Thursday, August 30, 2007
I've been very lucky in my reading choices over the past few weeks. I'm not so precious about novels any longer that I have to read to the end even if the novel is boring me, but I've finished all of these recently:
The Good Life by Jay McInerney. In Manhattan's TriBeCa, Corrine and Russell have survived separation, infertility, and the birth of their twins via a sister's egg. On the Upper East Side, Luke has got off the wealth accumulation merry-go-round and is seeking his purpose in life in the slow lane, much to the horror of his high-living wife. Then, on a bright September morning in 2001, a plane hurtles into one of the Twin Towers and the lives of these two couples collide. A searing, well-paced, well-judged novel of love and loss in moneyed Manhattan and finding one's way through catastrophe.
The Easter Parade by Richard Yates. The Grime sisters of New York would have had happy lives had their parents not divorced. Over four decades, Sarah and Emily grow into very different women. Sarah settles for a suburban marriage while Emily flits from one man to another in the city. This being a Yates novel, neither of them are very happy in their choices. A nuanced yet unflinching and unsentimental portrayal of regret, disappointment and loneliness.
The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster. Another New York novel. Nathan is recovering from lung cancer, divorced and estranged from his only daughter; his nephew Tom is on an extended hiatus from his lacklustre academic career and life in general. When they both stumble upon each other in a Brooklyn neighbourhood, their lives intertwine in funny, warm and tender ways and together they become embroiled in mystery, intrigue and fraud. This is a tale of broken dreams and of human folly so brilliantly written that as the last pages came into view, I read slower and slower. Auster knows how to write deftly-plotted literature and this has joined my list of all time favourite novels.
Naoko by Keigo Higashino. Factory worker Heisuke works hard to provide for his beloved wife Naoko and young daughter Monami. So when he learns they have become involved in a catastrophic bus crash, his content and placid life is rocked to its core. His wife is dead; his daughter is in a coma. Except that when his daughter awakes, it is Naoko's personality and memories that live on. Well-paced, simply written and emotionally charged, I read the ending on the Tube tonight and began to cry. An amazing discovery considering I picked this up at Daunt Books in Marylebone on a whim because the cover was so eye-catching.
I love having piles of unread novels on my bookshelves - the variety makes it easy to pick a book depending on mood. In my pile now? The new Haruki Murakami, the new William Gibson (which M is reading now), a Tokyo crime thriller, a Mumbai crime thriller, some Japanese short stories, some modern Indian and American literature, and some Indian chick lit.
What are you reading and what's in your "to read" pile now?
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Then we went to the Southbank to check out the members' bar in the Royal Festival Hall as we are both members, hoping to enjoy a few beers overlooking the Thames. But we were disappointed. Not only was there no outdoor members' area, but the place was deserted and the furnishings were institutional and uninviting. The Tate Modern's members' bar is much more comfortable and has more personality - as does the BFI's Benugo bar, where we went to instead.
No Mike Leigh this time, but we sank into Benugo's comfy sofas and sipped Erdinger Weissbräu and Fruli strawberry beer, and munched on salted almonds while chatting, reading and trying not to eavesdrop on a conversation between two women in their late twenties or early thirties about how they wish their families didn't push them all the time and how the families didn't appreciate "the journey" they were on.
At the BFI, we watched Pablo Trapero's 2002 feature El Bonaerense. The witless Zapa is an unworldly locksmith in a sleepy, provincial town who becomes an unwilling accomplice in a crime. His uncle pulls some strings to get him out of the provinces and into the Buenos Aires police force, where he soon impassively becomes embroiled in police bribery and racketeering. Unlike yesterday's film by Pablo Trapero that we saw, this depiction of a blank, malleable fool stumbling from one mishap to another was much stronger and engaging. The filming took place on location in the city's seedier locales during the early stages of the Argentinian financial crisis and production had to shut down while they sought a stable banking system to put their funding into. A brilliant film.
We headed home and M made whole 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.
On our way to Hampstead Heath on Monday, we passed by the house we got married in earlier this year (right). Then we spent most of the day on the Heath, picnicking on quiche lorraine and salami baguettes from the Paul Bakery, reading, sleeping, chatting, people watching and trying to avoid competitive dads who wouldn't leave their kids to play but insisted on showing them the "correct" way to kick a ball or throw a frisbee, often in our direction. Poor kids! I'm glad my parents left me alone to do things my way (well, aside from education that is - then they butted in every opportunity they got!).
After several hours chilling in the sunshine, we headed back to Crouch End for coffee and cake in Coffee Cake patisserie on the Broadway. M's blueberry crumble and my chocolate and beetroot cake looked far better than they tasted, which was a shame, but we had dinner to look forward to and a curl up on the sofa with a funny movie.
At home, I stewed diced lamb and chickpeas with cumin seeds, garlic, red chilli flakes, plum tomatoes and pomegranate molasses and served it with lightly toasted Turkish flat bread and a bottle of hearty red Cahors. M prepared a tangy fruit salad of pomegranate seeds and diced oranges. Then we settled in to watch the highly kitsch and camp musical comedy Adventures Of Iron Pussy by director Apichatpong "Joe" Weerasethakul, about a transvestite secret agent who is sent on a mission to the Thai countryside. We bought this movie back on our first trip to Thailand together in 2005, but have only now gotten round to watching it.
