Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Quick and easy

Tonight, I cooked a recipe from Claudia Roden's Arabesque cookbook that was deliciously rich and aromatic and yet so quick and easy to cook.

Usually we use supermarket-bought, ready-peeled prawns, but now that we have a fishmongers on our doorstep, buying large king prawns still in their shells by the bag is easy now. We'd stocked up over the weekend and tonight M avoided my bad temper brought on by a stressful work day by losing himself in the patient work of shelling and deveining. When he'd finished, he escaped me and it was my turn to take over the kitchen.

I fried a medium sized onion and three cloves of chopped garlic in extra virgin olive oil in a heavy saucepan until they turned translucent. I added two cans of chopped tomatoes, a teaspoon of ground ginger, a pinch of saffron threads, a teaspoon of red chilli powder and a pinch of salt, gave it a stir, brought to the boil then simmered for twenty minutes with an extra two cups of boiling water.

After twenty minutes of simmering I added the fifteen prawns (for two) and cooked them in the stew until they turned pink. Taking the stew off the heat, I stirred in a medium bunch of chopped parsley and a medium bunch of chopped coriander and we ate it with Basmati rice.

The prawns were big and succulent in the spicy stew. The perfect post-work meal on a cold winter night.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Lost in chick lit land

It's been a while since I've given myself a few hours to browse round a bookshop, so yesterday, in between consuming food and art, I worked my way around the fiction section of Waterstone's bookstore on Piccadilly.

M grew impatient with me as I picked up book after book and then gradually discarded several as I moved around. Eventually I bought William Boyd's Restless and Junichiro Tanizaki's In Praise of Shadows. I also bought two chick lit books - Amanda Craig's Love in Idleness and Joanna Trollope's Second Honeymoon about a middle-aged mother suffering empty nest syndrome - the latter of which I am too embarassed to read on the Tube but which I avidly consumed last night in bed and have still been engrossed by all day today on the sofa! A guilty pleasure. M bought two Ryu Murakami novels, 69 and Piercing, the latter of which he's also been captivated by all weekend.

M's at an Arsenal match with his dad this afternoon, Hungarian beef goulash is bubbling away on the stove, laundry is drying in the machine, a big mug of green tea is steaming beside me, and I'm lost in chick lit land.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Let the earth be opened

"Let the earth be opened and bud forth a saviour and let justice spring up at the same time" Book of Isaiah.

Destruction and creation, upheaval and renewal are themes that haunt Anselm Kiefer's latest exhibition Aperiatur Terra at the White Cube gallery in Mason's Yard, which we saw today.

A rusty brown, thirteen-metre palm tree lay decaying across the length of the gallery's ground floor, overlooked by eighteen paintings of fossilised foliage pressed against coagulated and charred paint, all evoking Christ's journey into Jerusalem prior to his arrest, death and resurrection.

In the lower gallery hung three epic canvases, each depicting a panoramic, visceral landscape dense with apocalyptic matter such as mud and burnt vegetation as well as explosive bursts of redemptive flowers. The poetry of Victor Hugo, the fall of Troy, the Nazi campaign on the Russian front and the prophet Isaiah are referenced throughout the exhibition - words carved into the canvases themselves or scrawled in black upon the white walls. The aroma in the air was heady with oil, organic matter and decay.

Kiefer's last collection of work at the White Cube was snapped up for six million US dollars. I wonder how much this is worth?

At Fortnum and Mason, we lunched on a takeaway sausage roll and smoked salmon and spring onion muffin so deliciously moist and flavourful it made up for the rude and distracted service we received. We crossed Piccadilly to the Royal Academy of Art to view in the courtyard Kiefer's stolid, six-storey twin cement towers entitled Jericho. From the ridges and flaking green paint on some of the blocks that made up each tower, it looked like each block was moulded out of the inside of metal storage containers. The towers proved an imposing and stark contrast against the grandiose and ornate backdrop of the RCA.

