Sunday, December 30, 2007

Saturday shopping, Sunday lazing

We've spent the last few days of 2007 flexing our credit cards - M at Maison Martin Margiela and Gieves & Hawkes, myself at DKNY and John Smedley. My usual wardrobe consists of my favourite clothing colours black and white and indigo and charcoal, but pregnancy hormones are drawing me towards a different colour spectrum. I had already bought a vibrant, metallic grey dress and burgundy pink sequin camisole from DKNY for my work Christmas party a week ago, and yesterday I bought clothing in champagne and plum and electric blue. These are the colours that are exciting me now.

We strolled through Hyde Park in the brilliant sunshine and popped into the disorientating Anthony McCall light show in the Serpentine. We cabbed it to Dover Street for macaroni cheese and apple pie at the fabulous Automat American brasserie, before wandering around the quirky and wonderful collections at Dover Street Market.

As evening fell, we made it to Tottenham Court Road and bought a 250 GB Sony HDD and DVD recorder. We then spent the rest of the night at home setting it up and playing around with it, not even bothering to cook - instead we dined on cheese and crackers, clementines and chocolate.

The cheese gave us both nightmares. M's dream revolved around Elton John (don't ask); my own anxious dream was about leaving my newborn baby hungry and dirty all night because I didn't know how to breast feed it or change its nappy. Bizarrely, I also dreamed of Mick Jagger and David Bowie floating contentedly down a canal through busy high street Peckham, surrounded by unconcerned shoppers, and ordering takeout curry from a man in Islamic clothing who waded out into the water to serve them in their gondola.

Now it's nearly lunchtime on a Sunday. We started the day with bulging bacon and tomato ketchup sandwiches, then I spent the morning reading the feel-good novel Big Cherry Holler by Adriana Trigiani while M went to the gym. I'm still playing around with the HDD recorder. I'm editing Match Of The Day M recorded last night so we can keep just the Arsenal v. Everton match highlights. I'm editing out the adverts from the Badlands movie we also recorded. And I've put Kiki's Delivery Service on the timer to record while we go out grocery shopping later.

Later tonight, I will cook a hearty beef chilli con carne and we'll eat it with tacos and guacamole. M is planning to make a New York cheesecake. He made a fabulous puff pastry pie with the leftover Christmas goose (above) after Boxing Day. For New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, we will roast a leg of lamb and then serve the remains up in a sheperd's pie.

Hope you're having a good weekend.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas lists

Food we ate...

My wonderful husband cooked the main Christmas Day meal: Roasted Gressingham goose stuffed with whole oranges / potatoes roasted in goose fat / homemade apple sauce / homemade chesnut stuffing / red cabbage with juniper berries / brussels sprouts / black forest gateau from Paul on Old Compton Street / steamed Christmas pudding / cardamom wafer and rose and violet cream chocolates from Liberty / clementines / Shropshire blue, Wensleydale, Double Gloucester and soft goats cheeses with assorted crackers / lots of expensive French red wine, and elderflower cordial for me / beef steaks with fries and a tomato salad on Christmas Eve / whole salmon with French beans, new potatoes, citrus and fennel salad and dill sauce on Boxing Day

Gifts we received...

M: Band Of Brothers DVD box set / Berlin Alexanderplatz DVD box set / vintage hand trowel and fork gardening set / crystal liquor glasses / Malin & Goetz grooming products / Book tokens / pottery
Me: The L Word DVD box set / Satyajit Ray's Abhijan DVD / a cashmere wrap / a National Geographic world atlas / book tokens / Nigella Express cookbook / The Rough Guide To Pregnancy And Birth book / pottery / the incredibly useful reference tome Harden's London Baby Guide

Christmas TV and movies we watched...

Peter And The Wolf / The Snowman, with the original David Bowie introduction / The Simpsons / The Polar Express / Only Fools And Horses / To The Manor Born

Who I missed the most...

My parents. I can't wait to see them again in the New Year.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The weekend

I had intended for the weekend to be a chilled affair in the run up to Christmas but I should have known better.

night, shopping for maternity wear at Top Shop, Benetton and M&S and then meeting up with my husband, who had just returned from the States, for a Korean dinner at Bi-won on Coptic Street.

Saturday, schlepping around central London and battling against the heaving crowds for last minute Christmas gifts - a Casio Exilim camera for a little boy, a 2008 "dear diary", a computer game and a DVD box set for a little girl, wrapping paper and cards from the wonderful treasure trove that is Paperchase on Tottenham Court Road. M still has a bit more shopping to do (my presents I suspect!) but he has Christmas Eve off work. We ate a late lunch of rose apple and chicken stir fry and jungle curry at Busaba Eathai on Wardour Street, then popped into Paul bakery on Old Compton Street to order a black forest gateaux for Christmas. Last minute Christmas food shopping at John Lewis then a much deserved cab home. By this time my back was aching and I was feeling quite uncomfortable - I had to unbutton my (non-maternity) jeans in the taxi. Once home, M cooked us a roast chicken with roast potatoes and wilted spinach and then we settled in to watch Spiderman 3 on DVD.

Sunday, heading to the Southbank to revisit the sensational Painting Of Modern Life at the Hayward, which examines the use and translation of photographic imagery in contemporary painting, and Louise Bourgeois at the Tate Modern. At the Tate, we were transfixed by the delight of a little toddler waddling with squealing joy towards each Bourgeois piece with her arms outstretched. Obviously in thrall of the different shapes and textures, the toddler's excitement was a refreshing counterpart to the artist's own depiction of childhood angst. We stopped for a comfort lunch of chunky handcut chips at Benugo and then a look at Patrick Keiller's The City Of The Future installation/compilation of film footage from London to Shanghai from the years 1896-1909.

On the way home, we stopped off for more groceries for Christmas and then while M cooked us a dinner of Mexican chilli and chicken "lasagne" (made with tortilla layers instead of pasta), I vegged out with uplifting chick flick The Holiday with Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz. After dinner, we both settled in to watch the disappointing Robert Downey Jr movie A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints.