What a great Bank Holiday weekend this has been. We didn't feel like going away and instead we enjoyed our own little holiday in our beloved city.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
On Friday, M and I met up after work for a wander around the Global Cities installation in the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall. The show charts the rise of the modern phenomenon of the ‘megacity’ - principally Cairo, Istanbul, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Mumbai, Sao Paulo, Shanghai and Tokyo. Though I enjoyed reading the statistics and learned some new facts, I found the overarching negative narrative a little too Sociology 101, a little too undergraduate for my liking. I am fully aware of the risks inherent in statistics such as "In 2007, for the first time in history, 1 out of 2 people will be living in a city", or "1 in 3 city dwellers live in slums", or "Cities produce 75% of the world's carbon emissions", or "Mumbai adds 42 people to its population every hour". They do concern me. But as a city girl at heart I couldn't help but find the movies (one example above) and photos of city life exhilerating and stimulating. It was particularly inspiring to see the largescale chromogenic photos of Andreas Gursky's Los Angeles - the City of Angels' grid layout pulsating with golden electricity in the night, and the multi-coloured windows of his Copan block of flats in Sao Paulo. At first I was annoyed by the cramped layout of the installation, with its amateur building site feel, but as people jostled me to get a better look at things, I appreciated the experience more and more.
Afterwards, we ate at the nearby South Bank branch of Pizza Express, with a table overlooking the river. Though I can eat out at some very nice places here in London, I am not usually a food snob. I'm quite happy popping into Nando's for a big plate of chicken peri peri with fries, Giraffe for a brunch of huevos rancheros or Strada for a risotto after work with colleagues. I draw the line at Pizza Hut but I can usually count on my pizzas at any Pizza Express branch to be fairly generic but tasty. However, my usual Veneziana pizza on Friday had too few capers and sultanas on it, a soggy stodgy base and red onion rings cut far too thickly to eat. The service was also poor - it took ten minutes before waiters passing by the shattered shards of a wine glass on the floor bothered to actually clean it up. I'm not going to rush back again.
We awoke on Saturday to blazing hot sunshine. We drank mugs of strong Sumatra coffee and ate slices of the date and walnut bread and Caerphilly and Hampshire camembert cheeses we had bought on Thursday at the Covent Garden Night Market. Then we headed out into town. There's a marvellous kitchen catering shop called Pages on Shaftesbury Avenue. From there we bought a box of steak knives, as we don't own any.
Then we headed down to Embankment and battled the thick sweaty crowds, mainly tourists, onto a boat that took us down the river to Greenwich. Though I'm not a tourist, I still love going down the river in a boat. I sit back and enjoy the London sights floating past me - St Paul's, the Gherkin, Tate Modern, the numerous Wharf apartment conversions, the glimpse of the old Millennium Dome as you pull up into Greenwich Pier. It's also enjoyable watching all the tourists thrust their digital cameras at everything they see. Just like me in New York or in Bangkok.
I haven't been back to Greenwich since I was an undergraduate at Goldsmiths and visited weekly to go to the cinema at the Picturehouse or shop for secondhand clothes and books in the many eclectic markets there. I never remember it being so busy with tourists though. Today the small town was crammed, not just with bodies but with traffic. And Greenwich has become High Street Anywhere. We didn't linger long.
We were in Greenwich to see an exhibition of Keiko Yamamoto's intimate family photographs at the Viewfinder Photography Gallery. In 1999, Yamamoto took photos of the inside of her family home in Tokyo - capturing private moments such as shadows cast by washing on the line (top right), sleeping faces, and tabletops cluttered with dinner remains. Later, in London, she photographed the view from her window - her reflection seen through the smeared glass (top left). Private, stolen moments; fragments of time. Fleetingly captured and displayed. We may go back and buy one.
We DLR-ed it over to East London and ate our usual vegetable samosas, chickpea curry, fish curry and pilau rice at our favourite no frills Sweet & Spicy cafe on Brick Lane, surrounded by kitsch and camp posters and paintings of Bangladeshi amateur wrestlers. It's the only place we eat on Brick Lane really and where many Bangladeshi locals eat too.
We popped into the Whitechapel Gallery to see Amar Kanwar's film A Night Of Prophecy. The camera seamlessly panned from Mumbai shanty towns to caste struggles in Andhra Pradesh to separatist conflicts in Kashmir against a soundtrack of resistance poetry. It was interesting to watch for a little while, but half an hour into this 2 hour film and the political narrative - as poetic as it was - began to grate on me so we left.
We returned to the South Bank and drank beers in the BFI's Benugo Bar while trying to eavesdrop on a conversation between an Iranian actor and director Mike Leigh also drinking beer at a table beside us. We were all there to watch the Argentinian movie Born And Bred. A handsome young interior designer with an equally handsome wife and daughter lives the good life in a beautiful home in Buenos Aires that could have come straight out of a Wallpaper* shoot. A car crash leaves him abandoned and devastated in the snowy wastelands of Patagonia, where he tries but fails to work through his grief as an unkempt and unrecognisable hunter and rural airport labourer. The cinematography both in glossy Buenos Aires and in bleak Patagonia is breathtaking and sublime. But the story ran out of steam with an ending that didn't quite work for me, and the character development was incredibly weak. I wonder what Mr Leigh thought of it.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
How has the digital age changed my life? My God, in countless ways:
- I'm less frustrated now when making arrangements to meet people
- I have the flexibility to work from home if I need to
- I have information at my fingertips
- I can multi-task better and get more done - I am convinced I am making better use of my synapse connections now!
- I save money by buying or comparing prices online
- I keep in better touch with my parents and also my family in India
- Convergence is the greatest concept ever - to make calls, take photos, listen to music, play games, write notes and surf the internet all on a single mobile phone is heaven itself
- I choose what to watch or listen to when I want - allowing me to live my life off line to its fullest.
- I have a whole new career!