We always pop into the grand and imposing Hauser & Wirth gallery down the road from the RCA whenever we're passing through Piccadilly and this time we saw a Caro Niederer exhibition. Entirely unfamiliar with her work, I enjoyed her reworkings of photographic domestic still lifes - views through a bedroom window across a city, of a blue bath tub, of a vase of flowers on a dining table - into full colour silk carpets (handmade in a factory near Shanghai) and paintings.

Later on, we saw the Bound for Glory: America in Colour exhibition at the Photographers' Gallery - a series of photographs of stoic farming communities in post-Depression America. The photographers - Russell Lee, Marion Post Walcott, Jack Delano, Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans - were all employed in the late 30s and early 40s by the US Information Department of the Farm Security Administration to galvanise public support for Roosevelt's economic reforms. What is striking about most of the photographs is the use of the newly available Kodachrome film. In those days, people would have viewed such images as black and white prints in magazines or periodicals, but to view them in full-blown and original colour brings the post-Depression era to dynamic life and makes many of these iconic images so starkly contemporary that it's unnerving.

As if all the art we'd consumed today wasn't enough, we also saw the Cherish: Chinese Families in Britain exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in which Chinese families across Britain have been invited to represent themselves in their own unique ways. One of my favourites was an installation that contrasted old black and white family photos with colour ones of the newer generation: a black and white photo of a three year old girl alongside a colour photo of that girl's three year old daughter; a black and white group photo of a family of men in sports gear contrasted with a colour group photo of the next generation of boys splashing around in the sea. Another favourite was a poster of a young couple who had photographed themselves in the style of a Wong Kar-Wai movie. But my favourite style of photo is always those depicting domestic scenes such as a middle aged couple dancing at their wedding, or a mother and daughter fashioning paper lanterns on the counter of their takeaway, or the dishes of stir-fried pak choi or soupy noodles a mother or grandmother had cooked. Photos of everyday life are the reason I love Flickr so much. I wish someone would curate a photographic show of everyday domestic Indian life in Britain.

We ended the day at Bi Won - our regular Korean restaurant in Holborn and my favourite because it's basic Korean comfort food at its best. We started with spicy kimchi, spinach leaves and toasted sesame seeds tossed in sesame oil, and vegetables tossed in batter and flattened into a pancake. Then M had beef marinaded and then barbequed with spring onions on the grill embedded in our table. When they were cooked, he dipped them in chilli sauce and wrapped them in the lettuce leaves provided. I ate my regular cast iron bowl of sizzling minced beef, raw egg, spinach, spring onions, grated carrot and sticky rice all stirred in with a fiery chilli sauce. I can never get enough of this. For dessert I asked for a fruit bowl, thinking perhaps they'd give me a mixture of papaya and lychees, mangos and melons. So I was disappointed, after such great food, when they served me with some slices of apple, orange and cherry tomatoes.

Still, it wasn't enough of a disappointment to ruin a fabulous day.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Music to get married to

Apart from the classical Indian trio who'll be performing sitar, tabla and violin at our wedding in, gulp, less than a month, we've been having fun deciding on which music to have playing in the background to the reception dinner. One of the first things I did when we bought my new iPod was create a Wedding Dinner playlist in iTunes. It doesn't necessarily feature many romantic songs, but it does feature music we've loved down the years. Currently the playlist is 7 hours long, but it's on shuffle! Here's a selection:
  • Sweet Black Angel - The Rolling Stones
  • Everyone's In Love With You - David Byrne
  • Starman - David Bowie
  • Californication - Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Raspberry Beret - Prince
  • Bat Macumba - Os Mutantes
  • Road To Nowhere - Talking Heads
  • Beautiful - Carole King
  • Shipbuilding - Robert Wyatt
  • Tropicalia - Caetano Veloso
  • Tupelo Honey - Van Morrison
  • Chuva - Mariza
  • Breathless - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
  • A Man And A Woman - U2
  • Take This Waltz - Leonard Cohen
  • Harvest Moon - Neil Young
  • Aicha - Khaled
  • Lágrimas Negras - Bebo Valdés & Dieguito "El Cigala"
  • Perfect Day - Lou Reed (which may also be our recessional music)
  • Everything - Neneh Cherry
  • Yesterday Is Here - Tom Waits
  • Dance Away - Bryan Ferry & Roxy Music
  • Bat Macumba - Gilberto Gil
  • Sabine Largam - Césaria Évora
  • Naci Orishas - Orishas
  • Tuareg - Gal Costa
  • The Passenger - Iggy Pop
  • Love Will Tear Us Apart - Joy Division
  • Little Things (That Keep Us Together) - Scott Walker

