Monday, February 26, 2007

Cloud nine

I'm still on cloud nine and more than a little shaky, but I am now - as of 4.30pm on Saturday, 24 February - a married woman. I still haven't come down from the gloriousness of it all. We had a wonderful time with family and friends. And yes, I cried through my vows. Tomorrow morning we get up at an ungodly hour to set off for our honeymoon. We've had little alone time with each other and it's going to be just as busy during the next two weeks in India, where M meets my entire family for the first time. We're exhausted and ecstatic. And I'm still trying to get used to calling M "my husband". See you in two weeks!

Wedding: Menu

  • Herb-stuffed lemon sole fillets with spiced tomato dressing
  • Roast lamb served with feta and spinach potato cakes
  • Passionfruit creme brulee

Wedding: Vows

I, [me], take you [M], to be my husband, my constant friend, my faithful partner in life, and my one true love. On this day, I give to you in the presence of these witnesses my promise to stay by your side as your faithful wife in sickness and in health, in joy and in sorrow, through the good times and the bad. I promise to love you, comfort you, encourage you, laugh with you, cry with you, grow with you, and cherish you.

Exchange of Rings:

With this ring, I give you my hand, my heart, and my love, from this day forward for as long as we both shall live.

Wedding: Reading 2

i carry your heart with me by e. e. cummings

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)

i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

Wedding: Reading 1

Unending Love by Rabindranath Tagore

I seem to have loved you in numberless forms, numberless times,
In life after life, in age after age forever.
My spell-bound heart has made and re-made the necklace of songs
That you take as a gift, wear round your neck in your many forms
In life after life, in age after age forever.

Whenever I hear old chronicles of love, its age-old pain,
Its ancient tale of being apart or together,
As I stare on and on into the past, in the end you emerge
Clad in the light of a pole-star piercing the darkness of time:
You become an image of what is remembered forever.

You and I have floated here on the stream that brings from the fount
At the heart of time love of one for another.
We have played alongside millions of lovers, shared in the same
Shy sweetness of meeting, the same distressful tears of farewell-
Old love, but in shapes that renew and renew forever.

Today it is heaped at your feet, it has found its end in you,
The love of all man's days both past and forever:
Universal joy, universal sorrow, universal life,
The memories of all loves merging with this one love of ours-
And the songs of every poet past and forever.

Wedding: Order of Service

  • 3pm Guests arrive and drinks are served
  • 3.45pm Guests take their seats in The Music Room
  • 4pm Arrival of the Bride

The Marriage
  • The Purpose of Marriage
  • Reading - Unending Love
  • Vows
  • Reading - i carry your heart with me
  • Exchange of rings
  • Signing of the Register

  • 4.30pm Photographs
  • Drinks and canapes
  • 6pm The Wedding Dinner
  • Speeches and cutting of the cake
  • To 10.30pm Drinks

Friday, February 23, 2007

This is it

I left work last night to great excitement amongst my colleagues. They'd bought me gift tokens and a lovely card. Then today I spent a few hours in Aveda in Holborn having intensive hair treatments to make everything shine as I'm wearing my hair down. They did my hands and nails too. I'm back at home now packing a bag as we're in a hotel tonight near the wedding venue with our families. I've gone through our list a thousand times. Now I'm printing our vows onto cards and double-checking we have everything else printed off - the readings, the order of service, the table settings... M's now phoning a black cab. The champagne is chilling in the fridge for the two of us when we return home again. By tomorrow night I will be a married woman. This is it...

Thursday, February 22, 2007


Today is my last day at work for a few weeks and there are two days left to our wedding. All my waking hours are micro-managed by detailed lists. A long list for work, ensuring I get everything out the door by end of play today and ensuring I brief those who will be managing my various projects while I'm away. And a list for our wedding, juggling the last details into their proper places - my attire, our guests' accomodation, last minute arrangements with the suppliers, and transport.

I can't wait for Saturday for many obvious reasons, not least the fact that once the guests begin to arrive at the venue and we've had a few glasses of the bubbly stuff, there's little we both can do but relax and enjoy their company and our celebration.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

To take, or not to take...