- Digital media is perfect for my short attention span. I thrive on flitting around from one thing to another and new technology facilitates this
- I can still switch it all off whenever I need to
- I'm constantly amazed at the rudeness of people who text or email during meetings
- I have no patience for those who use txt-spk in emails or letters
- I worry about children who spend more time consuming media than creating it
- I wonder whether I would read or write or generally create more if I didn't have the internet
- When I read a regular newspaper or was limited to just five TV channels, I suspect I was exposed to a wider variety of information. My digital life is far more targetted and I know I stumble across less as a result
Friday, August 24, 2007
On Monday, I cooked chicken jalfraizee, Bengali style, with leftover chicken from Sunday's roast. I stir-fried two medium onions with 2 inches of chopped ginger, 4 chopped garlic cloves, a heaped teaspoon of turmeric, a heaped teaspoon of whole cumin seeds and half a teaspoon of red chilli powder in a couple of tablespoons of pungent mustard oil. I then stirred in 3 handfuls of green pepper strips and 4 chopped tomatoes along with a teaspoon each of ground coriander, ground cumin and ground garam masala. I added the leftover chicken and let all the juices absorb into the meat, then added enough water to make a gravy. I salted to taste and added a little sugar then turned the heat down, covered the pan, and let it all simmer until the Basmati rice was cooked. I served with fresh chopped coriander leaves and the juice of half a lemon squeezed through.
We ate it watching the bland and boring Indian chick flick The Mistress Of Spices on a DVD I'd luckily only paid £5 for. I had hoped to see some dishes being cooked. Still, it was lovely seeing all those piles of colourful spices.
On Tuesday night, I cooked marrow with Bengali spices. In the heady mustard oil, I fried 1.5 inches of chopped ginger with an onion and 1.5 teaspoons of panch phoron - a Bengali five spice mixture of whole cumin, whole fennel, whole fenugreek, whole nigella and whole black mustard seeds, which my mother, fortunately, gives me ready-mixed jars of. I stirred in 1.5 teaspoons of ground coriander, a teaspoon of ground cumin, a teaspoon of tumeric and half a teaspoon of chilli powder. I broke 4 small, dried red chillis into this mixture and fried gently for a few minutes. I added a medium sized marrow, diced, and fried a little more, stirring well so the mixture didn't stick, and until the marrow cubes turned yellow with the turmeric. Then I added enough water to make a gravy, brought to the boil, added half a teaspoon each of sugar and salt, then turned down the heat and simmered - lid on - for around 20 minutes or so while the Basmati rice cooked and the marrows had turned translucent.
Yesterday a group of us at work went out to eat fiery Korean food at Koba on Rathbone Street to celebrate a colleague's 10 years in London (any excuse to celebrate with food and drink!). I ate my favourite dolsot bibimbap - a stew of vegetables, beef and chilli paste on a bed of rice and a raw egg broken on top, served sizzling hot in an earthenware bowl as well as miso soup with seaweed and soft squares of tofu, and kimchi or pickled cabbage. Last night, M cooked a simple shrimp dumpling soup - shrimp dumplings and broccoli florets in a clear chicken broth with red chilli flakes.
And tonight, we popped over to Covent Garden's Night Market to pick up some food goodies for a picnic dinner at home. It's open only in August so this was our last chance to visit. It was packed but we managed to beat our way through the crowds to buy organic rocket, medjool dates, passionfruit, chorizo, date and walnut bread, ciabatta, Hampshire camembert and Caerphilly cheese. Much more expensive even than Whole Foods Market, but it was fun. We even had an oyster each from an oyster stall and the fresh zingyness energised us immediately.
M's heating up the bread and chorizo now and opening up a bottle of Rioja. I've managed to persuade him to watch another chick flick with me - Diane Keaton and Mandy Moore in Because I Said So. The strapline is "Mothers, daughters, marriage and mayhem" so I'm not so sure he'll manage to endure more than a little bit of the movie. But I'm in that chick-flick-settle-into-the-sofa-and-veg-out kind of mood tonight. [Update: He enjoyed the movie, and so did I. The shots of LA and the interiors were brilliant - I want to go to LA - and it was actually very funny.]
Have a good night - the Bank Holiday weekend is nearly here!
Monday, August 20, 2007
Fridfinnsson's work is testimony to the stark and ethereal Icelandic landscape and the stories that are spun out of it. He creates poetry out of the mundane. For example, accompanying a grainy black and white photo of his work desk and a glowing desk lamp is a handwritten scrawl, "After a while, a shadow of a flying bird might pass across my hands". Boldly etched in black across one of the Serpentine's vast white walls are the words, "Thorsteinn Surtr dreamed he was awake but everyone else was asleep, then he dreamed he fell asleep and everyone else woke up".
He tells the story of a man who lived isolated in a tiny fishing village in the northwest of Iceland. Close to this death, he built a wooden house and fixed corrugated iron sheets on the inside and wallpaper on the outside because, "Wallpaper is to please the eye, so it is reasonable to have it on the outside where more people can enjoy it". Fridfinnsson reconstructed this house in the middle of the rocky Icelandic terrain, complete with curtains and pictures clinging to the exterior, and displayed photographs of it next to the story (above).
Accompanying a tiny shard of black meteorite is a long text narrating the story of the Soviet artist Medvedev who witnessed the fiery trajectory and explosion of a meteorite in Eastern Siberia in 1947 and feverishly painted the fiery scene as it was happening (top photo).
And within a dark and brooding coastal terrain, Fridfinnsson built several white gates that only the south wind could open. Just as he was finishing, however, the north wind blew so hard the gates were shut forever. The artist told nobody and never returned. But he took photos of them and they are displayed here.
Who knows whether any of these accounts are embedded in truth or whether they are fables spun to while away the time, and who cares really. Fridfinnsson's words and images are myths and "truth" is neither here nor there. It is liberating to suspend belief.
Since Thursday night, we've also:
- Caught up with far-flung friends from Venuzuela, Ireland, India, Tanzania and St Albans (!) at The Angelic in Islington, Two Floors in Soho (scene of my first kiss with M back in February 2005 - though you would never have known it from the blog post I wrote of that evening!), The Sun and 13 Cantons in Soho and the Alphabet Bar in Soho.