And now to bed, as I have work tomorrow. Christmas for me will begin from tomorrow evening. Hurrah! Although then I'm back at work on Thursday and Friday. Our wedding, two honeymoons - to India and Japan - and then a trip to New York have used up all my holiday allowance for this year.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


... I've discovered Celebrity Baby Blog and Baby Razzi and am now addicted. Did you know Britney Spear's 16 year old sister is pregnant? And so is Lily Allen. Okay, so you all knew. I've not been keeping up with the gossip, I admit it!

Better tear myself away from the computer and go out and finish up my Christmas shopping! M's just returned from a work trip to the US so we met up last night for a Korean meal at Bi-won on Coptic Street. I was laden down with maternity clothes from Top Shop, Benetton and M&S as at 17 weeks many of my existing clothes are on the tight and uncomfortable side (and I no longer want to stretch my designer clothes). This weekend, we're going to try and take it easy. Christmas shopping today in town and then home to cook a roast chicken and watch Spiderman 3 on DVD.

I'm working on Christmas Eve but then my mother-in-law and sister-in-law will join us for Christmas itself at our place. M is cooking roast goose with red cabbage plus chestnut and apple stuffing, which I am really looking forward to as I've never eaten goose before.

Have a lovely Christmas all!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Bump or frump

Last week I bought a luxe metallic grey dress and burgundy sequin camisole to wear for the upcoming work Christmas party. I always find DKNY dresses very roomy so I didn't feel the need to buy maternity. However, wearing it made my still easily-disguisable but growing bump look huge. There was no way work wouldn't guess I was pregnant. So the dress became the deciding factor in telling my colleagues that I was pregnant.

I told my immediate boss a few days ago and then a few colleagues, and slowly word trickled out. The company is 150+ though so many people still do not know. That was why I was extremely nervous about the party last night.

Some of us girls traipsed excitedly off to the Virgin Active gym across the road to get changed as there is more space there and lots of all important mirrors, hair dryers and plug sockets for straighteners. There, I pulled my dress on and immediately panicked. I've never been pregnant before and have never had a bump and here I was looking blatantly pregnant in a dress whose shiny metallic fabric glinted under lights and bounced off every curve.

The girls reassured me that I looked fabulously pregnant rather than frumpishly fat. But even looking pregnant made me anxious as it's such a dramatic change to my body and I'm simply not used to it.

I spent the first hour or so at the party feeling very conspicuous. But as the night progressed, I began to feel more and more comfortable about the bump being on show. Last night must have been a real milestone because today is a new day and I feel I can wear a tighter ti-shirt and not try and hide the bump away under layers. Hurrah!

Being publicly pregnant takes some getting used to.

16 weeks + 5 days

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Allow me to introduce...

... Little Planethalder. Now officially 16 weeks and 4 days.

Squint and you'll be able to see him or her a little clearer in all that fuzz.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A few lovely things

... Spending the weekend with my parents in Suffolk and eating lots of cake in celebration of both my mother's and my husband's birthdays
... Watching the glee on M's face as he flicked through the leatherbound edition of Arsenal newspaper cuttings from the last 80 years or so that I got him, amongst other things, for his birthday
... Cooking and eating okra curry with red peppers and black mustard seeds on a cold, wintry night
... Buying a metalic silver dress and sequin burgundy vest from DKNY for our work Christmas party. Just need to buy the push up bra, heels and a new pair of Wolford tights and I'm set
... Wining and dining clients on expenses
... Getting a promotion at work today and my second pay rise of the year - yippeeee!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The house

Here are photos of the Victorian house in North London we are buying... Not our type of decor but we can always change this in good time.

The living room... The front of the living room will be where we relax together and with friends and family. We want to make the back part of the lounge a library, with wall to wall books and a comfy reading chair and tall reading lamp. There is a French door at the back which looks out onto the side of the house - we want to make this strip into a Zen garden of sorts so we can read and look out and be at peace.

The kitchen... We anticipate spending alot of time here. Our current kitchen is so small we've always been reluctant entertaining - perferring to eat out. But this kitchen is big and cosy at the same time and the vendor is leaving his lovely high-tech cooker behind. Finally, space to display all our cookbooks.

The bathroom... Um, may have to paint this all white and tile it but it's fine for immediate use.

The upstairs hallway looking out to the bathroom and then the back bedroom... The whole house is in need of a fresh lick of white paint to lift the place and make it bright and airy. There's a double bedroom to the left and the master bedroom behind. The loft is above and big enough to make another double bedroom or a roomy study if we wish...

The garden with well-established trees and shrubs. M is already looking at gardening books in the bookstores so he can grow vegetables. We would also like to have an apple tree and another fruit tree planted... Or perhaps a "garden studio".

The back of the house... Can you see the space along the side where we want to make a calming Zen space?

I'm so terribly impatient to move into our very own home. For the first time in my life, I've made some rather (wonderfully) conventional choices this year - I got married, I'm about to buy a house... What next I wonder?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Cold and rainy days and nights

Random notes from the last week or so: Lusty and disturbing George Baselitz at the Royal Academy / Takeaway fish and chips slathered in vinegar, salt and ketchup / Enjoyable if conventional Brick Lane at the Curzon Soho / Moreish sausage rolls at Konditor & Cook in the Curzon / Huge cheesecakes at Patisserie Valerie on Old Compton Street / One of my favourite comfort dishes of all time, dolsot bibimbap, and other Korean delights, at Bi-Won on Coptic Street / Old romantic movies on cold rainy weeknights - The Philadelphia Story with Cary Grant, James Stewart and Katharine Hepburn, and Indiscreet with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman - while my husband is away on business in Paris / Finishing the absorbing and characterful novel Digging To America by Anne Tyler and starting Kiran Desai's exquisitely written The Inheritance Of Loss / The comprehensive Breaking The Rules exhibition at the British Library on avant garde printing traditions in Europe between 1900 and 1937 / Long, tiring but exhilerating working days as clients rush to launch things before the Christmas and the New Year / Gearing up for the work party season with colleagues and clients / More comfort eating - huge portions of cheesy tacos from Mexicali and baked potatoes with chilli cheese or baked beans and cheese from Spud-U-Like for weekday lunches / Sheltering from the downpour after work with beef rendang and other Indonesian and Malaysian delights at Melati on Peter Street / Happy that my Virgin Active gym membership now entitles me to use any branch in London - now I just need to motivate myself to go more often / Still waiting for all the paperwork to be tied up, but meeting the vendor of our new house and learning how the heating works / Eve Arnold's beautifully evocative and epic photos from China in 1979 at Asia House / Filling and spicy lamb kebabs, bhel puri and vegetable samosas at Asia House's elegant little Cafe T / This weekend's viewing: the gorgeously filmed Seven Years In Tibet last night and later this afternoon perhaps we'll watch John Huston's classic Moby Dick on DVD / Bowls overflowing with blueberries, peaches and clementines / Roast chicken for Sunday dinner later tonight.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