... my future husband's name. That is the question I've been toying with for some months now. Various thoughts, for and against, have been surfacing - the usual ones to do with identity, sexual politics and familiarity. If I take his name, I face the slightly daunting prospect of having to defend the decision to some very political friends - all of whom have kept the surnames they were born with (their fathers' names). Most likely they would consider such a decision to be politically incorrect. Others would think I'd be losing my hard-earned professional identity. It troubles me a little that people Googling me with a new name will find no record of my pre-married life: the conference papers, the small publication record, my professional life as a charity campaigner.

A recent Harvard University sudy suggested that the proportion of educated professional women choosing to take their husbands' surname is on the rise. I've built an academic and charity sector career with the name of my father. Now, for the first time, I've moved into the corporate sector and am starting over. A new name is exciting to me - it not only denotes a change, a commitment to another person, a new life as part of a loving unit... but a whole new phase in my professional life too. My old name will be forever associated with academia. My new name will now be associated with my new life in the corporate world.

It's terribly exciting - this chance to both be myself and another. To renew myself. And, hey, I'm taking that most traditional step and getting married - from there it's not much of a leap to change my name too.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Wedding countdown

Less than a week to go and it's been a whirlwind.

I renewed my passport on Friday morning before work. Our joint hen and stag night on Friday began with cocktails galore at The Trafalgar on Trafalgar Square and ended with more alcohol, loads of Arabic-Mediterranean food and live serenading at the wonderfully kitsch and over-the-top Sarastro on Drury Lane.

On Saturday, I had my face made up at the Bobbie Brown counter at John Lewis and left with good ideas and gulp £250 worth of makeup and brushes. I bought hair products from Aveda in Selfridges and got my vaccinations done for our honeymoon in India next week at Masta. Then we met M's father, sister and her friend (they had been to see Arsenal play at the Emirates) at Finsbury Park's wonderful Olive Tree restaurant where they all ate lamb kleftico and I ate a massive tower of beef steak, feta cheese and grilled aubergine.

Today, we've been finalising the Order of Service and the seating arrangements for the reception dinner, and have been going through our honeymoon travel arrangements. Tomorrow, M has a day off work and so will be making final preparations with the caterers, florist, musicians and venue, and will also be buying the favours.

The final countdown to our wedding day has begun. I am so excited, I can't believe it!

Friday, February 16, 2007


I'm such a dork. We're flying out to India in less than two weeks and I've just realised my passport expires in less than six months. Off to the passport office I go... On the positive side, apart from make-up, I'm all set for the Big Day - got my dress, got my jewellery, got my hair sorted, got my shoes, got my bouquet sorted. There must be something else I'm missing, hmmmm. Joint hen and stag night tomorrow!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Bengali kitchen

Turnpike Lane was frantically busy today with mainly Bangladeshi Bengalis stocking up on provisions in the numerous mini-markets and "saree" shops that line the little stretch of road around the Tube station. M and I joined them this morning. At the fishmonger, we asked for either carp or catfish. "What are you making?" the fishmonger asked. "A fish curry," I replied. To which he responded, "Most of my Pakistani and Bengali customers buy mullet for their fish curries." So grey mullet it was. "Do you want the fish heads too? My customers put them in to flavour the broth." "No, it's okay," I said.

As a Bengali I know how popular fish heads are for flavouring gravies and dals, but as an ex-vegetarian - vegetarian for eleven years, vegan for two years - I'm still a little squeamish of things with eyes and mouths.

From neighbouring grocery stores we also bought bags of patol, baby aubergines, sweet potatoes, shim and bunches of spinach, plus some kalanji or nigella seeds. From a sari shop I bought a pack of deep red round and a pack of silver diamond-shaped bindis for my wedding.

As M was returning back from an Arsenal match, I cooked tonight's dinner of maacher jhol (fish steaks in a spicy water) and palong shager ghonto (spicy spinach and sweet potato curry).

For the maacher jhol, I rubbed a little turmeric powder and salt into the skin and flesh of six grey mullet steaks and set aside. After fifteen minutes I heated some mustard oil in a heavy pan and fried the mullet steaks for around three minutes on each side until they were crisp and set aside. I peeled and grated an inch of ginger, and ground together a teaspoon each of whole cumin and mustard seeds. I finely diced a medium onion and fried the entire mixture in the mustard oil along with a teaspoon of nigella or onion seeds, six small dried red chillies and a teaspoon of ground coriander until everything sizzled gently. I added a few fresh chopped tomatoes and returned the fish to the pan along with some boiling water. The water came halfway up the sides of the fish steaks. I lidded the pan and simmered gently for ten minutes.