- Returned to Melati on Peter Street in Soho with friends - some of the above - for more spicy goodness from Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, but this time our fellow diners included a quiet group celebrating a birthday and a screeching group of hen night girls.
- Eaten XO silver cod, Sha-cha beef, chilli soft-shell crab with seaweed and cream crackers, braised tofu with minced salted fish and pork in a steaming clay pot, Sichuan vegetables, and creamed pumpkin icecream at Haozhan in Chinatown. Interesting items on the menu we did not try included baked lobster with cream cheddar cheese, silver cod baked in champagne and honey, deep-fried pork ribs in a coffee sauce, and marmite prawns. Hmm, may have to return to try some of those!
- Lunched on cheese and dill pickles (M) and egg and anchovy (me) rye bread open sandwiches plus cinnamon buns at the Nordic Bakery on Golden Square.
- Browsed the Martin Margiela, DKNY, APC, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten, Veronique Branquinho and Eley Kishimoto collections at the always wonderful Liberty - which still, in my mind, has the best-displayed designer collections out of all the department stores here in London. I didn't buy anything, but from Harvey Nicks I bought a gorgeous yet slightly edgy Nicole Farhi crushed silk blouse with a dark autumnal print that looks like camouflage (below). Her Fall collection looks very good.
- Snuggled in at home together on Sunday (today) while the rain poured down outside to watch on DVD Yasujiro Ozu's luminous and gentle Tokyo Story (1953) about the disappointment and frustration an aging couple feel when they journey from their rural village to the bustling metropolis of post-war Tokyo to visit their modern, married children.
- Ate lemony roast chicken with ratatouille jam-packed with courgettes, aubergines, tomatoes, red pepper and garlic, cooked by M. And planned our meals for the week: I think I will cook a chicken jalfrezi with the leftover chicken tomorrow and a Bengali marrow curry with dried red chillis and panch phoran on Tuesday (I'll try and post the recipe); M will cook a clear chicken stock soup with rice noodles and shrimp dumplings we bought frozen from Chinatown, served with steamed Chinese greens of some kind. This month's Observer Food Monthly has a simple no-cook recipe for fresh figs, Gorgonzola and rocket, mizuna and watercress salad, which will be nice to eat too this week if we don't go out.
- I had my hair coloured and cut at my favourite Aveda Institute on High Holborn. I've been there for body treatments, massages, facials, pedicures and intensive hair conditioning treatments but have never had my hair cut and coloured there before. I will now. I got a complimentary and very sensuous hand massage while the hair colour - a glossy dark brown-black - set. The cut my stylist gave me was terrific. I love it! The hair is still long but it's got more choppy layers in it now. Afterwards, I felt compelled to buy purple eyeshadow and electric blue eyeliner from the Shu Uemura counter in Harvey Nicks to complement the edgier look before we met up with our friends.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
It's been a while since I posted some recipes, despite alot of cooking going on in the Planethalder household. On Monday, M made Singapore prawn and noodle laksa. On Tuesday, I made Ken Hom's Rainbow Vegetables With Curry. American-born of Chinese origin, Ken Hom needs no introduction. I grew up on his recipes and he was the first celebrity chef I came across on TV along with Madhur Jaffrey. I always delighted in seeing his handsome, grinning face on the screen. According to a recent interview in the FT, he now seems to have considerably downsized and is living in Bangkok.
- Roughly chop a mixture of carrots, Chinese cabbage, baby aubergines, daikon or mooli, pak choi or gai lan greens, red pepper and spring onions enough for two and set aside.
- In a saucepan large enough to eventually accomodate the chopped vegetables, fry a chopped onion with an inch of fresh ginger slivers in sunflower oil for a few minutes until the onions are translucent.
- In a small bowl, mix together a heaped tablespoon of mild Madras curry powder with a tablespoon each of oil and hot water, stirring into a paste and adding a little more water as necessary.
- Stir the curry paste in with the onion and ginger mixture and fry on a medium heat. Mix in a small 250 ml tin of coconut milk, a teaspoon of red chilli flakes, a teaspoon of sugar, a pinch only of salt, 1.5 tablespoons of Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry and 2 teaspoons of sesame oil.
- As the curry mixture is simmering, fry all the vegetables in a hot wok with a little sunflower oil for 5 minutes, stirring continuously. Then transfer the vegetables to the saucepan and stir the vegetables in with the curry sauce. Put the lid on and leave simmering for 10 minutes.
- Serve with Basmati or jasmine rice with a handful of chopped coriander leaves on top.
Last night, M made Fuchsia Dunlop's Numbing-And-Hot Chicken. Dunlop is a fascinating woman who has travelled extensively around the Hunan province of Southern China collecting vibrant recipes studded with bold red chillis and numbing Sichuan peppers. During the mid-90s, she was the first westerner to study fulltime in the province's famous cooking school, the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine, in the Sichuanese capital Chengdu. Fluent in Chinese, she spent her spare time exploring the kitchens of the region's restaurants and of her friends, as well as food stalls and markets. Do buy her book, because it gives a wonderful sense of the smells and sights of Chairman Mao's home region.
- Cut enough chicken meat for two into cubes and marinade in a mixture of 1 tablespoon of Shaoxing rice wine, 1.5 tablespoons of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of potato flour mixed with a tablespoon of cold water.
- Slice a red pepper into slivers and three spring onions on the diagonal. Crush 1 teaspoon of whole Sichuan pepper in a pestle and mortar. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of clear rice vinegar, 0.5 teaspoon of potato flour and 3 tablespoons of chicken stock and set aside.
- Heat some groundnut oil in a wok, fry the chicken and set aside. Add 1 teaspoon of red chilli flakes, the spring onions and the Sichuan peppers until they are fragrant then stir in the chicken again. Tip the sauce into the wok and stir briskly as the sauce thickens.