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Just one inch of snow fell on London today and all hell broke loose: hi-tech systems designed to protect trains from the effects of ice on power rails left trains stuck and rail passengers stranded and even six lines of the London Underground were crippled. My Tube train on the Victoria line got stuck at each station to Oxford Circus for five minutes at a time this morning. When I lived in South Dakota, we suffered through frozen temperatures, lashing blizzards and horrendous snow storms and still life went on. My colleagues at work from the Northeastern states of America were laughing at our inability to cope with a piddly amount of snow.

Mind you, I like this photo on the BBC website of a couple enjoying the snow down on Brighton beach:

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Scent of green papaya

I made papaya salad for dinner tonight, made from a Thai recipe book we were given when we took part in a cookery class in Chiang Mai last year. Thai food always looks complicated on the page, but once you have all the essential ingredients - fish sauce, kaffir lime leaves which you can freeze, dried shrimps which you can also freeze, palm sugar which lasts an age, fresh chillis, coconut milk and more - it's a doddle to mix everything together.

I peeled and grated the raw, green papaya we had bought from Oriental City on Saturday and set aside in a big bowl. I roughly blended together four cloves of garlic, six small green chillies, two diced long beans, a teaspoon of palm sugar and two tablespoons of dried shrimp and added the mix to the grated papaya. To this I added three tablespoons of fish sauce, four tablespoons of fresh lime juice and one large chopped tomato. Then I gave it all a thorough stir. While I had been preparing all this I had roasted a handful of peanuts in the oven. Now I took them out, picked off the skin and added them to the papaya salad. We ate it with some left over chicken from last night's roast dinner.

While we were eating, M humoured me with tales of people he shared a Tube journey with. I laughed as he told me about the young student couple sitting side by side, their fingers entwined, discussing in very lethargic, monotonous voices a range of topics from the Iraq War and global warming, to the rights to protest outside Parliament and developing country debt. M listened in along with half the carriage and then overhead one young office worker opposite them look at her friend - another young office worker - and say, "All we ever talk about is the telly." To which her friend replied, "Or what to have for dinner"!

Afterwards, we watched Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Blissfully Yours - a mesmerising, impressionistic love story set along the Thai-Burmese border during which time stands still and nothing much happens but so much is experienced.

Brrrr, it's cold

Siberian, arctic, biting, bitter, chilled, cutting, frigid, frosty, gelid, glacial, icy, nippy, numbing, polar, raw, shivery, snappy, wintry, bleak, blighting, crisp, fierce, freezing, severe, sore, stinging, hiemal, frore, refrigerated...

Monday, January 22, 2007

Being 'racial'

What I find interesting about the recent Celebrity Big Brother affair is not what was said against rich Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty - "Go back to the slums", "Shilpa Fuckawallah", "Shilpa Poppadom", "You don't know where those hands have been" - but that such comments have, rightly or wrongly, been branded racist by the media.

Comments similar to these were constantly levelled at me and my family during the 1970s and 1980s when we lived in Kent and were "the only Indians in the village" and we called it ignorance not racism.

It's interesting to me how definitions have hardened and narrowed to encompass a broader range of activity, language and intent in recent years. I would define many people as racist and as people to fear, but I wouldn't even call Bernard Manning let alone the Celebrity Big Brother contestants anything but stupid, ignorant and perhaps more than a little jealous.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The wastelands of Colindale

We bought my wedding jewellery yesterday on Green Lanes: white gold drop earrings and an Indian-style necklace that cascades from the neck that will match the silver and light grey Benares silk sari I will be wearing. Afterwards, we popped over to Hampstead to discuss wedding flowers with our florist. We agreed on a variety of cream, white and natural green flowers and foliage as I want to keep both the decorations and my bouquet simple and elegant. Then we continued further up the Northern Line to Colindale.

