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.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Ume Kayo

My husband recently ordered a couple of photobooks by Japanese photographer Ume Kayo, who we first discovered at a Bangkok gallery early last year. I know very little about this photographer except that she has a casually surreal vision of the ordinary moment and her photos are packed with surprise and humour. More photos.

Friday, September 21, 2007

An Autumn stew

This White Bean and Chorizo Stew was so moreish and easy to make after work, I thought I'd share the recipe. It serves 4 (so it lasted us two nights), mopped up with hot Turkish flat bread. M followed it up with a dessert of fresh figs and shot glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice.

2 cans of cannellini beans / 3 bay leaves / olive oil / Enough soft, cooking chorizo, sliced, for 4 people - I used Brindisi / 1 medium red onion, finely chopped / 1 carrot, finely diced / 2 sticks of celery, diced / 2 cans of plum tomatoes / 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped / 3 teaspoons of dried thyme, or more to taste / salt and pepper

1. In a heavy saucepan, fry the onions in the oil for a few minutes, then add in the garlic and celery. Gently fry for another 5 minutes or so until the celery becomes translucent.

2. Add in all the other ingredients, bring to the boil then simmer for 30 minutes, adding in a little boiling water so the consistency is stew like.

3. Season to taste.

4. Enjoy!

Two parcels arrived at work today, packed with Thai, Japanese and Hong Kong movies on DVD and some Japanese photobooks from the fabulous Yes Asia store. I will blog about them another time as now I want to enjoy them with M.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Random things

  • My mum's doing well after her knee operation. She is surrounded by 90 year olds on her ward and, as a youngster barely into her sixties, she's a real hit with her fellow patients - as is my dad who is enjoying the hospital visits but is feeling rather lonely at home without his wife laughing with him and nagging him and generally keeping him company.

  • I was in hospital myself today, for a routine checkup in Oxford. In the oncology department this afternoon, I was the youngest there by decades and everyone probably assumed I was a doctor. I felt quite sad walking through the corridors. I've been all clear for a few years now, but still the memories rock me.

  • Better memories enlivened me as I strolled through Oxford on my way back to the rail station. I sipped smokey lapsang souchong at The Grand Café on the High Street, where I used to meet my friends; I tottered across the Radcliffe Camera's cobble-stoned square, where I used to take a shortcut on my bicycle en route to rowing or the gym; I walked through the inner courtyard of the Bodleian Library - "The Bod" as we called it - and looked up with a touch of longing at the windows glowing orange, remembering the days and nights I was inside with my head in a book taking copious notes on things I've now forgotten. I've lectured, studied and given papers at other universities, but still I rate Oxford the most highly. The intellectual rigour of the place is superb and I met some amazing people studying there, from all over the world. And quite simply, the place so resonates with history that it feels magical, even unearthly. If I have children, I will encourage them to go to Oxford, just as my own family encouraged me.

  • I am deriving enormous amounts of pleasure cooking for M. The happiness spread across his face when he returns from another long day and smells all the aromas coming out of the kitchen is priceless. When his hours become more manageable again he will start taking his turn to cook during weeknights, which I'm really looking forward to as he cooks so well. But for now, it is just me. On Monday, I cooked a feta and courgette frittata and served it with salad; this lasted into Tuesday when I served it with steamed spinach and garlic. Tonight, I will cook a white cannellini, chorizo and tomato stew. That will most likely last into tomorrow too. If we can't go out to eat on Friday, then I think I will prepare a simple gnocchi, tomato and basil stew. I brought all these recipes and more back from my parents' house this weekend gone.

  • This week, I managed to nip out to see Taryn Simon's An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar at The Photographers' Gallery during one lunch break. I would call it America's cabinet of curiosities. Simon's large-format lens casts an unsentimental eye across a range of things that are an integral part of everyday US life but remain inaccessible to most peoples' eyes: Playboy magazine in Braille; a retarded, in-bred white tiger in a cage in Arkansas; radioactive capsules glowing neon blue at a nuclear waste storage facility in Washington State (top photo); the device holding the dead bodies of the wife and sister of Robert Ettinger, a pioneer in the field of cryonics at the Cryonics Institute in Clinton Township, Michigan (photo below). The photographer is tenacious and often waits up to a year to gain permission to photograph in some highly secure zones, including C.I.A. sites and prison death rows. But it must be in the family blood, because her father worked for the State Department and photographed Soviet cities during the Cold War, restricted sites in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, and other inaccessible places around the world.