For the palong shager ghonto, I washed and chopped two big bunches of fresh spinach and six baby aubergine, and peeled and diced a white-fleshed sweet potato. I ground together a teaspoon of cumin seeds, a tablespoon of coriander seeds and six small dried red chillies into a fine powder. I heated the mustard oil in a heavy pan with an inch of grated ginger and a teaspoon of whole cumin seeds until they crackled and popped. I added the ground spice mixture and a teaspoon of turmeric powder, fried it a little then added all the vegetables and a teaspoon of sugar. I added enough boiling water so the vegetables were nearly covered and cooked at a simmer for twenty minutes, adding salt to taste.

I served both with Basmati rice. It was alot of food and there's enough for tomorrow so it'll save us cooking again. Sunday's were always big cooking days in my parents' house as I was growing up. Heady aromas would gradually fill the kitchen during the course of the day as both my mum and dad cooked several curry dishes. For M and I, Sundays now afford the lazy luxury of time to cook slow-cook food - curries, stews, roasts... Lovely.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


We returned yesterday to Anselm Kiefer's transformative and uplifting Aperiatur Terra at the White Cube gallery in Mason's Yard. We also visited the Photographers' Gallery in Covent Garden to view this year's Deutsche Börse Photography Prize exhibition featuring Philippe Chancel's crisp and dispassionate photographs from inside North Korea, Anders Petersen's photographic essay from the margins of Hamburg society a la Christer Stromholm, Walid Raad's photos of ravaged Beirut, and Fiona Tan's individual and family portraiture. Perhaps it was because I was still feeling tired from a busy work week, but none of the prize entries moved me. I liked Chancel's work, but I felt I had seen work like Petersen's and Tan's many times before.

We ate delicious assorted dim sum at Laureate on Shaftesbury Avenue and then walked up to Oxford Street where at Office I found pretty silver shoes to wear with my wedding sari and at Accessorise I found a cute silver and sequin clutch bag to carry on the day too. Then we watched Nuri Bilge Ceylan's latest movie Climates at the Renoir about the breakdown of the relationship between a bored and jaded middle-aged university lecturer and his younger, fiestier TV art director wife - both main characters played by the director and his real-life wife Ebru Ceylan. A pensive, subtle meditation on middle class relationships in decline with wonderful shots of the Turkish landscape.

Though I'm not a fan of the fusty, middle-aged atmosphere of the Renoir, it struck me as comical that a largely English audience waiting to view a modern Turkish movie were forced first to sit through a short art movie ranting on in very simplistic terms about how globalisation leads to cultural homogenisation. Cultural homogenisation was also not to be seen at dinner back on Green Lanes at the restaurant Mesopotamia where the owners were Turkish, the waitresses were Eastern European and the clientele were English, French and Bangladeshi.

At the restaurant, M (English-Polish-Jewish) ate a meaty, succulent grilled sea bream with salad and I (English-Indian-Catholic-Hindu-Brahmo) had a rather oily diced lamb dish with yoghurt, garlic and aubergines. I think I will stick to the much better Anteplilier and only return here for the undoubtedly delicious fish dishes. I can't, however, fault Mesopotamia for its warm and attentive service though.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Kicking off

Over the past few days I've eaten: Fuchsia Dunlop's Numbing-and-hot chicken (above), cooked by M, featuring Sichuan peppers that were not so much chilli-hot but tingly, peppery and aromatic; vegetable gyoza, edamame, prawn and mixed vegetable tempura, and grilled sliced Tasmanian beef in garlic teryaki sauce with mixed vegetables and rice at Satsuma in Soho with colleagues who were treating me to a pre-wedding lunch; and roast beetroot with mild spices, carrot crisps and fromage frais for starter, venison with sour cherries for main, and sour cherry crème brulee for dessert at Baltic in Southwark with old Oxford friends. And the weekend is only just kicking off...