The only reason to venture out to desolate Colindale in north London is to visit Oriental City. I lived in Colindale for a few months when I was preparing for my PhD viva in the British Library. My friend's parents generously allowed me to stay in their house there while they lived it up in India. The house itself was lovely and homely, but the area around it was bleak.

The cheap furniture store MFI is headquartered in Colindale and all the major car manufacturers have huge showrooms there. There is no main high street and the only place to buy groceries is an Asda supermarket.

Oriental City looks like a factory on a vast industrial estate from the outside, but inside it is an Asian paradise, with aisle after aisle selling produce from across South Asia - Japan, Korea, China, Thailand, Singapore. There are satay and durian stalls outside on the way to the car park.

And then there is the food court that wouldn't look out of place in Hong Kong or Bangkok: a vast space lined with stalls selling Vietnamese, Thai, Malaysian, Japanese and Chinese dishes. You choose your dishes from photos on the wall and eat them alongside hundreds of others on tables and chairs in the centre.
When I lived in Colindale, I frequently ate at Oriental City. This time we only shopped. We packed our baskets with assorted fruit - mango, lychee, rambutan, jackfruit, longan and mangosteen; with vegetables such as long beans, baby aubergines and pea-sized eggplants; and with other goodies such as tofu, palm sugar, dried shrimps, beef and fragrant sticky rice. We had so much food, we had to order a cab.

Back at home we fried beef strips and tofu chunks with whole cumin, red chilli flakes, ginger, fresh chillis and spring onions and ate the dish with wonton noodles and stir-fried greens tossed with soy sauce.
For dessert we shelled, peeled, cut and ate half the fruit, which were glossy, succulent and so sweet we both fell into a sugar coma afterwards while watching the silly Thai rom-com Fighting for Love with the irresistable Tony Leung.

Oriental City joins Loon Fung in Chinatown, Arigato in Soho, and Taste of Siam in Camden as our favourite stopovers for Asian ingredients. It is such a shame that the tenants at Oriental City are fighting closure. Its new owner, the property company Development Securities, is planning a massive £200m redevelopment of the site to include a DIY superstore, a school and housing. Ex-Arsenal footballer Ian Wright and his children are regular visitors to Oriental City and Wright is also backing the campaign to save "the real Chinatown" (so named because few tourists make it up there). Wright recently led a delegation to meet Ken Livingstone's planning officials at City Hall and he delivered 5,000 letters of protest to stop the redevelopment.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Almalfi passion

We met up after work and walked down Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia, looking for a place to eat. We thought about the Brazilian restaurant Boteco Carioca and the Spanish Navarro's, but settled for Italian food at Passione.

We entered through a door on the side of the restaurant that looked like it was the door to someone's private quarters and walked up the narrow, rickety staircase into a cosy first floor room that felt like someone's living room. The customer toilet even had a shower cubicle in it! I've eaten here before, with work colleagues, and I knew we were going to be blown away by chef Gennaro Contaldo's expensive but delightfully succulent, fresh flavours from the sun-drenched Almafi coast in Southern Italy.

In this intimate setting, we started with pera al vino rosso con gorgonzola, pinoli e radicchio sott'olio (pear poached in red wine with gorgonzola,pine nuts, red chicory and rocket) and with crostino con pasticcio di fegato alla toscana (grilled bread with chicken liver cooked in butter, sage, rosemary and vin santo). For mains, M had a monk fish dish of the day and I savoured cervo alla griglia servito con polenta, cavolo nero e salsa di mostarda di cremona (grilled venison served with polenta, black cabbage and a spicy fruit mustard dressing). All washed down with a robust and earthy red Sangiovese d'Abruzzo.

By the time the desserts came, we had been joined in the room by two other couples, but despite their close proximity, everyone was too lost in the food and private conversation to feel awkward. I had mousse alla nocciola con salsa al cioccolato (cold hazelnut mousse in chocolate sauce) and M had panna cotta alla lavanda con salsa ai frutti di bosco (cooked cream with lavender served with a mixed berry sauce), which we washed down with an intense espresso and the creamiest, densest cappuccino I've ever had the pleasure of sipping.