Monday, September 17, 2007


I've just come back from my parents' house in East Anglia. My mum is about to go into hospital for a knee operation. If it is successful, as everyone predicts, then a few months down the line they will operate on her other knee. Her mind is strong and agile and in recent years it's been her body that has let her down. But this time next year, if not sooner, her doctors expect full mobility. The knee operations should transform her life and we are already chatting about a family vacation in Kerala together next winter.

I grew up an only child in Kent and our little family of three has always been very close. I've always enjoyed going home, which I still consider home even though I now have one of my own. We chat about food and the garden, we share recipes, we gossip about the neighbours and work, we discuss politics watching BBC News 24, we watch old 70s sitcoms like Terry & June and Love Thy Neighbour on DVD, and we moan about each other too. My mum cooks me all my old favourites - this weekend it was cauliflower curry and minced beef and mixed vegetable curry. It's great seeing them.

Going home also provides me the opportunity to step outside my usual lifestyle and slow down - to get off the teeter-totter of my must-do and want-to-do lists and to simply sit and be. It's always at my parents' home that I fully understand this old Zen koan:
"Sitting quietly, doing nothing,
Spring comes,
and the grass grows by itself."
It was to home I returned for long spells when I needed respite from cancer treatment, it was to home I returned when I was going through a particularly bad heartbreak, it was to home I returned when I wanted to finish writing a novel.

And I go home to remember who I used to be - as a child, as a teenager, as a young adult just starting out with all my hopes and dreams and preconceptions of life. For my mother refuses to clean out my bedroom - though we moved innumerable times growing up, all my books and music and notebooks are still there bearing witness to my evolving passions through time.

Engineering works on the tracks meant I spent half my journey back to London today on a coach. M.I.A. and Gwen and Madonna kept me company on my iPod coming back just as the Chilli Peppers and Bowie had kept me entertained on my journey there yesterday. And then the coach turned a corner and there was the Gherkin and Canary Wharf and all those cranes glinting in the soft, dusky sunshine and M rang to say he was waiting to meet me at Liverpool Street Station having finished his day at the office, and my heart sang.

M made steak with frites and a tomato salad again for dinner and I'm now going to eat fresh peaches and drink Sparrow's Tongue green tea while M continues to work and I settle in with a novel.

Sad to have left them; glad to be back with him.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Lunchtime treats

My office is minutes away from some fantastic modern art galleries but it's rare that I have time to visit during a work week. Usually I get my art fix on the weekend with my husband, but as I knew I would be away this weekend visiting my parents in the suburbs while M worked, I couldn't let these shows go on without me. So I grabbed a half hour here and there throughout the busy week and escaped into other worlds.

Lucy Williams' mixed media, low relief collages of mid-20th century Modernist architecture at the Timothy Taylor Gallery on Dering Street - the minute rendering of every single detail from paper leaves to tapestry skies, from Perspex walls to mesh shadows is exquisite.

Anthony Caro's new sculptures made from galvanised steel - like hulking great beasts barging their way into the Annely Juda Fine Art Gallery on Dering Street. Words completely fail me on this one, I was so overwhelmed by how amazing these pieces were. I have to return again, and again, and hopefully will be able to write about it better the next time.

Less engaging but still worth leaving the office for this week were Paul Graham's filmic, lo-fi colour photos of working class American life at the Anthony Reynolds Gallery, David Lamelas' 1972 looped 16mm film projection of a young woman engaged in a number of mundane activities such as walking in the park, doing some paperwork and mopping up a spilled glass of water, at the Spruth & Magers Gallery, and New York feminist artist the late Hannah Wilke at the Alison Jacques Gallery

Better than shopping and wreaking havoc with my bank balance during my lunch break. Though this week I did still manage to also pop into John Smedley for another cardigan, into DKNY for another ti-shirt, and into the Sanderson for a Very Cherry cocktail (but luckily the latter was with a client and it was on expenses).

