Saturday, March 31, 2007

Yoghi, bulgogi and choy sum

It's been another good week for eating. On Monday, we ate chicken leftover from our Sunday roast, with homemade green pesto, sauteed potatoes, fresh tomatoes and fresh spinach tossed with garlic.

On Tuesday, I met my husband (I still love saying that!) for lunch at Just Falafs on Wardour Street in Soho. He chose a regular falafal wrap, but I chose a Yoghi Bear: a wrap with falafal, grated carrot, beetroot and mixed sprouts with yoghurt and cucumber sauce. It was so lovely seeing him smiling at me in the sunshine outside my office that I couldn't help but leap into his arms and smother him in kisses, much to the amusement of our door man. That evening we cooked deep fried chilli tofu with choi sum.

Wednesday's lunch was with colleagues at Ping Pong in NoHo where we ate a selection of delectable dim sum, from steamed - har gau (prawn and bamboo), scallop and shitake, spring onion and coriander wonton, Shanghai siew long bun (chopped pork and ginger consommé in traditional Shanghai pastry) - to fried - crispy hoi sin duck, Vietnamese spring roll. Along with sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf. Wednesday's dinner was home-cooked spaghetti bolognese courtesy of Aldo Zilli, with rough-edged spaghetti - to encourage the sauce to cling - courtesy of the very lovely Italian deli Lina Stores on Brewer Street in Soho.

Thursday's dinner was with my cousin and her husband at the Korean restaurant Koba on Rathbone Street in Fitzrovia, a few minutes from my office, where we enjoyed marinated beef bulgogi, which they barbequed on the grill set in the middle of our table, and pickled vegetables.

Tonight, M and I met up at the British Museum for their A New World: England's First View of America menu at the Court Restaurant. We hadn't enjoyed the exhibition, but were willing to give the special menu a chance. High up under the magnificent glass domed roof, we ate Boston clam chowder, white ricotta and cheddar cannelloni with baby spinach and crisp quail egg, Maine kingcrab claws and crab cake with avocado and mango coulis and a cress salad, and vanilla and chocolate cheesecake with orange ceviche and strawberry sorbet. The savouries were fresh, flavourful and finely balanced; the dessert truly creamy and decadent. The service was also incredibly friendly. I can't wait to return and sample their normal menu.

And it doesn't stop. Tomorrow we're going to Loughborough for M's aunt's 70th birthday lunch, where no doubt there will be much more eating.

On Sunday, I promise I will eat with more restraint, not.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Two hours behind

Sunday was a much quieter affair where we left home just to shop for provisions. We flipped through some of our favourite magazines and newspapers - I love Marie Claire, Red and, ahem (I'm not that old, honest!) Easy Living for the mix of fashion, gossip and articles not necessarily just about sex, and we both devour the weekend FT, The Economist, The Observer Food Monthly and Wallpaper*.

Our new favourite magazine is Wallpaper* founder Tyler Brûlé's newly launched Monocle. Brûlé was a newspaper journalist writing for The Sunday Times, Stern and The Guardian, but after being shot by a sniper during the Afghanistan war in 1994 and losing the use of his left hand, he left journalism and launched Wallpaper*. His new magazine features similar articles to Wallpaper* on design, fashion, interiors and travel but then a host of others from current affairs and business to marketing and culture. Each edition also features a cracking good manga episode called Kita Koga by Takanori Yasaka, which I'm fast becoming addicted to. The first edition of Monocle featured a terrific article on the impact of China's growing influence in Africa. An article on the new power players in Ecuador gripped me from the second edition. I only hope they sell enough copies (and advertising) to keep going (long enough to be bought out at least, à la Wallpaper*).

Sundays in our little household of two are also about leisurely cooking: a chicken rice congee spiced with Szechuan peppers and red chilli flakes warmed us up for lunch. For dinner we slow roasted a chicken stuffed with lemons and ate it with glossy fresh spinach leaves and pearl barley mixed with sultanas and parsley.

We also watched one of the Bengali DVDs we bought during our honeymoon: son of Satyajit Ray, Sandip Ray's Nishi Japon or After the Night, Dawn - a terrific psychological drama (Bengali films are seldom like Bollywood) about a family getting stranded in their home in the Darjeeling hills after an earthquake.