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Snow again

This morning we awoke to snow again, but this time it was rather alot. We felt like kids again walking to the Tube station snapping photos of each other with our mobile phones as the snow continued to come down.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The way life is

People at work keep telling me, "Not long now until your wedding, you must be very excited" and I reply with a strained "Yes". During a busy work week, excitement dwells deeper down inside of me and only surfaces more readily at weekends. This is not because I am not looking forward to our big day, but because my head is so crammed full with work issues all day long that I think of little else until the weekend. I haven't had time to really take in the fact that I will be marrying in a few weeks time.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Bitter sweet

Bengal is a fertile region of India, criss-crossed with an intricate network of rivers and streams. Here both bitter and sweet tastes jostle for supremacy over the Bengali tongue. Rich and sweet milk desserts are a speciality of Bengal and have made the state famous worldwide. The fondness for bitter foods are a more Bengali peculiarity though and most people outside of the state cannot quite fathom the appeal.

The intensely bitter taste of karola or knobbly bitter gourd cooked with softer vegetables such as aubergines and potatoes in pungent mustard oil and a five spice mixture of whole cumin, whole fennel, whole fenugreek, whole nigella and whole black mustard seeds collectively known as panch phoron is a staple dish - called shukto - among Bengalis and their aroma filling a kitchen transport me straight back to childhood. I've been eager to introduce them to M since I bought a few Bengali cookbooks over the weekend.

As soon as I came home from work tonight, I prepared the shukto. First I fried a handful of dried lentil vadies or nuggets in some mustard oil in a heavy wok for five minutes, stirring constantly, and set aside to drain on some kitchen paper in a bowl. In the same oil, I fried the slices of three medium karola or bitter gourd for another five minutes and also set aside. Then, in a separate heavy based saucepan, I fried a tablespoon of panch phoron until they popped in the mustard oil. Into this I added around a teaspoon of grated fresh ginger, ten patol, or small white striped gourd, which I had sliced lengthways into halves, and a diced large aubergine and fried a further five to ten minutes, adding oil when necessary and taking care that the vegetables and spices didn't catch on the bottom of the pan. I stirred back in the pre-fried karola.

I ground together in a mini blender two tablespoons of Indian poppy seeds and a tablespoon of black mustard seeds to make a dry posto which I added to the pan with a quick stir along with a teaspoon of turmeric powder. To this I added enough boiling water to just cover the vegetables and left to simmer very gently for 30 minutes, seasoning with salt to taste. After 30 minutes I stirred in the pre-fried lentil vadies and two teaspoons of sugar and left to simmer for a further 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, as the shukto was simmering, I made a Bengali red lentil dal. I popped a teaspoon of panch phoron and six tiny dried red chillies in some mustard oil then added a teaspoon of turmeric powder. I stirred in six handfuls of washed red lentils and covered the mixture with enough boiling water to make a runny soup - some four times the amount of water. I added a teaspoon of salt and two bayleaves then left to simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and topping up the water when necessary.

I served it all with Basmati rice and am happy to say that M loved it all.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Trips down memory lane

"Whilst families tend to save mementoes from special occasions, it struck me that little was being done to keep the everyday material. When the thousands of pieces of this social history are assembled into some giant jigsaw, the result illustrates the remarkable journey we all come through" Robert Opie.

In the middle of the 19th century most of the products produced were sent in bulk to grocery stores which would sell them on to customers by weight, for example dried fruits, leaf tea or sugar. The packaging revolution from the Victorian era changed all that and manufacturers were able to take charge of their brand identity.

Yesterday, we visited Robert Opie's Museum of Brands Packaging and Advertising in Notting Hill, dedicated to the world of marketing and showcasing more than 200 years of consumerism through more than 10,000 food, cleaning and leisure products. A dimly lit time tunnel took us from the Victorian era, the beginnings of radio and television, the war, the Swinging 60s, the glam and punk 70s, the glitzy 80s, right up to current day.

All of it impressed, but I was particularly fascinated by how the colour and font identity of products such as Colmans mustard, Johnsons baby powder and Cadburys chocolate changed little over the decades; how established brands stripped their packaging down to the bare essentials during the rationing years; how visual identity moved from illustrations to photography during the 50s; and how products got larger and larger as the years went on, especially during the 70s.

I was excited seeing products from my own 70s and 80s childhood - packaging for Findus frozen pancakes, Walls ice cream, Birds Eye strawberry mousses in little plastic tubs, Monster Munch and Disco's and Outer Spacers crisps, Luv ice lollies, Snack Pots of dried curry and rice with chicken that you reconstituted with water, the Ker Plunk game, a Paddington Bear teddy and numerous Corgi metal car models.