Just popping in to say I'm still here. So much is happening and I'll write soon, I promise.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Busy doing nothing

A very quiet weekend this week. On Friday, samosas, chicken chaat, tamarind lamb and chicken and pomegranate at The Punjab in Covent Garden / On Saturday, a wander around John Lewis looking at LCD TVs and desktop computers /Getting my hair done and generally being gloriously pampered for several hours at the Aveda Institute on High Holborn / Eating ricotta and pumpkin ravioli, from Lina Stores in Soho, for a quiet dinner at home / On Sunday, a lie in as our downstairs neighbours had a rowdy night (as usual) and kept us awake - can't wait to move into a whole house all our own / Hanging out with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law at home /Eating spinach borek and tomato, feta and thyme salad and clementines for lunch / Later we will devour M's homemade venison and beetroot stew for dinner / Afterwards, more chatting and maybe a DVD.

Hope you've had a chilled weekend too.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The only one

Silent One wrote an interesting post on second children that made me think about my own situation. I'm an only child and, as far as I can remember, had no problems growing up alone at all. It was a normal situation for me. Because both my parents worked full time, I had a variety of baby sitters and went to nursery school very early and as a result I was quite bubbly and sociable and never shy. I had my parents' undivided attention during evenings and weekends, and I was included whenever their adult friends visited. And of course I had my nursery, primary and secondary school friends too.

I was also very content to be on my own. I had an active imagination and could while away many hours alone in my own world. I loved reading as much as playing, and my mum says today that frequently she would not hear me for hours even if we were in the same house! In short, I think I was a very well-adjusted only child.

It was only as an adult, and no longer cushioned from life by my parents, that I began wondering what it would be like to have a sibling or two to share the ups and downs of life with. I know relationships with siblings are not guaranteed to be smooth nor are many of them that close, but the unspoken bond based on shared history and biology is something I sometimes wish I had for myself now.

M is really close to his siblings. He doesn't see them often, but when they get together their pleasure at seeing one another and their natural, unguarded interaction is a delight to witness.

And my father comes from a large family. Because all his siblings are in India, he sees them extremely infrequently. Years go by. But when they finally see one another, their genetic and social history binds them together in such a way that the fact that years have passed means nothing. Again, it's a joy to watch.

I am extremely close to my parents and so the need for a familial bond is satisfied. Moreover, I am married now and am creating my own family unit with M. But when my parents are no longer here? ... If I didn't have M in my life, if I was truly alone, I wonder how much "existential" loneliness I would feel - perhaps a fair bit...

All this, for some reason, doesn't make me want to necessarily have more than one child. But then again, who knows...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Ashes to ashes

Saturday began with signing yet more papers at our estate agents. We were due to get the survey from The Woolwich last week; when we didn't, our estate agent called them and were told that they were battling a huge backlog of work and we were in a queue of three weeks. We instructed our agent to switch to Cheltenham & Gloucester who assured us they would take just one week. Everyone on the upward chain is keen to move as they now have their surveys sorted. Once the survey comes through, and providing it is fine, then exchanging contracts should be straight forward and we could move in before Christmas. The waiting game is nerve-wracking, especially for an impatient girl as myself.

Afterwards, we took the Tube to Sloane Square to visit the Eyes Of An Island - Japanese Photography 1945 - 2007 exhibition at the Michael Hoppen Gallery. The show wasn't as comprehensive, nor as dazzling as the blockbuster survey of Japanese photography we saw at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum Of Photography last month (which I promise one day I will write about), but it was a good show for London as exposure to Japanese photography is still nascent here. Photographers on show were Shomei Tomatsu, Daido Moriyama, Hiroshi Hamaya, Shigeichi Nagano, Hiromi Tsuchida, Eikoh Hosoe, the sublime Hiroshi Sugimoto (above), Ryuji Miyamoto, Naoya Hatakeyama and Nobuyoshi Araki.

Fancying some Lebanese food for lunch, we tried to get into the terrific Al-Dar on the Kings Road, but as usual it was packed out so as we were heading back into town we got off at Green Park and went into the Beiteddine Express on Clarges Street in Mayfair. There we lunched on lamb shawarma and selection of vegetarian mezze - battara harra (cubes of potatoes fried with garlic and coriander), vine leaves (stuffed with rice, parsley, chick peas, mint, lemon juice and olive oil), tabbouleh (parsley, tomatoes, lemon juice, mint, crushed wheat and olive oil), baba ghanouj (grilled aubergines with sesame oil, lemon juice), houmous, and bamia bizeit (okra cooked with tomatoes, onion, garlic and oil). The lamb was very good, but the vegetable dishes, though tasty, were too salty and oily for me.

We tried to get into the Lonely Prophets - German Art From 1910 To The 1930s exhibition at Agnew's on Old Bond Street but as is usual at these tiny dealer galleries, it was shut despite supposedly being open. I vented my frustration with a wander around DKNY instead!