By the time we finished dinner we were completely satisfied that at 7.30 pm we still had the whole night ahead of us - until my mum phoned us and alerted us to the fact that it was in fact 9.30 pm. We had put our clocks back an hour this morning rather than forwards. Doh!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Artistic encounters

Yesterday was a typical Saturday for us: a little shopping (for blouses at Nicole Farhi and DKNY and jewellery at Selfridges), a little eating (at Mestizo), and a bunch of exhibitions.

The British Museum's A New World: England's First View of America disappointed for its lack of historical context and information. The exhibition focuses on John White's watercolours that gave the Elizabethan world its first glimpse of America - its flora, fauna and people - but there was little analysis and virtually no description of the early colonies that formed in the region.

The National Portrait Gallery's Between Worlds: Voyagers to Britain, 1700-1850, though small was much more satisfying, presenting its subjects not as passive victims of colonisation but as active participants in their own engagements with the West. I love a good story, and this exhibition of people moving between different worlds supplied them with abundance:

The four Iroquoian representatives who visited the court of Queen Anne in 1710 to forge a military and political alliance; William Ansah Sessarakoo, the son of a wealthy West African slave trader, who in 1749 was sent by his father to Europe for his education but got kidnapped and put into slavery on the journey over, only to be rescued by the British government and arrive in Britain as a celebrity; Sake Dean Mahomed, son of an Indian officer in the army of the East India Company army and stationed in Bengal as a surgeon, who travelled to Ireland in 1784 then eloped with an Anglo-Irish woman to Britain where he opened a series of bathhouses and the first Indian restaurant - Hindostanee Coffee House - in London; Maharaja Dalip Singh (above left) born in Lahore and the last Sikh ruler of the Punjab before he was stripped of the title in 1846 by the British and converted to Christianity, who in 1854 visited London and grew close to the Queen and the royal family, who married a part-Ethiopian and part-German woman and who had six children with her on their Norfolk estate called Elveden; and great Indian intellectual, linguist and businessman Raja Rammohun Roy, who was founder of Brahmo Samaj which advocated a return to the Vedas and a belief in monotheism, who denounced both the caste system and sati (the ritual burning of widows), and who sailed to England in 1829 as an ambassador of the Mughals.

We were extremely excited to view one of our favourite photographers at both the White Cube in Mason's Yard and the new Sprüth and Magers gallery - Andreas Gursky - and are contemplating taking a city break in Munich or Istanbul soon just to visit his retrospective if it doesn't come to London.

Gursky is the world's most collectable living photographer - one of his photos sold last year for $2.4 million (£1.2 million) - and has photographed a wide array of scenes: from the neutrino observatory deep down in a Japanese mine and the chaos at the Kuwaiti Stock Exchange (below), to the frenetic activity around Formula One cars stationed in their pits and the mass geometric choreography of North Korea's Arirang Festival (above).

Gursky shoots on a 5in x 7in large-format camera before scanning his negatives to manipulate his colour-saturated and large-scale work digitally. He makes no claims to authenticity and his photos distort time and perspective. He is known to work on some of his photos a pixel at a time.

For his Pyongyang series shot at North Korea's Arirang Festival held annually in honour of the late Kim II Sung, with 50,000 participants performing in front of 30,000 spectators, Gursky made numerous visits to get the single composite shot he needed. His F1 Boxenstopp series were shot at various Grand Prix races around the world - Shanghai, Monte Carlo, Istanbul, Sao Paulo - and it is impossible to work out which piece of which shot ended up composited into a single photo. His shot of a Tour de France mountainside was shot from two positions - from a helicopter high above and from the mountain opposite - and then merged together to form a flattened viewpoint. Figures and objects appear duplicated across the photographic canvas if you peer long and hard enough.

Gursky's F1 Boxenstopp series are quite different from his usual macroscopic canvasses that draw attention to abstract patterns. These photos are cropped more tightly. They are more like iconic friezes, with a halo of angels (the audience) watching over the Last Supper (the pit-stop racers).


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Feeding the body

It's been a good week for eating. On Monday, we met friends after work for an assortment of tapas and paella dishes in our local La Vina. The next night, I joined colleagues for mouth watering dim sum, stir fries and Chinese tea and vodka cocktails at Yauatcha. My favourite was the steamed scallop and kumquat dim sum and stir fried beef strips with mango.