- Turn off the heat, stir in a teaspoon of sesame oil and serve with jasmine rice and steamed baby aubergines and steamed greens, for example pak choi or gai lan.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
- Megg writes of her frustration that real life intrudes too much when she's writing fiction. I fully get where she's coming from - except the other way around. I haven't written much fiction in recent years but I have done and am gearing up to do so again. When I'm writing fiction I often get frustrated by my characters who grow to inhabit every nook and cranny of my mind, who won't leave me alone for a few hours to get on with my real life!
- As you may have guessed from the judgment meme, I've become more intolerant of people the older I've become. I can fully see myself as a crabby, cranky old woman shaking my fist at all and sundry. Ink On My Fingers, however, reminds me that I need to be more compassionate, more understanding, more humane. She writes of walking along the seaside promenade last week, "...carrying my camera and a fast-disappearing Cornetto, I couldn’t take my eyes off the people I saw: wobbly tummies, burnt shoulders, hairy backs, dimpled thighs, peachy bottoms on toddlers and shiny bald heads. I saw human beings in every shape, size and colour (including scarlet) and it made me feel such compassion for humanity. None of us are perfect yet it’s easy to forget that we’re all trying to do our best. We all carry a million thoughts and dreams and plans in our heads, a million ambitions and disappointments and sorrows. We all look in the mirror and see who we used to be and who we want to be, rarely seeing who we are today. We really are all the same. I wanted to take the portrait of every person I passed..."
I am humbled by her attitude.
- I love cooking with my husband (or in reality, eating what my husband has cooked!), but when I’m alone I inexplicably revert to ready-made foods from Marks & Spencers - quiches and salads from a bag, pre-made tomato sauces and stuffed pasta, vegetable spring rolls… My husband on the other hand relishes cooking for both himself and for others and can spend hours poring over cookbooks or thinking about what ingredients to put together - perhaps it's the chemist in him...
I need to rediscover the pleasures I took in experimenting and playing with ingredients when I was a vegetarian undergraduate and had no choice but to cook delicious food for myself.
So I was interested in this book featured on Hooked On Heat's blog - a collection of essays by writers such as Haruki Murakami and M.F.K. Fisher on the pleasures of dining alone and cooking for one.
Dining alone - I have little problem with, so long as it's lunch. When I was single and not dating I dined out alot alone. I dined out at lunch time when it's easier to disappear with a book, a magazine or just people-watching. But I was rarely brave enough to dine out at night unless it was for an early dinner say at 6pm when a restaurant was more likely to be quiet.
- It's so easy to cite Wikipedia all the time, but I really enjoyed reading their entry on the History of Bengali Cuisine.
- I've always wondered why parents push the Dr Seuss books so much - I get that they're fun, but what about the story? So I enjoyed reading Bong Mom's Cookbook's post on her young daughter S's response to Dr Seuss: "So that S gets a hang of reading, we got her the Dr Seuss which is brilliant if you think ease of reading but not really interesting when seen through the eyes of a 3 year old or her X year old Mom. So Hop On Pop does rhyme and also can be read but then what... nothing really happens...no story is spun...and so the 3 year old girl and the X year old's interest wane."
Give me Enid Blyton any day (not very politically correct I know, but she served me fine growing up).
Incidentally, I am a huge fan of the Bong Cookbook Book blog where this young mum makes lots of lovely Bengali recipes like alu posto, alu seddho and kalai er dal. My own attempts at Bengali cooking (that have appeared on this blog at least) are here, here and here.
- I need to go visit Latin America. My husband's been to Mexico and Argentina already and I've had friends from Chile, Venezuela and Colombia, so really I've had no excuse. Maybe next year - what do you think M?
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
This weekend in East Anglia:
- We took my parents out to Delia Smith's Restaurant on the grounds of Norwich City Football Club where she is director. For starters we ate: a plate of Suffolk salami, Parma ham and chorizo served with marinated mushrooms and tomatoes; baked salmon with green herb mayonnaise; and caramelised onion and goats cheese tartlet. For mains we ate: Greek lamb with gigantes beans and pilau rice served with Greek salad; roast chicken breast with grape and herb stuffing served with buttery new potatoes with green beans and glazed carrots; and grilled haddock fillet with a topping of coriander and lime tartare sauce and melted cheese served with minted new potatoes and green beans. We finished it all off with: vanilla cream terrine with raspberries and blackcurrent coulis; peaches baked in Marsala with mascarpone cream; and creamy sheeps' milk cheese - Berkswell - from Neal's Yard Dairy served with quince paste, homemade walnut bread and biscuits.
We were absolutely stuffed by the end of it but the food was so good, the environment a little like a glossy 5-star Manhattan hotel restaurant, and the service so attentive that the evening was a perfect one. To top it all off, the staff gave my parents a congratulations card hand-signed by Delia herself. My parents were over the moon.
- We watched the family home movies I'd transferred from Super 8 cine film to DVD as their anniversary present and enjoyed their running commentary.
- Inspired by these old films, I've started taking little 30 second clips myself using my digital camera and did alot of filming of M and my parents, much to their annoyance!
- I caught a glimpse of the hundreds of love letters my parents exchanged on wafer thin blue aerogramme paper when my parents were courting long distance during the 60s - my dad in London and my mum in Calcutta. Unfortunately, I can't read them because they are in Bengali, however my father will slowly translate some of them for me. They are private correspondence, so I will have to content myself with a heavily edited few.
- We enjoyed my mum's home cooking. Usually it's a good curry or four, but this time she made a deliciously aromatic Moroccan lamb and fig tagine with toasted almond couscous.
- We enjoyed a really long lie-in on Sunday morning as well as several long hours chilling in my parents' garden with conversation and the papers and admiring my dad's perfectly trimmed hedges! The trouble with slowing down and doing nothing is that you allow yourself to realise how damn tired you are! In London, we're so busy racing around we hardly let exhaustion get a peek in.