Friday, January 19, 2007


As those of you who have read this blog with any regularity over the past few years will know, life a la Planethalder is usually alive with activity - whether gawping at art in galleries, strolling along the South Bank or through city parks, being gripped by films from Thailand to Turkey, or stuffing ourselves silly in cheap or more exclusive restaurants.
But during these past few months, the weather has been blustery, the nights dark, our bodies have been blocked with cold, and our work has been hectic. Quite simply, we've been content to snuggle up in the warmth of our house for most of the time, enjoying one another's company in a quieter, mellower way.

And it's been blissful, as the months and weeks count down towards our wedding, to savour our togetherness and, dare I say it, nest. I've never nested with someone before and I'm enjoying every second of it.

We rarely watch TV and have rarely had a fixed, after work routine, but in recent weeks we've been enjoying sitting down to Ugly Betty and the fourth season of The OC, re-watching Curb Your Enthusiasm on DVD, planning our wedding, loading up music on my new glossy black 30gb video iPod, reading and... cooking.

We always enjoy cooking, but as the winter chill has set in we're cooking and eating in alot more. Simple, satisfying, healthy dishes from the variety of cookbooks we had in our collection or got given to us for birthdays and Christmas - chicken in clear broth with red chillis, young stem broccoli and kimchi; spaghetti with artichoke hearts and fresh parsley; stir-fried tofu and beef strips with red chillis and stir-fried Korean greens; or heartier, meatier stews.

I know as the weather improves we'll start meeting up more regularly again after work and go out. But for now, nesting at home is what I crave.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


My head is full of cotton wool, my sinuses are swollen, my eyeballs are like jelly, my throat is like sandpaper but still I feel guilty that I couldn't go to work today. To offset that guilt a little I scoured my work emails on a regular basis, feeling relieved that I didn't have to deal with any of it until tomorrow, feeling jealous that others were taking command of the stuff that could be dealt with by others, and feeling restless because I felt left behind as work went on without a care whether I was in the office or not. Crazy mix of feelings. I should have disconnected the internet, stayed under the covers all day, and simply given in to being ill without beating myself up over being ill.

Monday, January 15, 2007


For the past few days I've been laid low with a streaming cold, a sore cough and an irritable sneeze. I rarely get the kind of colds that necessitate time off work, but this time I've had little energy to do much but stay in bed or mooch around the house. I've been drinking plenty of hot honey and lemon, downing vitamin C tablets and craving comfort food packed with cheese and cream. The latter are the last thing one should eat when mucus filled, so luckily my good doctor and nutritionist M has been trying to nurse me back to health with chicken broths packed with red chillis, lemongrass, galangal, pak choi and other cleansing Asian goodness.

With little energy to do much this weekend, Douglas Kennedy has been my lifeline. His novels are guaranteed to have me gripped from beginning to end. I've read all of them - from The Big Picture and The Job to The Pursuit of Happiness and A Special Relationship. State of the Union is a 500-page whopper about a conventional, small town's doctor's wife whose life, and the life of those around her, is turned upside down and inside out by one moment of passion that comes back to haunt her some 30 years later. An utterly compelling read by an author whose thrillers are a cut more intelligent and complex than most.

I finished it an hour ago and have now begun Vikram Seth's Two Lives about the enduring love affair between his Indian great uncle Shanti and his German great aunt Henny, who first met when Shanti left India for Berlin in the 1930s for medical school and found himself lodging with a German Jewish family. So far it's begun engagingly, but I'm only a few pages in and the heady aroma of M's beef stroganoff is now beckoning me into the kitchen.

Taking Friday off work made me feel very guilty because there's so much to do. In previous jobs it was easier to go into work despite being laid low with a cold as it was easier to coast through the day if I needed to; but my current job is much more demanding and there's no let up in my working day: it's full-on from the time I get in to the time I leave, and the only time I manage to get an adequate lunch break is when I force myself to physically leave the office and go to the gym for an hour. Let's see how I feel tomorrow...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Gay Marais

A friend of mine celebrated her 40th birthday over the weekend, so I joined some 20 others in crossing the English Channel via Eurostar to Paris to celebrate with her. We stayed in a boutique hotel called Le General - a chic, quirky little place with fushia pink walls, cream and chocolate coloured furnishings and fresh Granny Smith apples placed on the pillows in each room.