I took another trip down memory lane to visit my very first home in nearby Ladbroke Grove, though as this was the house my parents brought me to soon after I was born I actually have no memories of the place! My parents rented a flat in the house. Next to them was another young West Bengali couple and below them was an English widow.

A few years before, my father had hunted high and low for a landlady or landlord to not say "Sorry, no coloureds, no blacks" when he knocked on their door. Spurred on by a friendly Jewish newsagent he pressed on and eventually found a friendly house on Ladbroke Grove Road with a landlady who said, "Yes you can stay so long as you don't cook any curries in your room!" A few years later, when he left for married life, his landlady begged him to recommend her room to another young professional Indian. Though a decade before, the area became renowned for race riots, my mother tells me that by the time my parents moved there racial tension had quietened down and she herself received no ill treatment.

While we were in the area, I also picked up a trio of Bengali cooking books from Books For Cooks bookshop - one simply a recipe book (Bangla Ranna: An Introduction to Bengali Cuisine by S. Banerjee) and two others cooking memoirs from West and East Bengal by Chitrita Banerji. They feature recipes such as aloo posto (potatoes with poppy seeds), chingri macher shalmi (prawns with tamarind) and aam shole (fish with green mango).

Today, we popped into our local Indian supermarket on Turnpike Lane and bought bitter gourds, patola (photo above) and dried lentil vadies so I can make M his first authentic Bengali dish this week: shukto or vegetables with bitter gourds, mustard and poppy seeds.

An abundance of river fish, seafood, mustard seeds, lentils, rice, vegetables, and bitter and sweet tastes characterise the food of the wet, fertile Bengal region. In less than four weeks, we'll be honeymooning in India where we will be eating Bengali food cooked by various members of my extended family all day long for two weeks. I am so hungry!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

This is it

On Wednesday, we took an hour off work to meet on Fleet Street at the jewellers who'd designed and made my engagement ring. We were there for our wedding ring fittings. They gave us test rings to try out for fit and width. M has never worn a ring before but he wore his around the house at night, getting used to its feel. We both couldn't stop pretending we were already married - wearing our rings while we cooked, ate, washed up, watched TV and slept, and taking every opportunity to look at our hands in the mirror.

Today, we both took two hours off for lunch and met the woman who'll be conducting our wedding ceremony. She's a friendly woman with a rich, resonant voice. I already trust her to guide us through the momentous hour. M and I have written our own vows and we've selected two poems to be read by our friends. The woman had given us a choice of service and we sat down today to see how to integrate her words with ours and to discuss the general order of events.

It was all rather emotional because I was imagining saying those vows, in front of our nearest and dearest, listening to those readings, looking into his eyes as I held his hand and pressed the ring along his third finger.

This is it, I was thinking.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Quick and easy 2

I cooked another quick and easy post-work meal tonight. Once again it was from Claudia Roden's marvellous Arabesque cookery book.

In a heavy-based saucepan, I gently fried an onion and three cloves of chopped garlic in virgin olive oil until they were translucent. Then I stirred in a heaped teaspoon of ginger powder and pinch of saffron strands. I placed two chicken breasts into this mixture and seasoned the mixture with salt and pepper. I added enough boiling water so that it covered the chicken only halfway and simmered for thirty minutes, stirring once or twice and keeping an eye that the mixture didn't run dry. If I were using chicken pieces with bones, I would have simmered for longer - perhaps 45 minutes and covered them with more water.

After half an hour of gentle simmering, I added the grated zest of one lemon, the freshly squeezed juice of a lemon, a medium bunch of chopped coriander, a can of cooked artichoke hearts, and ten pitted green olives. I continued simmering for another 10 minutes and then served it with Basmati rice.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


Two Australian men in their twenties entered the Tube at Warren Street tonight and loudly mused upon the fact that everyone in the carriage had their noses buried in books or free newspapers and no one was talking to one another.

It was 8pm. I didn't look at them, continued to bury my nose in my book, and thought, "I work all day, talking to people all day long. All I want to do when I'm out of the office on my journey home, before I meet up with my other half back at home and immerse myself in conversation again, is retreat into my thoughts and silence."

I think these men have stress-free jobs or work away from people. I treasure the silence of my 30 minute commute home.