M's time off work is producing lots of delights in the kitchen: he used one of our wedding gifts - the slow cooker - to make a beef and red wine stew; from Fuchsia Dunlop's Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook he's made zi ran niu rou or beef with cumin and xiang cai niu rou si or beef slivers with coriander; as well as a super quick chicken, broccoli and tomato stew.

Tonight, we ate at Mexican restaurant Mestizo. M's choices were spot on: carnitas tacos and lamb shank mixiote, both flavoured just right. My tamales, however, were very bland, and my mole poblano came with poussin, not the chicken breast I asked for, and the sauce was heavy on the sugar and light on the chilli. The service was excellent though.

I fear I have forgotten how to cook!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

One girl

The life story of Amrita Sher-Gil, who we saw recently at the Tate Modern, is hypnotic. Most often compared to Frida Kahlo, both in her work and in her life, Amrita was born in Budapest in 1913, to a maverick Sikh aristocrat, yoga guru and Sanskrit scholar, and a Hungarian singer. The parents had met in Lahore, then in undivided India and, I hazard a guess, have fascinating life stories in their own rights . The family lived in Hungary for several years before moving back to India (Shimla) where they lived and entertained extravagantly. It makes me wonder the picture this family must have made in Budapest: the dapper and imposing Sikh with his enormous turban, the elegant Hungarian wife, and their two exquisitely beautiful daughters.

Amrita left India for Europe where she trained as a painter in Paris and was heavily influenced by Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin and Amedeo Modigliani. She hung out in Paris' 1930s bohemian circles. But when she returned to India in 1934, she began a rediscovery of the traditions of Indian art, particularly the schools of Mughal miniatures and the Ajanta paintings. Her work also showed influences of Hungarian folk art. She began to tour South India, painting, with a passionate sense of colour, the lives of the villagers she met and produced paintings with titles such as "Brahmacharis", "South Indian Villagers Going to Market", "Banana Sellers" and "Brides' Toilette".

In 1938, she married her Hungarian first cousin, a doctor, and the couple settled in Lahore. Lahore was a major artistic centre then. Suffering from bouts of depression, coupled with her naturally fiery nature and the boredom she felt in her marriage, Amrita had many affairs with both women and men. She died alone in 1941, not yet 30 years old - perhaps of peritonitis or a failed abortion attempt. After her death, the Indian government declared her works as National Art Treasures.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The voyage

This is when I bumped into him. This is when we had our first kiss. This is when he asked me to marry him. And this is when we got married. What next?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

A new adventure

We've been back in London for a week now. Our honeymoon in India was a whirlwind trip from Calcutta to Gawahati to Jamshedpur and back to Calcutta again introducing M to both sides of my spralling family.

M was a big hit, not least for the fact that he devoured the Bengali fish dishes made from rui, hilsa and pabda. They all loved that! He enjoyed himself because it was his first experience of India not as a tourist but as a member of a Bengali family. He got some insights into everyday Bengali living.

My parents loved it because they could see their brothers and sisters again. When our family gathers together in India there is much singing, dancing and joking. My father's family in particular - he is one of thirteen - is very musical and jocular and virtually every night produced some form of hilarious impromptu entertainment.

Needless to say, as fun as it was, it was also exhausting and we were both eager to retreat to the luxurious privacy of the Oberoi Grand in Calcutta for our last two nights in India. We recovered with alot of sleep and some spa treatments. On the plane back, we were already planning a second, quieter, honeymoon in Japan later this Fall - just the two of us.

And then it was back to work for me (M has a few weeks off before he begins his new job) and our regular routine of cooking (lots of grilled fish), eating out (the Kurdish Tara and Sardo which is not as refined as Passione but perfect Italian comfort food nonetheless), visiting art galleries (Amrita Sher-Gil at the Tate and Alvar Aalto at the Barbican), shopping (new Spring blouses for me now the weather is warming up), as well as just chilling.

Our usual routine, except that we're married now. I'm still myself and yet different. It goes beyond the wedding ring and the new surname. As a former anthropologist, I get a kick out of having formed a new, legally recognised, kinship unit together. I feel a little more grown up, a little more stable, a little more secure. Intensely lucky that I found him. We've embarked on a new adventure together.