- We spent the 2 hour train journey back to London planning our week's meals (this is one of our favourite conversation pieces on a Sunday!) - seafood laksa, Chinese vegetable curry, and Szechuan numbing hot chicken - and watching David Bowie (surely a new album must be due soon?!?) and Red Hot Chili Peppers videos on my iPod.
- When we returned to our own home, M cooked spaghetti with a tomato, fresh anchovy and caper sauce and we settled in to watch Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's languid yet thrilling Invisible Waves on DVD about a chef's assistant's affair with his boss's restless wife which has deadly consequences. We first saw this Thai movie at last year's London Film Festival and were eager to see it again.
- Another lovely though a little different weekend over. Sigh...
Sunday, August 12, 2007
I love Fridays - not only do you have the weekend to look forward to but usually people tend to take extended lunch hours together (a full hour as opposed to a hasty 15 minutes) or leave slightly earlier than usual (at 6 rather than 7 or 8), especially if the weather is fine. This Friday morning, M and I got off a few tube stops earlier at Russell Square and strolled through Bloomsbury before parting for our respective offices. This is a sweet, lovely habit I want to stick to.
Later, during lunch, we met up on Tottenham Court Road and popped into a few computer stores as we're looking to buy a new PC. The laptop we have, though just 2 years old, just doesn't cut it for all the iTunes downloading and home movie editing I want to do. 2 years of course is the computer equivalent of 80 human years! Then we popped over to Charlotte Street for a quick meal at Josephine's - the Filipino restaurant. M kept his Blackberry on the table as we tucked into noodles with prawns and chicken in peanut sauce with fresh coriander.
We'll definitely come back here for dinner - the menu was packed with fish and seafood dishes, plus many with black pudding which surprised me at first but then I remembered that the Philippines were once a Spanish colony. Even without the Spanish influence, some east Asian countries such as Korea, Taiwan and China have some variation of blood sausage. I've always enjoyed black pudding. This always grosses most people out, but one of my favourite food experiences in South Dakota, aside from the sublime fillet mignon - the Dakotas being cattle ranching country - was on the Cheyenne River reservation where a medicine man-cum-carpenter (medicine man by night and during holy seasons and carpenter by day) made me a savoury sauce of beef's blood to dunk my bread into.
Back to London... Charlotte Street was heaving not with tourists but with office workers. Restaurants, bars and cafes pack themselves into this street. The sun was blazing, everyone was smiling, making the most of their extended lunch breaks too. Last summer, I remember overhearing an American tourist walking down Oxford Street moaning, "There's nowhere to eat in London!" I should have pulled her by her brightly coloured rucksack and said, "Turn left into Soho or right into Fitzrovia and you'll find a diverse wealth of places to eat, you lazy cow!" All she had to do was to stray a little off the beaten track...
In the evening, we met up in Farringdon at the bratwurst cafe Kurz & Lang for beers and hearty German sausages with fried potatoes, sauerkraut and mustard. Perched on high tables and stools outside, we watched the City boys and girls try and outdo each other with braying banter and copious amounts of booze.
This would have been enough for an evening's entertainment but earlier this year I had booked tickets for John Adams' A Flowering Tree at the Barbican. I booked them because I was very conscious that apart from Philip Glass and Steve Reich, I know very little about modern classical music. I had always read about Californian composer John Adams and had heard snippets of his famous Nixon In China. And we had great centre front seats in the stalls.
A Flowering Tree is a modern opera influenced by Mozart's The Magic Flute and based on a 2000-year old Tamil story about the redemptive love between a prince and a poor girl who transforms herself into a flowering tree in order to shed her flowers for sale to support her aging mother. But the girl's jealous sister-in-law persuades her to transform in front of her friends and they break off her branches, leaving her limbless and unable to transform herself back into human form. Separated from one another, the prince and the limbless tree girl languish - the pain of separation unbearable. But eventually they are reunited by servants. The tree girl is nurtured back to health and humanity and their love is restored and deepened.
Highlights for me were the lighting, which pulsed through blood red through turquoise blue to iridescent green; the tree girl soprano's exquisite voice that sounded like undulations of crystal clear water coursing up and down and through my body; the dramatic mixed choir from the Schola Cantorum de Venezuela dressed in traditional rainbow-hued Indian dress.
I've heard that John Adams was once considered a minimalist, but I would never have guessed. This was an unabashedly rich and romantic, multi-textured and shimmering performance.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
- I love the sunshine for many reasons, but the biggest one is having the perfect excuse to buy pretty, short skirts - like the cream and blue patterned cotton skirt I bought from Top Shop recently. I also need to buy some of those incredibly comfortable but trendy Havaianas flip flops. M has a blue pair, bought by his sister's friend from Brazil, and I am very jealous. In fact, they remind me of the blue chapals you can buy for a few rupees in India and that you wear around the house. I should have stocked up in February.
- No matter how tired we've been this week, M and I have been trying to set out for work a little earlier than usual for a couple of mornings just so we can stroll together in the morning sunshine, catching up with each other before we go our separate ways into work - he to Fleet Street, me to Oxford Street: walking through Fitrovia, through Covent Garden. We've both got some early meetings for the next two days but when we next get the chance we'd like to stroll through the quiet, leafy squares between Russell Square and the British Museum, and through Chinatown too. I can't think of a nicer way to start my day - well, I can, and we do, but... blush.
- Beth at The Cassandra Pages recently celebrated 26 years of marriage. I asked her to post on what it took to grow a marriage to 26 years; another commenter asked her to post on what not to do in marriage. Beth quoted her grandmother's words of wisdom: "If you and he think you'll always be glad to see each other and have something to say to each other when you wake up in the morning, and don't go to bed angry with each other, you'll be OK." Whole books are written on the subject and yet here is the secret of all good relationships in a nutshell.