We supped assorted cocktails then walked around the Marais district the hotel was situated in, soaking up the artistic charm of the area - much like SoHo in NYC and Soho in London, then piled into a dark Moroccan restaurant to eat fluffy couscous and tagines with lamb or chicken piled high with prunes, raisins and almonds or green olives and hard boiled eggs. Most of the women in the birthday party were lesbians and after several glasses of wine spent much of the night vocally admiring our waitress's glistening, taut arms.

The birthday girl lives in St Albans, as do some of the birthday party and these suburbanites spent much of the evening trying to convince the Londoners present the pleasures of living in the sticks. Most of them have children and I think they were trying to persuade themselves as much as us, for the real reason they live there is not the culture or the shopping, hell no, but the schools.

Because of those children, most returned to England on Sunday morning. But I stayed on to explore the city I had not visited since my early twenties. I sat in cafes sipping frothy coffee and eating lemon tartes admiring the intense stylishness of most of the Parisiens who walked by; I explored Marais more, wishing I had enough money left on my credit card to buy the gorgeous clothes in the many boutiques in the district - dark brown and grey cashmere knits, black skirts and ankle boots, pretty lacy blouses. I must return there for a shopping spree. I did manage to buy a bottle of 1999 Bordeaux though.

Then I strolled through the narrow winding streets and crossed wide, tree lined boulevards to the Picasso Museum, the Pompidou and the Louvre. I wandered along the Seine as lovers passed me by holding hands, and I missed M who'd had to stay behind in London working on a big case. I gawped at the tourists around Notre Dame, then returned to the hotel to catch a taxi back to Gard du Nord.

I'd forgotten how both stimulating and relaxing it is to visit Paris. I can't wait to return.

Saturday, January 06, 2007


Hurrah, we've posted our wedding invitations! It's funny, but it almost seemed as significant as buying my engagement ring together: we walked out of our house and across the street to the postbox and posted them together - a unit, compadres, together forever. They're just pieces of card and paper, and yet they mean everything to me.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Moment by moment

Work is already hellacious and it's only the third day of the new year. At times like these, I find the only way to cope is not to think too much about how stressed I am and how unmanageable it all feels, but to simply focus on each of the tasks in front of me at any one time. This was my tactic a few years ago, when I was very ill. The only way to stop myself from sinking into a dark space was to focus not on being ill but on surviving moment to moment. Today I must focus on the things necessary to get the job done. Otherwise my head will surely explode.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Seeing in the New Year

After seeing in the New Year, I'd fully intended to have a long lie in yesterday, but at 7am my mind awoke alive with things it felt must be done. So I began the first day of 2007 doing laundry, cleaning and hoovering the house, creating a checklist of all the things still needed to be done for the wedding and putting it up on the fridge, typing invitation inserts with lists of hotels and a map of directions, writing invitation cards and addressing envelopes, and writing our vows with M. By midday, I was ready for an invigorating walk around Finsbury Park in the crisp, clear sunshine, and a trip to the local grocery and butcher shops, where we stocked up on provisions.

We relaxed at home for the rest of the day and did nothing. Sipping hot mugs of green tea, we snuggled up in the sofa together to watch one of our favourite movies, In The Mood For Love. Then M prepared roast lamb with rosemary and roast potatoes and tomatoes for an early dinner, followed by baked pears, and we spent the rest of the night quietly chatting and reading.

A productive and yet relaxing start to the year.