It's Friday night and M is on his way home and we're going to snuggle up with a good movie and a plate full of fish and chips! I've barely seen him these past few weeks, I miss him terribly, and really all I can do is make the most of my time without him and cherish any chance I get to be with him.

Have a lovely weekend all!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Meme: What's in your fridge

Ages ago I read a very interesting meme called What's in your fridge? Loads of food bloggers participated and I had a lot of fun poking around their fridges as I'm basically extremely nosey. So I've revived it. Here's what's in mine right now, from top to bottom and then into the door, though bear in mind that this is a mid-week view and the fridge is usually much fuller after a weekend shop:

Sumatra coffee / palm sugar / shrimp paste / umeboshi plums / cherry jam / pickled walnuts / gherkins / udon noodles / cucumber and Japanese radish relish / cream cheese / freerange, organic eggs / two chicken breasts / strawberries / chorizo / fresh figs / grapes / tamarind paste / red chilli bean sauce / green curry paste / hot lime pickle / pomegranate preserve / live natural yoghurt / black bean sauce / Turkish flat bread / red peppers / a carrot / aubergines / ginger / spring onions / fresh parsley / Turkish cheese / Parmesan / feta / jalapenos / tartare sauce / caramelised red onion chutney / capers / pomegranate molasses / HP Sauce / Heinz tomato ketchup / pitted black olives / fizzy water / Ribena light / apple juice / milk

What's in your fridge? I tag Silent One, Broom, Tommy, Bombay Beauty, Lottie, Hypatia, Olivia, Joop, Southways, Leslee, Beth, Kate, Childwoman, Mumbai Girl, 30in2005, and anyone else I've forgotten. Please leave a comment within this post when you've completed the meme so we can all go check it out.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A weekend affair

M returned from work on Saturday morning at 4 and then had to leave again after four hours sleep. Alone, I spent the morning contentedly pottering at home, but by lunchtime I was itching to get out and about.

Luckily by lunch, M had finished his work and we met up at the ICA where we lunched on handcut chips slathered in tomato sauce and mayonnaise (me) and linguine with black olives, basil leaves and cherry tomatoes (M).

Then we went to the ICA cinema and watched first-time American director Gary Hustwit's Helvetica - an engaging and witty look at the world's most ubiquitous and, it turns out, controversial font. The documentary charts the font's origins back to a small foundry in Switzerland in the 1950s and its rise to wordwide prominence as a clean, modern and functional typeface - the staple of global corporate and national and local governmental logos and signage, from the US Postal Service to American Apparel.

Here's a great interview with Gary Hustwit in the Daily Telegraph.
"One day in 2005, Gary Hustwit was wandering through the streets of New York, listening to music on his iPod, when he suddenly noticed something very odd. The signs on bin lorries, the opening-hours notices hanging from café doors, a newly opened American Apparel store: all of them were emblazoned with exactly the same kind of lettering. He looked around a little more: to his left was a billboard advertisement for American Airlines, to his right the name of a subway stop; these two also shared the same typeface. 'It was like a secret language,' Hustwit recalls. 'It seemed like I was the only one who realised it was everywhere.'"
Walking outside, after the film, I admit I couldn't help counting all the times I spotted the Helvetica font - much to M's annoyance.

In need of more knitwear now the temperature has dropped, I popped into John Smedley. John Smedley has been making fine knitwear from its mill in Matlock, Derbyshire for over 200 years now and its Merino yarn is specially bred by nominated wool growers in New Zealand. The production process is meticulous, as its website describes:
"After knitting, the garments are scoured or washed using water from John Smedley's three springs - this is a crucial stage in the manufacturing process giving the garments their characteristic 'soft handle'. Additional processes render the garments shrink resistant and machine washable, a unique feature considering such delicate techniques are applied. Each John Smedley garment goes through three stages of hand supervised pressing to ensure correct fit and shape before highly trained seamstresses hand finish the garments, applying neck trims, buttons and John Smedley labels."
I bought an extra-fine (30 gauge) Merino wool cardigan in charcoal grey. The yarn is so soft and sumptuous and smooth that it feels like a second skin and I can't stop touching myself! I will return for a few more colours.