All was forgotten by the time we entered into the Haunch of Venison and the gentle aroma of ashy temple incense suffused and calmed our bodies. Zhang Huan's Ash exhibition, above and below, featured canvasses and sculptures made from the ash remains of incense sticks burnt at temples in Shanghai. From fine dust to coarse flakes, the encrusted and thick impasto pieces were haunting and transcendent. The smells, the intimations of life and death, the organic matter - all put this work in the lofty realms of Anselm Kiefer and Joseph Beuys. Most striking was the slumbering, hulking, 5 metre high Smoking Buddha statue on the top floor - made entirely of ash, encrusted with incense sticks and prayers and other temple artifacts. I truly felt like dropping to my knees in holy and unholy adoration.

"To some, ash seems useless and insubstantial; it is a short-lived witness to human spirituality and spiritual practice. To me, ashes carry unseen sedimentary residue, and tremendous human data about the collective and individual subconscious" - Zhang Huan.
I wish I could urge you to see it; I wish I could see it again. Alas, the show ended yesterday.

We quickly popped into Liberty to stock up on more of my favourite Kiehl's cucumber body cleanser, and into Pages on Shaftesbury Avenue to admire Bodum's cast iron tea pot (left) which I may buy for M for Christmas. I love buying presents that I too can benefit from!. Then we settled in to watch David Cronenberg's riveting, well-paced, chilling and kinetically-violent Eastern Promises, at the Odeon Covent Garden, set in the dark Russian underworld in London. Predictably, the movie has had mixed reviews from the professional critics but I didn't look at my watch once during its 100 minutes and I was swept along by the story. London looked pretty good too in all that rain and darkness.

We picked up some chocolate eclairs from Patisserie Valerie on Old Compton Street then headed home, where M made us beef steaks, fries and a tomato salad for dinner. Snuggling into the sofa with steaming mugs of 2nd flush Darjeeling and the chocolate eclairs, we ended the day watching the companion piece to Eastern Promises, The History Of Violence on DVD, also by Cronenberg, also featuring Viggo Mortensen.

Sunday is, as usual, shaping up to be a quieter affair. A lie in (8.30 for me, 10.30 for M), a leisurely breakfast of eggs on toast, grocery shopping, cleaning the house and doing laundry, then generally taking it easy. I'll finish reading Roopa Farooki's slightly cliched and poorly written but still enjoyable chick lit Bitter Sweets and will indulge in my guilty pleasure of reading Oprah magazine. I say guilty, because it's not a magazine I'd read on the Tube - I always feel a little too young to read a magazine pitched at a middle-aged audience, but article titles such as Love At Last - Just When You Think You've Missed Your Moment, or When The Going Gets Tough... 3 Rules To Pull You Through, or The Two-week Plan That Will Reset Your Body Clock, combined with that relentlessly positive Oprah attitude, get me every time!

Later this afternoon, I may snuggle in for a few episodes of The Waltons on DVD on my own while M is at the gym and then, with him, watch a few episodes of Hill Street Blues on DVD. I may start reading another novel. Which to choose? I love browsing through our book shelves working out which book takes my fancy - the anticipation is sometimes better than the reading. My sister-in-law is coming for dinner tonight and we'll eat roast chicken with pearl barley, walnut and raisin stuffing, chat loads and perhaps watch another movie.

Tomorrow, a friend is staying with us and we'll be gathering with other friends for dinner. What a lovely Monday it should be. I rarely get the Monday morning blues as I'm blessed enough to have work that is still really interesting and sometimes even exciting. But I am sad when the weekend is over because that's my time to do exactly what I want, with no deadlines and no obligations. It's all about me, me, me. Well, and him, him, him ♥.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


I never blog about my clients here, but last night was just too exciting to not mention it. Our company worked with Apple and O2 to develop the iPhone for the UK. Developers had been working night and day within a very tight timeline to bring it to life. Last night, at the end of the working day, when most people would usually be in the pub, 50 developers or so plus our two MDs, the client services (including me) and project management teams and the senior client began the countdown to 6.02pm. Then we watched on the console as the first person bought then activated their iPhone - at 6.03! As the minutes ticked by, the console became a hive of Matrix-like activity with sales and activations streaming down the screen. The developers will be there most of the weekend keeping an eye on things.

I finally dragged myself away from the fun to meet M for a lovely Thai dinner at the Thai Garden Cafe on Museum Street. As I walked there to meet him, I spotted three people playing with their iPhones along Oxford Street. We ate green curry with soft shell crab and red curry with beef. Then we popped into the Waitrose in the Brunswick to buy spotted dick with custard for dessert at home.

It's strange as I have no inclination to buy an iPhone right now - I'm waiting for it to go 3G - but last night I kept waking up from dreams of owning an iPhone, playing with it and showing it off to strangers and friends. I've spent over 4 months with this project and I'm delighted the launch went so well.

And even more to celebrate - it's the weekend!

Monday, November 05, 2007


Friday night after work is for puttering around the new John Lewis Food Hall, picking at whatever takes our fancy for the weekend ahead - fig bread, Camembert cheese, a variety of pasta, a variety of chocolate, plain and lemon cheesecakes, fresh peas, wild blueberry jam and marmalade - then returning home to cook a moreish dinner of paneer, peas and pumpkin curry.

Saturday is for puttering around town... Lying in very late, reading the newspaper over breakfast with the sun streaming in through the kitchen window, then signing more papers at our estate agents / Strolling down Tottenham Court Road, popping into This Is Furniture, BoConcept and Heal's appraising the merits of different styles of wardrobes, sofas and beds to fill the extra space our new house will have / Eating delicious chargrilled bacon cheeseburgers and fries with garlic mayo at Hamburger Union / Being dazzled by the colour and scale of Shirana Shahbazi's photos and paintings at the Barbican / Crying buckets at the viewing of complex Korean family drama Family Ties by Kim Tae-Yong, also at the Barbican as part of the Korean Film Festival / Walking by the new house and feeling fuzzy, warm and gratified at seeing not just how quiet the area is on a Saturday night and how great the house looks, but by the big, bold Sold sign outside it too / Eating only big bowls of grapes, plums and clementines for dinner while catching up on the thrilling Arsenal v. Man Utd game on Match Of The Day.

