rabbit Rillette with Aubergine, consisting of
  • Glazed Eel, Grilled Courgette, Chorizo and Bouchot Mussels
  • Beef Consommé, Rabbit and Cumbawa Leaf Rillette
  • Diced Red Tuna, Braised Aubergine and Grapes
Lobster, consisting of
  • Lobster Cooked in Coriander Butter, Steamed broccoli and Cauliflower
  • Mâcon with Lobster Jus
Octopus and Cod, consisting of
  • Slow-Cooked Cod with Hollandaise sauce, Braised Octopus
  • Diced Potatoes and Lemon Jam
Duck, consisting of
  • Thin Slices of Roasted Duck with Spiced Peach Marmalade
  • Braised Mouli Radish, Chervil and Parmesan Broth with Potato Leaves
Cheese and Foie-Gras, consisting of
  • Goats Cheese with Paprika, Millésime Comté, Thin Slices of Toasted Bread with Nuts
  • Chantilly of Foie-Gras and Baby Gem Salad
Pierre Gagnaire’s Grand Dessert, consisting of a flurry of chocolatey and fruity delights.

Petits Fours.

A sublime evening, but with main dishes hovering around the £50-£75 mark, alas a very rare treat.

'People like little houses, little cars, little beds, little coffees. London - it's a little island, quite stuck-up. Do something grand, it's seen as pretentious. Michelin stars, or not, this is a unique experience. The only applause I need is from customers. When they shake my hand, when they say to their wives: "This is Mourad!" I feel so happy I could cry' Sketch owner, Mourad Mazouz.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Family weekend

One of the reasons I enjoy travelling is the opportunity not to read but to listen to music on my MP3 player. I read a lot on the commute to and from work every weekday on the Tube, as well as at night snuggled deep inside my duvet. But because music draws me into its harmonic heart and demands 100 per cent of my attention, I cannot listen to it as background to work or play. With music playing, I get distracted from whatever else I am doing at the time. So the two hour train ride to my parents' house in Suffolk this weekend was a wonderful chance to listen to some of the music stored on my Sony Walkman. As the grey city merged into green countryside, I luxuriated, eyes closed, in the beguiling voices of Tindersticks (Can Our Love), Leonard Cohen (Various Positions), The The (Soul Mining) and Mark Lanegan (Bubblegum). Dark, sexy, deeply masculine music that hit every single tingling spot.

My parents met us at Norwich and we drove to the Francis Bacon exhibit at the Sainsbury Centre - an excellent and comprehensive exhibition offering a rare insight into the artist's evolving sources and early techniques. Thirteen of the Bacons on show were collected by Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury, who first met the artist in 1955 when he was commissioned to paint a portrait of Robert. They became friends and in 1955, at a party, Bacon mentioned a work in progress - Study (Imaginary Portrait of Pope Pius XII) - and described it as a "wonderful picture". The Sainburys offered him a lift home so they could view it but when they arrived at his studio, Bacon began slashing the painting with a knife. Bacon's destructive impulse was legendary and he often destroyed works before they were completed. The Sainburys begged him to stop and they rolled up the painting and took the Pope home. The painting was restored and is now central to the Norwich exhibition. It was also fascinating seeing the numerous drawings Bacon produced in advance of many of his paintings. It's the first time I've seen them.

A trip to my parents' house involves much relaxation, chatting and eating. I grew up in a household where my mum and dad used to argue over whose turn it was to cook. They both loved cooking and I was raised eating an infinite variety of West Bengali food. As an adult I was too afraid of cooking Bengali food because I always thought my cooking would not live up to the high standards they had set. So I always get excited visiting my parents for the delicious home-cooked Indian food I get to gorge on. This weekend was no exception. My mother cooked some mouth-watering dishes: yellow split peas with spinach; sweet potato and cauliflower curry; and minced beef curry with mixed vegetables.

We returned to London on Sunday afternoon and met up with M's family - his sister, father, uncle, aunt and two young cousins - and we gorged some more, this time on Turkish food courtesy of our local Antepliler. We stuffed ourselves on minced lamb kebabs, chicken wings, diced lamb kebabs, red onion salad with sumac, pitta and houmous, syrupy baklava and strong Turkish tea, thick, muddy Turkish coffee and lots of robust red wine.

I'd eaten so much over the weekend, I really suffered for it today. However, I think I've sufficiently recovered to eat the spaghetti and puttanesca sauce M is making for dinner tonight!