We then popped into the White Cube in Mason's Yard for Gary Hume's American Tan exhibition featuring abstracts of the athletic forms of American cheerleaders in mid-performance but heavily objectified so the eye hones in on split crotches, legs akimbo, a pom pom atop a taut arm. High gloss paint on large aluminium canvasses and painted bronze sculptures. The effect was both pornographically disturbing and thrilling. And as an aside, I couldn't help being reminded of American Apparel ads.

In the evening, we saw A Disappearing Number by Complicite at the Barbican - a play about mathematics, identity, love and loss.

Srinivasa Ramanujan, a poor, young Brahmin, was working as a clerk for the Madras Port Authority at the turn of the last century when he wrote an unsolicited letter to British mathematician GH Hardy. The letter contained highly original and unorthodox mathematical theorems that Hardy thought "must be true because, if they were not, no one would have the imagination to invent them". He persuaded Ramanujan to overcome his Brahmin taboo on foreign travel and come to England, and later Hardy described their meeting as the "one romantic incident of my life".

The play interweaves the relationship between Hardy and Ramanujan with that of a modern day relationship between a mathematics lecturer and her husband who works in hedge funds. I thought the intertwining of narratives worked really well. The layering of sound and film was also brilliantly executed, and one of my favourite moments in the play was the interplay of kathak dancing, kathak chanting and the recitation of a mathematical numbering sequence.

A few things didn't quite work for me: the recurring conversation between one of the protagonists and a call centre worker from Bangalore was cliched and stereotypical; the play could have delved more deeply into the "romantic" relationship between the English and the Indian mathematicians; it could have explored India's ancient history of mathematics better; and it could have made more of the links between mathematics and kathak dance.

It also took me a while to gain empathy with the two modern characters and early scenes with them detracted from the main story. However, by the end of the play I was so empathetic with all the characters that I was in tears. The first time I've ever cried at the theatre.

Sunday was a quieter affair. M put in a few hours working from home during the day. We grocery shopped and cleaned the house; we breakfasted on poached eggs on toast; we read last weekend's papers because we hadn't finished them last week; we blended strawberries and oranges into juice; we surfed online and flicked through magazines. We have so many magazines still to read - Marie Claire and Red, the Tate Etc magazine, Wallpaper*, Monocle, the Royal Academy of Arts magazine, BBC Good Food, The Economist, New Yorker (devoted to food) and my personal guilty pleasure Oprah. M is in France on business from tomorrow, for three days, so he packed.

We also strolled through the park and ate a late lunch at Ottolenghi in Islington. I've passed by this place many times before but Tommy's blog reminded me that I really should try it, so we did. What a place - such devine salads and cakes! Between us we had wonderfully dressed salads of flavourful beetroots, potatoes, mangetout, French beans, courgettes and sweet potatoes, and scrumptuous desserts of a vanilla and rose cup cake and a mixed berry pavlova. Why can't they open a branch in Soho?

Later in the evening, while M was on a conference call, I made a Moroccan meatball stew for our dinner. But by the time it was cooked, M announced he had to go into work again. So I ate alone and have enough for tonight (Monday) too for M is away.

M is a "magic circle" lawyer and this week he's worked 80 or so hours spread across 7 days. I am proud of him because he rarely complains, he enjoys his job, and he still wants to enjoy what little free time he has (with me!). I will never again moan when I myself have to work long hours. Those City lawyers earn alot but they certainly earn their keep, and then some.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Friday on my mind

The end of another busy but productive and stimulating work week. I thrive on weeks like this one, when I am called to juggle a million and one different things at once and things still get done and get done well. Slowing or paring down is not an option in my job. I've found that the key to getting it all done at the same time is to focus on just one thing at a time even if it's only for one minute. Even a minute of my time is worth devoting my attention fully to something, if that makes sense.