Sunday is for puttering around the house... Lying in very late, then breakfasting on toasted crusty white bread with melting slices of smelly Camembert and sweet as can be blueberry jam / Doing laundry / Vacuuming / Dusting / Cleaning floors / Planning the week's dinners - moussaka, tom yun goong, lamb and apricot stew, chickpea and spinach curry - then shopping locally for groceries / Vegging out with creamy Lindt milk chocolate and a chick flick movie Dinner With Friends, not feeling guilty at all while M is sweating it out at the gym / M cooking ahead just as my parents used to do every Sunday - boiling chicken wings into chicken stock for the tom yun goong, slow cooking the tomatoes and grilling the aubergines for the moussaka, part-cooking the lamb for the stew - to save time after work (he gets so much pleasure out of cooking, lucky for me) / Lunching on Heinz tomato soup and crusty white bread with lots of butter melting on top / Eating M's sea bream with fried potatoes and spinach for dinner / Catching up with parents on the phone / Watching old episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm on DVD while eating lemon cheesecakes.

How has your weekend been?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Drawing in

It's been quiet since my last post. Snuggling in is now my favourite activity: work hard all day then come home, cook comfort food - roasted vegetables, Hungarian goulash, spaghetti and tomato sauce - and then settle in with my husband, an interiors magazine and the TV. A lot of early nights - by 9 I'm shattered. I haven't even been bothered to switch on the computer. We spent the weekend with my parents at their home in Norfolk. My mother's knee operation was a success and though her full recovery will take a little more time, she happily fussed over us and cooked us lamb, minced beef and cauliflower curries. I am sure this Saturday will be activity filled: browsing furniture and computers, visiting a gallery or two, perhaps a movie. But I am also sure Sunday will be as chilled as can be. The house purchase is moving along. Many forms have been filled out and signed and posted. We're just waiting for the surveyor's report now. Not much we can do until then. Well, sleeeeep of course...

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Is anyone still here?

What a whirlwind... The crisp autumnal air, the clear blue skies and the fiery crinkly leaves have all conspired to inject new energy into my jet-lagged bones. I love Autumn.

On Friday, we saw Akram Khan perform Zero Degrees again at the Sadler's Wells with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. My review from the last time we saw this performance remains unchanged, but I marvelled again at how the loose, fluid movements of Cherkaoui contrasted beautifully with the logical, almost alacritic movements of Khan. This now counts as my sixth Akram Khan performance, all of which are collected here on my blog since 2004. Obsessed, moi?

Then on Saturday night, we attended Philip Glass's musical adaptation of Leonard Cohen's The Book Of Longing poems. I like Glass's original compositions, but find his adaptations of other peoples' work less passionate and inspiring than the originals. I enjoyed this night for the majestic presence of Mr Cohen himself. What a man! Though he sat in the audience for the entire performance - at the end of our row no less - he did recite one of his poems for us on stage and there were other recorded recitations throughout. I would have enjoyed the night even more if it had been just him and his voice. He has a dark and brooding drawl that draws one dangerously in and his descriptions of love and sex and passion and women and God that are so addictive. In short - he is very sexy... and in his 70s! He's also followed Buddhism (without necessarily calling himself a Buddhist) for several decades and several of the audience questions directed at him about spirituality were flowery, pretentious and almost cultish. He deflected those with poise, tact and elegance revealing a man whose spirituality is so private and ingrained that he doesn't have to go on about it. My hero.

Much of Saturday was spent viewing flats and houses in our area - 10 in total. We shortlisted a couple of places in our minds, but I was not entirely convinced: the layout was odd, or the decor was too sterile, or the second bedroom was too cramped and made me feel claustrophobic. And then we opened the door to a three bedroom house in a leafy, quiet street 5 minutes from where we already live and we were instantly smitten. The decor was all wrong, of course (bright red walls in the living room, lilac walls in the bathroom, pine everywhere), but every room was the perfect size and the layout was perfect - a double living room, a double kitchen with room for a large dining table, a pretty private garden with well-established shrubs and trees, two excellent-sized double bedrooms upstairs plus a good sized single bedroom which can be our study or, later, nursery.

We are both used to making instant decisions - quickly weighing up the pros and cons rationally, but ultimately going with our gut. Though we saw a few more houses and flats afterwards, this was the one we kept thinking about. So on Monday we put in an offer and, after a little haggling from both sides, our offer was accepted and they took the house off the market. This morning we set the ball rolling in terms of mortgage, surveyor and solicitor. It could all go pear-shaped and we are prepared to keep searching. But in the meantime, I can't help dreaming of my new house! I pray we can move in before the New Year.

I'm not done with our Japanese trip... hang in there and I will get round to blogging more about it.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Life has been so hectic since we got back from Tokyo, that I just wanted to drop in and say thanks for your lovely comments. I have at least three more Japanese posts to write, which I will do but it may take longer than I wish.

In the meantime, we're house or flat hunting, and a few other activities are also gobbling up my after-work time. Plus I'm still dog-tired from jetlag.

We've managed to take some time out to visit a couple of galleries though. We both had Monday off, so after unpacking our bags and doing laundry, we headed to the Southbank to see the new Louise Bourgeois retrospective at the Tate Modern and the private viewing of The Painting Of Modern Life exhibition at the Hayward. The latter was a surreal and hilarious experience because each floor of the exhibition was needlessly guarded by loads of bored security men dressed all in black with loud walkie talkies. What did they think the invited guests were going to do? We couldn't contain ourselves when we overheard one of them explaining, "I'm 23 and I figure I only have one year left of being young so this year I'm really going to give my band my all"!

Anyway, we'll be returning to both exhibitions in the weeks and months to come, when I'll write about them in more detail.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Tokyo notes

  • At first, I was underwhelmed by Tokyo. There was a lot of neon and not enough grandeur. Because of the ravages inflicted on the capital city by war and earthquakes and the zealous rush to build quickly during the bubble economy, I found the city to be lacking in the visible history, elegance and diversity that makes other modern cities such as London and NYC so full of character. However, the more we explored, the more the city's diverse personality revealed itself to me. Glitzy Ginza, tawdry Roppongi, nerdy Akihabara, hip Naka-Meguru, swish Aoyama, flashy Shinjuku, gaudy Harajuku, trashy Shibuya, grown-up Ebisu... And there are some ultra modern architectural treats in each neighbourhood. The city quickly grew on me.