On a related note, it annoys me when married people ask me how married life is treating me and then respond with "Oh, just you wait, it's all downhill from here". Some are jesting of course, but not all. So it was refreshing when I was sharing my irritation with a male colleague the other day. He's been married several years and he said marriage is the best thing he's ever done - despite the inevitable low points. He said that when people respond in a consistently negative way he wonders why the hell they got married in the first place. Or why they stay married.
- Madrasi Chick wrote of her frustration at seeing this on the back cover of George Alagiah's book, where the BBC newscaster is described as "From an immigrant boy to an English man". The phrase wound me up too. As I commented on her blog, I resent the implication of 'progress' being made. I also dislike the implication that identity is linear and straightforward. Most people have many identities residing within them. My own parents, for example, were born and brought up in India, came to the UK as immigrants and in the 1980s became British for a variety of reasons. Today, they see themselves as Indian, as British, as immigrants, as settled British nationals (as parents, as spouses, as professionals, as middle class, as... etc etc).
- This month's Good Food magazine has some lovely recipes for us to try this week: last night we made teriyaki beef and lettuce cups, tonight we're having pasta with parsley and hazelnut pesto, and tomorrow we'll most probably make the halloumi salad with orange and mint.
- Tommy has bought an old Cranks vegetarian recipe book and has blogged a wonderful recipe for wholemeal cheese bread. I once owned this book and her posts on it took me right back to my teenage years as a vegetarian and then as a vegan. I often used to eat at Cranks in London - their branch off Carnaby Street had an amazing help yourself buffet counter with phenomenal sprouted bean salads, lentils, smelly cheeses and wholemeal baps. Masala Zone is there now. I was an ethical vegetarian back then and I wonder now if I would have needed to give up meat had there been the abundance of free-range, organic and "humanely" slaughtered meat there is today. I resumed eating meat because my uncle tempted me with Italian salami and bacon at a New Year party in New Delhi - but I think I was ready after 11 years to eat meat again.
- I never have time to watch as much TV as I'd like, but I've been catching some Indian-related programmes on Replay: Anjum Anand's Indian Food Made Easy. I hate to compare, but it's difficult not to, but she's just a little bit more down-to-earth than Nigella Lawson. She wears an awful lot of makeup though. I want to see more of her family - especially her little girl. Sanjeev Bhaskar's trip through India. It's annoying when he makes comments such as how he experiences "a million exotic smells and colours" and how he finds it "unbelievably chaotic" but it's great seeing India behind the flacid commentary. And a documentary on the changes taking place in Calcutta. All part of the BBC's India & Pakistan 07 series. India should "turn 60" more often.
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
The blazing hot Saturday began with passionfruit plus almond croissants, chocolate brioche, chocolate croissants, and kaiser rolls from a newly-opened Hungarian bakery in our neighbourhood. They weren't that special actually - the dough all tasted the same, as if they had all been baked from the same generic mixture. But the company of M and his sister S in our sunny kitchen was a lovely start to the day.
We bade S farewell, and went to the Japan Centre to pick up our Japan Rail passes, a Japanese point and say phrase book and a Tokyo street map with points of interest as well as street maps as we think this will serve us better when trying to find our way around.
At the ICA, we lunched on Paulaners, Budvars and thick handcut chips so dramatically piled up in the bowl that our neighbouring table were compelled to order them too. It's such a coincidence that just the other day I'd converted old Super 8 footage of my Indian parents' life in 1970s Britain...
In 1965, I For India director Sandhya Suri's father Yash arrived from India as a newly-qualified doctor with his wife and young daughter. As he adjusted to life in virtually all-white Darlington, in the north of England, he bought two movie cameras. He kept one and sent the other back to his family in India. For the next 40 years, he exchanged "cine letters" with his family in Meerut: he showing footage of snow, trips to the supermarket, women in mini skirts smoking at parties in his house, and his growing family playing in the garden or on the beach; his family responding with footage of weddings, festivals and general day-to-day life back home. Accompanying these reels were audio tape, to be played alongside the film footage. These offered moving, joyful and frustrated commentary. Yash expressed his joy at seeing his family continue to live their lives in Meerut, his father shed audible tears missing his son and begged him to return, Yash's daughter singing songs she had learned at school, her grandmother expressing puzzlement why her father couldn't return "home" and set up a clinic.
The audio and footage was edited in such a way that the overarching narrative felt like an old-school discourse on race and alienation. Whereas I am sure Yash's life in Britain was also filled with laughter and belonging. I wanted to see more of the joy, the fun, the friendships, the settling in that my parents experienced as Indian professionals in Britain. I wanted more of Yash's everyday life in England to shine through. Alienation and conflict aren't the only narratives of immigrant life in Britain.
Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and came away with a determination to start filming my own life, and that of my family, in Britain more regularly for a future generation. I am also resolved to hunt down M's family film archive. These films are our histories and we must preserve them.
Feeling peckish, we ate blood-red sorbets and custard tarts, and drank coffees at our favourite Fernandez & Wells in Soho. This place truly does the best coffee in London. Then I browsed for Bengali-English dictionaries at language shop Grant & Cutler, for my Dad who's been asking for one. He's busy writing down his memories of childhood in Assam for me and finds a Bengali-English dictionary useful, even though he's fluent in both languages.
And then to an early dinner of Singapore laksa - rice vermicelli noodles in a spicy coconut soup with prawns, fish cakes and shredded chicken - for me, and nasi goreng - special fried rice with chicken, shrimp, fried egg and satay sauce - for M at Melati on Peter Street in Soho. We've both been past this little hidden gem so many times but never eaten there. We felt like we were in Singapore or Indonesia or Malaysia - it was hot and sticky, the ceiling fans whirred busily, the walls were painted that familiar turquoise green you get all over Asia, the owners were busy eating in an adjoining table and rickshaws were whizzing by outside.