Stress is unavoidable of course and sometimes you simply have to let off steam. But I've found that most times the public expression of stress at work aggravates and escalates problems rather than solves them. I try my best to keep stress from affecting my behaviour with my colleagues. I don't always succeed in hiding it but when I do it's almost always worth it. Everyone becomes a little calmer, heads clear and solutions to things surface more readily as a result I think.

Anyway, my Friday began with breakfast with my husband in the Garden Cafe in the middle of Russell Square, chatting about each other's work, watching people cross the Square to the university or their offices, sharing a bland croissant and sipping weak coffees. Then we went our separate ways, not quite sure whether we'd see each other again before bedtime or even before Saturday morning.

After work, I browsed the womenswear in Liberty and the books in Waterstone's in Piccadilly, dined on stir-fried beef with chillies and black bean sauce plus egg fried rice in HK Diner in Chinatown, then strolled through a heaving Soho to pick up la tarte aux framboises from Paul on Old Compton Street to take home with me.

At home, sprawled out on the sofa, I savoured the tarte and a novel and periodic phone conversations with M as he worked through the night in his office in the City.

Goodnight M, I love you!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Autumnal cooking

In our household, Saturdays are about making the most out of all this city has to offer - movies, art, food, parks, the river. Sometimes Sundays are like this too, but as the weather slips into Autumn and the skies darken, our Sundays become more about taking it easy - staying local, chilling with a DVD or the papers or a novel, going for walks in our neighbourhood and slow cooking.

I love the smells that filter out from our kitchen on a cold Sunday afternoon. Whether it's a roast in the oven or a stew on the hob, nothing signifies a late Sunday afternoon in Autumn better than savoury aromas and the sounds of sizzling, bubbling and frying.

On Sunday, I cooked two dishes for dinner. The first was a slow cook spiced lamb. In a heavy pan I sauteed a diced onion until it was translucent, then added 500g of diced lamb and browned it for a few minutes. I stirred in an inch of diced ginger, 4 cloves of chopped garlic, 2 teaspoons each of ground cumin, coriander and turmeric, a teaspoon of red chilli powder and 3 chopped green chillis. I fried the mixture until the spices had released their aroma, then I added enough water to cover, the diced flesh of 4 vine tomatoes, half a teaspoon each of salt and sugar, and 3 bay leaves, then brought the mixture to the boil and turned the heat down. Covering the pan, I simmered on a low heat for an hour.

After an hour, I added four peeled and diced potatoes and 3 teaspoons of garam masala. I brought the curry to the boil again, then simmered on low with a lid on for another 30-40 minutes. The lamb should be tender and falling apart, the gravy should be reduced, and the potatoes just crumbling.

I served with Basmati rice.

I had never made vegetable upma before. In a heavy pan, I popped a teaspoon of mustard seeds and a teaspoon of urad dal in some oil then stirred in an inch of diced ginger, a dried red chilli, 3 chopped green chilli and half a teaspoon of salt. I threw in a handful each of cashew nuts, frozen peas, chopped green beans and one chopped carrot, then covered with an inch of water and boiled for 7 minutes until the vegetables were cooked. Then I gradually folded in 200g of coarse semolina until the grain had absorbed all the water. If the mixture became dry, I added more boiling water until the upma was dough-like but moist. I was surprised at how quick and easy this moreish semolina dish is. Some people serve with a spoon of ghee on top. I didn't have any, but it was delicious anyway.

And for dessert? M scooped out the centre of a papaya and filled it with juicy blueberries.

It's 7.15am now and I have to set off to work. Usually it takes me 30 minutes to get into work from where I live. Today, if I leave now it'll take an hour and a half to get through the syrupy traffic on the bus. This Tube strike is doing my head in! And I can't even read on the bus.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Missing him

I get irritated by those people who are at a loss as to what to do when their significant others are not around; whose lives seem to collapse and who have no clue as to how to entertain themselves alone. It particularly annoys me when these people are usually such capable, intelligent and independent people in their working lives.

However, this week I got a taste of how easy it is to become such a person.

M's been working some very long hours and it's likely to continue for most if not all of September. We've barely seen each other and I was looking forward to this weekend - the chance to catch up with him, to spend some quality time together, to simply be around him and have him close to me. So I was disappointed to discover he had to work all weekend too. My gut reaction was, "Oh, I'm going to miss you" and "What am I going to do?" And I felt rather sorry for myself.