  • Road signs are difficult to spot. You have to be guided by familiar buildings or landmarks. However, there are vicinity maps on most streets and whether people speak good English or not, everyone will help you if you are lost.

  • Everyone waits at the crossing until the walk sign lights up, even if there is no traffic. We found this a very stress-free way of navigating the city. And despite this being a rich, capital city where a lot of money is made and people are very busy, we found that people walked at a slower pace than in NYC or in London or even in Paris.

  • People are addicted to their mobile phones here - not for chatting but for surfing the net or reading or texting or emailing. On trains, in stores, in elevators, on the subway, meandering down the middle of a busy street, in restaurants, with friends - everywhere, everyone with their noses in their clamshell cellphones.

  • The streets are the cleanest I have ever seen. People will carry their litter rather than throw it to the ground. Where bins exist - usually beside the numerous drinks vending machines on every street corner - they are separated into various types - paper, plastic, cans.

  • We didn't see any Tokyoites snacking on the streets and the vending machines sold only drinks or, more rarely, ice creams. The only people we saw snacking on chocolate and crisps were European or American tourists. Obviously we don't know what goes on in peoples' homes but we were also struck by the smaller portion sizes in restaurants, even in McDonald's.

  • I expected more people smoking. I get more bothered by people smoking on the street in London than in Tokyo and this surprised me. There are even signs embedded in the pavements requesting that people refrain from smoking on the street. In restaurants, the extractors were quite efficient and we were only troubled a few times.

  • People pay a lot of attention to what they are wearing - even on the weekend. Smart or casual, designer-clad or Harajuku-mix n' match, the attire was always clean, tidy and well thought out. Baggy pink ti-shirts, dirty trainers and messy hair were more likely to be seen on tourists than on a native Tokyoite. In fact, the attention to fashion detail and the overall chicness reminded me of the Marais district in Paris.

  • I didn't see a single female commuter in sneakers. Kitten and high heels everywhere, all the time! These girls will suffer in order to look good.

  • Tokyo is the city of neon - lots of it, flashing everywhere, even in the most nondescript of neighbourhoods.

  • The pachinko parlours, video game arcades and slot machine bars were crammed with suited men and women after work - perhaps preparing themselves for their long commute home to the suburbs.

  • Service in restaurants and stores and even on the subway was impeccable and attentive. People saying Hello and Goodbye and Can I Help You and Thank You.

  • Manga and anime are huge here. We descended into Shibuya's vast underground Mandarake store and saw numerous women alone or in pairs with other women browsing the shelves of romantic or sexual "boy love" manga and anime. There were fewer men on the Saturday night we were there, but they were browsing the manga (often quite violent) porn and the glass displays of new and rare manga figurines, comic books, stickers and posters, even original art work.

  • Books we finished on our trip: Haruki Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and South of the Border, West of the Sun; Ryu Murakami's 69; and Banana Yoshimoto's Hardboiled / Hard Luck.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Eating in shabu shabu style

It's nearly 4 in the morning, I've been up a couple of hours already, and I'm jetlagged. So I thought, what better way to start a Planethalder post on our trip to Japan than to write about some of the food we ate.

When we first arrived in Tokyo, we were a tad trepidacious about ordering out as it was rare for an English menu to be displayed outside the restaurant itself. These plastic replicas of dishes (first two photos below), from tempura to pizza, helped, and quickly we learned that all you have to do is ask for a menu in English or point.

Bowls of char siu ramen, with pork, fish cake, hardboiled egg, seaweed and spinach, at Shun Kan in Shinjuku / Shrimp tempura with soba noodles at Masudaya in Shinjuku / Grilled eel in Minokichi in Shinjuku / Mixed sushi (mackerel, shrimp, tuna, salmon roe, gizzard shad, gourd strip and cucumber) at Koshi Sushi in Aoyama / Okonimyaki - one with pickled radish, red ginger and spring onions; another with squid, pork and shrimp - at Ushio in Roppongi / Tonkatsu - breaded pork - with miso soup, rice and pickled daikon in Ginza.

Two of my favourite dining experiences took place in glitzy Ginza (think 5th Avenue with less grandeur but more neon), towards the end of our holiday. We had a variety of green tea desserts at a basement establishment whose name now escapes me. The place was filled with female office workers and there were long queues to get in. And at Zakuro, we ate shabu shabu where we submerged thinly sliced pieces of beef into a cauldron of bubbling light stock made from kombu or kelp and then dipped the meat into sesame and Japanese vinegar dipping sauces. Our charming waitress also dipped enokitake mushrooms, cabbage, rice noodles, spring onions, spinach and tofu into the stock and served them to us in small bowls. Throughout the meal, she kept skimming the fat off the water's surface, and at the end served us bowls of the stock itself.

We didn't only eat Japanese food of course. We had pizzas and cheese toasties and pasta and salads too. We were staying in the luxurious Park Hyatt Tokyo (of Lost In Translation fame) so we couldn't pass up the chance to dine on exquisite Tochigi beef steaks with sauteed vegetables and pureed potatoes there. And in Kyoto, the refined kaiseki menu we ate in our traditional ryokan became all too much for me and I gave into a craving for McDonald's - but that's for another post.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Eastward bound

We're off to Tokyo and Kyoto - see you in 2 weeks with loads of photos and descriptions!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Taking it leisurely

The merest hint of a cold for both of us on Friday, so close to our Japanese trip in a few days, led us to take a far more leisurely approach to our weekend this week. On Friday, for example, we had planned on meeting up after work for another wander around the British Museum's Crafting Beauty in Modern Japan exhibition, followed by dinner at nearby Biwon or Abeno. Instead, we went home and made oven-cooked fish fingers, chips, peas and loads of tartare sauce for a TV dinner with Steve Coogan's very funny Saxondale - followed by store-bought apple crumble. Oh, we eat well!