We'd eaten early because we were heading out to The O2 and previous experience had told us it was unwise to try and eat there due to the queues. We ventured out to deepest, darkest North Greenwich to see the campest heterosexual I've ever seen - Prince. In his white suit, black fedora and stacked heels, he appeared from beneath the stage in a cloud of white smoke and we all jumped to our feet in unholy awe. For the next few hours he had us writhing in the sexy palm of his hand, wreaking glorious, melodic havoc, slithering and prancing around the vast squiggle-shaped stage singing all his hits. Raspberry Beret, Purple Rain, Nothing Compares 2U, Little Red Corvette, U Got The Look, Controversy, Kiss with an updated lyric "You don't have to watch Big Brother, to have an attitude."
"London! I am here. Where are you? Did you miss me?" Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes!
On Sunday morning, I had barely calmed down by the time we met M's sister and strolled out into the blazing hot sunshine for croissants from Yasir Halim and fruit smoothies from Antepliler on Green Lanes. We collapsed in the park, eating, chatting, reading the Sunday papers and people watching for several hours. In the afternoon, M and I headed out to St Albans where friends were hosting a BBQ party for me. And we chilled for several more hours, playing with assorted children, chatting, tucking into barbecued chicken, pitta and houmous, loads of different homemade salads, ice cream and fruit pies. M made a knockout sangria that all the children wanted to have too!
I got some lovely presents. M bought me a pretty red Comme Des Garson wallet, a great book on contemporary Indian photography called India Now, and a handbag is in the pipeline - I just have a choose it - at the moment I'm thinking Ally Capellino as the leather is so soft. I also got some Japanese-themed gifts - cookery books, engraved chop sticks, sushi bowls... And book tokens which I always love and can't wait to go book shopping soon.
A lovely birthday weekend.
Sunday, August 05, 2007
Perhaps it's because I'm a woman - that despite the changes in society, the perception still bubbles away under the surface that a woman's power diminishes with each year.
Perhaps it's because I can see middle age advancing more quickly from the horizon now.
Perhaps it's as silly as the fact that my age is now composed of two odd numbers.
Perhaps it's because I've got so much more to lose now. God knows, this past year has been truly transformative and affirming. I feel truly blessed. I have my full health, I have my loving family, I have an exciting job that pays me well, I have a sexy and intelligent and fun husband. I have a good life.
On top of it all, the people I most admire in life are older and I value the wisdom that comes with age.
And yet, and yet.
My birthday weekend so far has been so much fun - Dinner at Roka, a movie at the ICA, a Singaporean and Indonesian meal in Soho, Prince at The O2 (my oh my, I'm still giddy and breathless), breakfast in the park, BBQ with my closest friends later today, lots of presents - and I will write about it soon. For now though, I just wanted to get these feelings out on digital paper.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
- I'm writing this bleary eyed at 5.30am in the morning. Have been up for a few hours. I couldn't sleep, I still can't sleep, and I have a breakfast meeting and three proposals to write today. How am I going to keep my eyes open today?
- Gorgonzola, broccoli and pasta tonight for dinner - I'm already dreaming of it.
- All week, our tummies have been filled with juicy peaches, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, pineapples and watermelon.
- Be still, and know that I am God. Still my favourite mantra in the middle of a hectic day, even though I don't care for the rest of the psalm.
- It's my birthday on Friday!
- A post I read recently made me think about manifesting for a good relationship. I never had the patience to do this when I was sans M and single, but a friend of mine years ago, who had been single for several years, found a picture of her ideal relationship and meditated regularly on the image. She also made a list of all the qualities she wanted in a partner and meditated on that too. After a short time, that image of her ideal relationship materialised for her in the shape of the man who is now her now husband.
- I usually try and make the effort to take a packed lunch into work each day, but this and last week I've been enjoying some lovely lunches from Crussh - summer porridge with berry compote, pomegranate chicken and spiced brown rice salad with a yoghurt and mint dressing, sweet pepper and Moroccan chicken salad with sun-dried tomatoes and basil, hemp and sunflower seed organic yoghurt... Today I may try one of their super-healthy-sounding health pots - perhaps beetroot, chickpeas and fresh coriander, or perhaps organic grated carrot, pumpkin seeds, sultanas and cranberries in a flaxseed oil and mustard dressing.
- My presentation to clients yesterday went extremely well. They work in the luxury end of the food industry and eat in Michelin-starred restaurants virtually every day, and yet they said that when they go out for pleasure it is to small, independent, ethnic restaurants such as Indian or Thai. One of the guys said he likes nothing better than eating tinned Heinz spaghetti hoops for dinner after a day of eating fancy food! Luckily, they seemed to enjoy my choice of dinner venue - Sardinian restaurant Sardo. For starters, I ate carpaccio di manzo - finely sliced fillets of beef marinated in extra virgin olive oil, lemon and fresh herbs, served with rocket leaves and pecorino shavings. For mains, I ate tonno alla griglia - grilled fresh tuna steak served with rucola and tomatoes. And my dessert was an amaretto sponge cake with nougat ice cream.
It was wonderful meeting people as crazy about food as I me. They too plan their holidays around what they like - or would like - to eat!
- I finally got my parents' cine 8 reels of childhood home movie footage converted to DVD. The transfer cost a whopping £200 for just 1 hour and 25 minutes but it's for their 40th wedding anniversary on the 15th of August, so it's completely worth it. M has been having fun watching his wife as a 1 year old and it's been wonderful for me to see how glamourous my parents and their Indian friends looked all those years ago - having dinner parties and going on day trips to the seaside or to the country. It strikes me that footage of middle class Indian life in 60s and 70s Britain must be so rare.