When I was single, I used to make long lists of all the things I wanted to do over the weekend - the art shows I wanted to catch, the movies I wanted to see, the restaurants and cafes I wanted to try, the concerts or plays I wanted to check out. Deep down I missed having a significant other in my life, but I made the most of my life in the capital city and lived it to its fullest. Since I've met M, my life is even busier and more stimulating and all that has changed is that the feeling of existential loneliness has disappeared.

I so much relish having M in my life now that I panic a little when he's not around to have fun with. I forget that before him I also had a great life. Nothing can compare to doing things with the person you love, but life doesn't have to stop just because he's not around!

So on Saturday, I opened up my Time Out, got out my pen, started circling the things I wanted to do, and headed into town on my own.

I browsed books of paintings by Peter Doig and Balthus in Koenig Books on Charing Cross Road; I laughed out loud at the quirky yet biting Julie Delphy romantic comedy Two Days In Paris at the Odeon Covent Garden; and I saw some really great art by 45 young contemporary painters from different regions of India at the Emerging India show at the Royal College of Art.

The latter was invariably a mixed show as modern Indian art is as diverse and as varied as its artists. Though it is convenient to talk of a "contemporary Indian art movement", critics shouldn't fall into the trap of judging such art against a single yardstick. As this show demonstrated, contemporary Indian art cuts across a wide range of styles, influences, techniques, frameworks and meanings.

As a Bengali, I was particularly fascinated, though not surprised, by the abundance of art still pouring out of Santiniketan and Kolkata, especially Chandrima Bhattacharyya, Gautam Mukherjii, Uday Mondal, and Somenath Maity (above) whose paintings bring alive the urban sprawl of Kolkata and who says, "In a big city, I feel the vibration of an abstraction, and the colors red, blue, brown, black and olive green come alive in a meaningful way".

Apart from Somenath Maity, my favourite artists from the show were M Pravat (above) and the dynamic, invigorating Murali Cheeroth (top and below).

In all I had a great time. And the icing on the cake? Meeting M in the evening for rock oysters, langoustines and crab at the very camp Randall & Aubin on Brewer Street and desserts of millefeuille and plum tart from Paul on Old Compton Street.

And today it is Sunday and M's at work again, but I'm staying in this time to settle into the sofa with a good novel or two, the weekend FT and a stack of recipe books to plan out this week's meals. I've already been out grocery shopping as later this afternoon I will start making a slow-cook spicy lamb curry for tonight's dinner along with a vegetable upma made from semolina. Recipes for these no doubt will follow tomorrow.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Zoo life

On Friday, our entire company took a half day and celebrated a belated Summer Party at London Zoo. I haven't been here since I was a child, and to be honest I would be torn to return again if we have children. Seeing the monkeys, fish, parrots, sloth bears and more was undoubtedly a treat. I understand the benefits of captivity for species that would otherwise be extinct or endangered. I can see that London Zoo is doing its best to re-create natural environments in limited spaces.

But I did feel a little uneasy ogling the animals while they looked on bored and paced or swam around and around in their confined spaces. Of course I see the advantages of zoos, both for animals and children, but there will always be a tension between the pros and cons of enclosed zoos for me. I can't help it.

After a few hours, after much food, drink, chatting and animal watching, we clambered into barges and floated down the Grand Union Canal to Little Venice. In this very chilled and salubrious part of west London, we spent the evening supping mojitos, Champagne, beers, wine, anything and everything really, and picked at endless rounds of canapes at the excellent E Bar opposite Warwick Avenue.

As the day was being planned, I had thought 10 hours would be far too long to spend in the company of loads of people drinking too much. Though I like to drink, my body can't tolerate lots of alcohol. Work parties always involve huge groups and lots of drunkenness and I invariably slip away before 10pm. But as I get older, I get more confident - more confident to pace myself, to take off if it gets too hectic, to sit in smaller groups and chat, to not chat if I need a breather and simply need to sit back and take it all in. In these ways, I survived a long day and had a fantastic time. And I left after 10 - just!