The bright and sunny Saturday morning saw us still in bed at 10am. M finished re-reading Haruki Murakami's South Of The Border, West Of The Sun and flicked through a couple of Daido Moriyama photobooks, while I watched music videos on my iPod - an eclectic mix of David Bowie, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Leonard Cohen and The Pussycat Dolls.

While M read the weekend FT over a breakfast of toast and sheep cheese, I watched Rachel Allen cook a slow-cooked, spiced shoulder of lamb on BBC1 and surfed the blogosphere. Then it was my turn to browse the Saturday papers, while M watched Football Focus.

By lunch, though, we were both itching to get out and about. We hopped on a bus then walked a little along the Regent's Canal to the Parasol Unit on Wharf Road, where we viewed Yutaka Sone's Secret For Snow Leopard exhibition. Sone's latest work reveals an intense fascination with natural phenomena - intricately carved marble sculptures of icy landscapes, crystal snowflakes and models of dense green and mossy jungle; and yet the man-made world is also etched out in exquisite detail in the undulating terrain - houses, skyscrapers, roads and ski slopes.

We lunched at Life on Old Street where M ordered the cake set consisting of adzuki bean cream and green tea ice cream, and I ate a beautifully presented French toast with Japanese sauce and green tea and adzuki bean ice creams. The service was attentive and we shared the large bare brick, wood panelled space with three very cute toddlers with wild black hair, and their more refined mum.

To the Barbican to pick up a birthday card for M's sister and then a cab to the Chisenhale Gallery for Hiraki Sawa's mysterious and meditative multi-screen video footage combined with subtle digital manipulations capturing the shifting light of a cultivated forest surrounding a Shinto monastery, birds flocking over churning waste water being pumped into the sea, a moon rising over and fireworks exploding above a nuclear power station set at the ocean's edge, land and sea and skyscapes morphing into one another... This rates as one of my favourite pieces of video art I've viewed in recent years, along with Runa Islam's Timelines, Yang Fudong's No Snow On The Broken Bridge and Pierre Huyghe's A Journey That Wasn't.

We walked back along the Regent's Canal towards London Fields, admiring the multi-coloured Autumnal leaves, but it was not as leisurely a stroll as we'd hoped because we spent most of our time dodging manic, earnest cyclists. Onto Broadway Market and lemon and ginger tea for M (or lemonade and ginger tea as our waitress kept saying) and Rooibos tea for me at the Gossip cafe, where I got out my diary and we firmed up a daily itinerary for Tokyo and Kyoto. Then we met up with the birthday girl herself for melt-in-the-mouth 10oz Argentine fillet steaks, thick-cut chips, Serrano ham with palm hearts and a variety of empanadas at the busy Santa Maria Del Buen Ayre.

Back to ours for Arsenal's match against West Ham on Match Of The Day and hot honey and lemon drinks as M's sister is also nursing a cold.

On Sunday, we left the house just to stock up on provisions - chicken from our local butchers, miso paste and daikon from our local Japanese store, vegetables and fruit from our local Turkish grocery. Then we spent the rest of the day at home. For lunch, M grilled a couple of salt-coated mackerel and served it with grated daikon and miso soup with wakame. He had a long bath with lots of essential oil of ginger for his cold and I settled in with some books, some magazines and the internet. I also reviewed my packing list for Japan and started putting a few things into my suitcase.

For dinner, M has cooked a lemon-stuffed roast chicken with rosemary and will serve it with roasted sweet potatoes and broccoli. Then we will settle in to re-watch Café Lumière on DVD - the tender and contemplative portrait of a Japanese reporter named Yoko who researches an article on a Taiwanese musician and copes with an unexpected pregnancy and impending single.

What a chilled weekend.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A life in print

I love flicking through pages of writing, stumbling across things with the flip of a hand. I have printed out alot of my digital photos and look through them far more than I would had they just resided online or on my laptop.

I have three years' worth of Planethalder I want to print out and file so that I can peruse it at leisure if I choose. I want to randomly browse with a steaming mug of coffee, snuggled in bed or on the sofa, browsing through the art I've seen, the recipes I've cooked, the restaurants I've eaten in; I want to re-live the wedding preparations I made and the travels to New York or India or Spain or Thailand. I want to have all these words physically to hand alongside the more private, handwritten journal I also maintain. But the thought of printing it all out daunts me.

Has anyone here printed out their blog or are tempted to?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Things keeping me happy this week

Lunching on crayfish and lime glass noodle salad from Abokado / Walking in the rain when a glint of sunshine hits me from above / Snuggling into my husband on the sofa with our feet and legs intertwined - watching a movie or reading or chatting / Leaving the house early so we can breakfast together on hot coffee and warm croissant with ham and cheese in town, before work / Catching myself in the middle of a hectic day and realising everything is just as it should be / Popping into the Ben Brown Gallery on Cork Street to pick up a book we'd ordered and stealing a few minutes to savour Candida Höfer's monumental photos again, even though I really need to rush back to work and my bulging inbox / Coming home and taking off my heels / Slipping beneath freshly laundered, pure white bedding / Hearing my parents' voices on the other end of the phoneline / Cooking spinach, garlic, chickpea, chorizo and tahini soup and eating it with thick slices of toasted white bread / Simmering tomatoes with loads of garlic and basil and spooning the sauce over gnocchi from Lina Stores / Watching Lost In Translation on DVD just because it features the hotel we're staying in in Tokyo next week / Thinking of all the outfits, day by day, I will wear on our trip / Loading my iPod with music I haven't listened to in a while - Nine Inch Nails' Fragile, Audioslave's first album, David Bowie's Let's Dance - for our 12 hour flight and for the Bullet train journey to Kyoto / Hearing my husband wash up in the kitchen while listening to Talking Heads as I type this.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The weekend

Late on Friday afternoon, as my work day was winding down, M called to say he could leave on time and that it was unlikely he would have to work this weekend. Hurrah, I had my husband all to myself for two and a half whole days and nights! Failing to get into one of our favourite Japanese restaurants Kikuchi on Hanway Street, we decided to try South Indian restaurant Malabar Junction on Great Russell Street, as we've passed it many times without going in.