Today, I didn't have time to think about being back in the office as the day was crammed with work. I finally left at 8 and now I'm home preparing lamb with potatoes and spinach cooked in Bengali five spice (whole cumin, whole fennel, whole fenugreek, whole nigella and whole black mustard seeds), turmeric and crushed red chillis.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Last Sunday of 2006

A new fishmonger has opened at the bottom of Seymour Road off Green Lanes, round the corner from our house and we excitedly trotted over there this morning. In the window were glossy piles of octopus, squid, carp, tiger prawns, sea bass, sea bream, cod, herring and more. We bought sea bream and prawns. The floor was so wet we joined the other customers hovering by the entrance as we watched the two old Turkish men gut and clean our orders on the other side of the room. One of the old men wore low-rise jeans that clung to his ample hips but somehow we don't think this was in the name of fashion.

We went into town to the small but colourful Myths of Bengal exhibition at the British Museum, which focussed on the tradition of storytelling in Bengal in India using scrolls, prints and paintings from the Museum's collection. The exhibition felt more like Hindu Myths for Dummies than an indepth assessment, but it was enjoyable enough and perhaps I'm biased because I'm Bengali myself.

Pressed for time, we jumped into a black cab all the way down to Pimlico where we met my Oxford friend K and saw the magnificent Holbein in England exhibition at the Tate Britain, featuring Holbein's exquisitely painted realistic portraits of the court of Henry VIII and wealthy merchants, dressed in sumptuous fabrics, from the 16th century. My favourite was of Cyriacus Kale of Braunschweig who Holbein painted as a full-frontal portrait holding letters addressed to him at the London Steelyard. Kale was 32, his motto was "Patient in all things", he had a bulging right eye and a scar on his chin, and wore sleeves of brilliant black fur and damson coloured silk damask.

We popped into the Turner Prize 2006 exhibit. Much of it was lacklustre - including the winner Tomma Abts' paintings of geometric forms, which felt more like the kind of mass-produced art you find in Ikea or Habitat than in a gallery, but hey ho - although I wouldn't have gone as far as one visitor's comment scribbled on a piece of card that read, "I don't like". We did like Phil Collins' installation of an office though. My favourite piece of Collins' art is his video footage of Istanbul teenage fans of The Smiths singing their favourite The Smiths songs in karaoke.

The bookstore was having a half-price sale so we bought photographer Wolfgang Tillmans' If One Thing Matters, Everything Matters and a book on painter August Strindberg.

After stilton and broccoli quiche with rocket salad and chocolate cake at the gallery's museum, we said a hasty goodbye to K who was returning to Oxford and leapt into another cab (hey, it's our New Year treat!) to meet some members of M's family in town.

Afterwards, we popped into Virgin Megastore on Oxford Street and bought some cut-price DVDs: Together With You by Chen Kaige about a young violin prodigy who moves with his father from a small Chinese town to the big city so he can audition for a place at a famous music school; Vodka Lemon by Hiner Saleem about widowed Kurdish army veteran Hamo living in Caucasus and his burgeoning relationship with the beguiling Nina; Vietnamese At The Height Of Summer by Tran Anh Hung about the secrets that are uncovered when three sisters meet up to honour the memory of their mother on the anniversary of her death; and The Scent Of Green Papaya, also by Tran Anh Hung, about the life of a ten year old servant Mui.

From Foyles bookstore we bought two Orhan Pamuk novels - The Black Book and The New Life. The Turkish writer recently won the Nobel Prize for Literature. We also picked up a half-price copy of Udit Sarkhel's The Calcutta Kitchencookbook featuring West Bengali recipes such as fish head curry, cod with mustard and tamarind, masala omelette curry, and green mango curry. The book is filled with amazing photos of Calcutta's food culture as well as essays on Calcutta's food history. I can't wait to read it and try out the recipes. We'll be in West Bengal soon after our wedding and it'll be great to taste authentic Bengali food again.

We're back at home now and have just finished a sublime and moreish dinner of fillets of sea bream roasted on a bed of thinly sliced potatoes and tomatoes and covered with a delicious sauce of chermoula, made with fresh coriander, crushed garlic, ground cumin, paprika, chilli pepper, olive oil and lemon juice. We used the recipe from Claudia Roden's Arabesque cookbook, which my parents gave M and me for Christmas. Quinces are now roasting in the oven and we've already popped open the champagne.

2007, here we come!