The spacious atrium dining room had a very colonial feel about it and was romantically illuminated by a huge skylight. Some, but not all, of the foliage was plastic; the decor was pleasingly dated; the atmosphere was soothingly restrained; the wait staff were attentive and courteous; the clientele largely middle-aged academics or well-to-do tourists. We were certainly the youngest there on this evening and I felt a little under-dressed in, albeit dark, jeans. M fitted right in with his black suit and grey tie. A good number of diners were Indians, which is always good to see in an Indian restaurant.

The food was delicious, with the flavours all perfectly balanced. We started with parippu vada made from gram mixed with red chillies, curry leaves, ginger and onions and served with chutneys. Plus a plate of vegetable upma with sambar and coconut chutney. For mains, M had a Kerala king fish curry and I had Cochin king prawns with spices, coconut, cocum and curry leaves. We also had a crunchy side dish of spinach and, you guessed it, coconut.

We walked it off with a stroll back into Soho. We popped into Borders for the latest copy of the excellent Portfolio magazine, and into Foyles to browse. There we picked up Paul Auster's Travels In The Scriptorium and Andrey Kurkov's The President's Last Love. Then down the always-heaving Old Compton Street for the creamiest, flakiest Mille Feuille in London at Patisserie Valerie. We washed it down with heady lapsang souchang tea then treated ourselves to black cab home.

I awoke on Saturday at 4.30am unable to sleep, so I went into the living room and finished reading Haruki Murakami's surreal and sublime After Dark and started on Ryu Murakami's Piercing. Reviews of these in another post.

A few hours later, M was awake and we headed to the Ben Brown Gallery for Candida Höfer's glorious and monumental photos of Portuguese cultural institutions and the Louvre (above). The attention to architectural detail was magnificent - every intricate detail could be seen and I felt as if I were inside the buildings themselves. Reviewers always try to attach political significance to Höfer's work, but refreshingly the photographer herself states, "To highlight social function is not my concern". She is simply concerned with exposing the glory of her subjects.

Matthew Barney's installations and drawings at the Serpentine referenced Japanese whaling practices and marine life, used materials such as shrimp shells, petroleum jelly, 'self-lubricating plastic' and cement, and utilised the limitations of his entire body to produce the work. Objectively, the concepts were interesting even though I'd heard it all before. But the work simply didn't rouse me. I'm no art critic, despite the amount of art I see, so an emotional response - whether positive, negative or all the shades in between - of some kind is necessary for me. This work left me nonplussed.

At Fernandez & Wells, we lunched on flaky, flavourful goats cheese tart with roasted vegetables and pesto, salami ciabatta, dark chocolate and raspberry tart, Sicilian lemon tart, and my favourite coffee in the whole of London.

At the Frith Street Gallery on Golden Square, Tacita Dean's impressionistic photos and film footage of a poet, translator and owner of an orchard of apples - some rare - grown from pips, eased me into its narrative so calmly that I was positively soporific by the time I came out.

We also wandered around the contemporary Asian art gallery Aicon again to check out their latest exhibition. Among the artists on show from Kerala to Kolkata, Subodh Gupta's paintings of everyday items from rural India such as steel kitchen utensils hanging from the tented roof of a roadside cafe (above), impressed me the most.

To Habitat for spice jars and a new white duvet cover and pillow cases - my favourite colour of bedding - so crisp, so clean, so inviting. And to the Minamoto Kitchoan on Piccadilly for some delectable Japanese desserts - hanatsubomi or steamed whole yuzu filled with white bean jelly (left), miyamanokuri or chestnut paste wrapped in sweet red bean jelly, and maccha manjyu or green tea jelly.

Across the road in Hauser & Wirth we saw some art that made me swoon. Michael Raedecker's large canvases combined thread and paint to form ethereal netherworlds - objects such as a vase of flowers, laundry on the line or a ruined homestead (below) rendered so obliquely that I was never sure whether they were surfacing to life or to death.

Finally to Arigato, Fresh & Wild and Nicolas in Soho for provisions. Then home sweet home, where M caught up with the Arsenal match on TV (his sister and cousin had watched the match live at the Emirates earlier on) and then made steak with two Vietnamese dipping sauces - lime and ginger, and green chillies and fish sauce. He served them with green tea soba noodles and spinach with sesame seeds.

Savouring our selection of Japanese sweets, we settled in to watch one of our YesAsia films - the charming Thai love story by Pen-Ek Ratanaruang Mon-rak Transistor about the fate of young dreamer Pan who longs for pop stardom.

Sunday was a much quieter affair for us. Still in bed, we drank big mugs of coffee surrounded by numerous Japanese guide books and made a start on planning our itinerary for our 2 week holiday to Tokyo and Kyoto next week. Then M went to the gym and I popped along to the Indian stores on Turnpike Lane for provisions such as fennel seeds, hing, curry leaves, drumsticks, toor dal, paneer and more. I came back and cleaned the house, did laundry, and made a start on writing this post. Then settled in with a book until M returned home.

We headed into town and popped in the Photographers' Gallery for another viewing of Taryn Simon's An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar. We snacked on some curry puffs and deep-fried sweet potatoes at the C&R Café in Rupert Court - not the restaurant but the takeout place opposite where we sat perched at a bar in the window and watched people pass by. Then we scooted over to Selfridges to buy some Mandarina Duck luggage for next week's trip and cabbed it home.

M started on his tax return while I cooked us a spicy dish of Keralan coconut lamb, slow cooked for two hours, and a sweet and sour sambar. Recipes will follow in another post. I served it with chapati and luckily it lasted into tonight's dinner too. We ended the weekend watching Beat Takeshi's Blood And Bones - a harrowing, brutal, true-life drama about a poor young Korean immigrant who turns his life around by opening a steamed fish cake factory in Osaka but whose obsession with money and power affects every life he comes into contact with, from his long-suffering wife and mistresses to his numerous children and employees. A disturbing yet powerful movie.

And now it's the beginning of another work week.