Monday, December 28, 2009

Popping in and out

Hello, Merry Christmas one and all. I am just popping in to say that although I am not blogging at the moment (in the New Year, I promise), I am Tweeting. So for those of you who read my blog via a feed reader, here is the link for my updates:

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The other side

Oh my goodness, I've been so busy being surprised at how Little Planet has hit her "terrible twos" 7 months early that I've not had time to absorb quite how much her speaking has come on by leaps and bounds. She's close to 18 months old and she's trying out sentences. She points to the door and says "Let's go out!" She points downstairs and says "Mummy get milk!" And she's been saying "Off we go!" for a while now. I was an early talker. She's taking after her mum :-)

On a separate note, I've been super busy at work and may have a few work trips in Europe as we approach Christmas so I may not have the energy or time to blog. Suffice to say, life will be the usual mixture of going out, eating well, working, playing with Little P (and ducking her tantrums!) and working again.

See you on the other side!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

2 day week

I was off work for the first two days of the week just gone. I was supremely lazy and didn't even leave the house (or change out of my sweat pants). Here's what I did:
  • After M left with Little Planet to go to daycare and then work, I washed up the breakfast dishes and then... well that was the extent of my domestic duties for the day!
  • I blogged
  • I finished reading Jeffrey Eugenides' superlative, Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex. The novel begins: "I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkable smogless Detroit day in January 1960, and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974"
  • I read all the weekend newspapers (FT, Observer and Herald Tribune)
  • I ate hot buttered toast (homemade rye bread with caraway seeds) and vegetable soup, plus lots of chocolate chip cookies
  • I responded to urgent work emails (I had no choice)
  • I watched Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in the elegant movie Guess Who's Coming To Dinner while outside the wind howled and the rain poured down in sheets
It's nice to have days of solitude like these - so good for the soul.

Yesterday was Friday. Both M and I took the day off as annual leave. Compared to the first two days of the week when I stayed at home, this day was a busy day. After dropping Little Planet off at daycare we:
  • Headed to the Southbank and ate hearty breakfasts at Giraffe: M had huevos rancheros and I ate a full cooked English breakfast. The food was delicious but it's such a shame that only restaurant chains exist on the Southbank
  • Then onto the Hayward gallery for the bright, bold and brilliant Ed Ruscha exhibition (photo above)
  • Walked back over the river and caught a bus to the Royal Academy for the playful, colourful and extremely busy Anish Kapoor exhibition
  • Down to the White Cube at Mason's Yard to see Damien Hirst's latest paintings (which seemed to me like modern day versions of Francis Bacon as re-envisioned by the Chapman Brothers - in other words, wholly derivative)
  • Lunched on delicious handmade-noodle soup at Baozi Inn in Chinatown (photo below)
  • Afterwards, we went to the Covent Garden Odeon to see the Coen Brothers' latest movie The Serious Man - a fantastic black comedy
  • Stocked up on tea at Postcard Teas and provisions (fresh fish, cheeses, wine) at the John Lewis Food Hall
  • Headed back home to pick up Little Planet and then meet my mother-in-law who has just returned from a long holiday in Chille and Argentina and is staying with us for the weekend
  • While M and his mum prepared Little Planet for bed, I took a cab to the Sadler's Wells Theatre to see Akram Khan and Nitin Sawhney perform Confluence - a highly-emotive performance that fused Sawhney’s music with Khan’s contemporary spin on classical kathak dance. I've lost count how many times I've seen Akram Khan (photo top) - blog posts collated here - and I try not to miss a show.
So what a week. In all I was at work for just two days. I dread the amount of work I have to catch up on on Monday (I'm trying not to look at my emails, which is difficult considering they are all on my iPhone). And now the weekend is here - and the sun is actually shining!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Weekend bullets

  • In Paris for a client meeting all day. More client meetings due in Hamburg and Rome over the next month, fingers crossed. I like travelling on business. M is in Madrid for work this week, so I will miss him. He'll be in Amsterdam and some other cities over the next month also so we have to plan all our work trips carefully so one of us is always at home for Little Planet.
  • Points Of View: Capturing The 19th Century In Photographs exhibition at the British Library. Rarely seen photographs and a very detailed history. Even Little Planet enjoyed some of the photos, particularly the ones depicting baboon locomotion (she made monkey sounds to show her appreciation).
  • Coffee and cake at the Wellcome Institute and a run around for Little Planet.
  • Big tantrums on the Tube journey back home (Little Planet, not us, though I felt like tantruming back in response). The "terrible twos" are starting, seven months too early! I now keep chanting, "It's a phase, it's a phase".
  • Cheese on toast back home while outside it began to pour with rain.
  • Afternoon nap for us all.
  • The rest of the afternoon spent baking pizza bases, bread and blueberry muffins, doing laundry, hoovering the house, reading the papers and playing.
  • Charlie And Lola bedtime story for Little Planet - she's just getting into these books and us two adults find them enjoyable too.
  • Homemade pizzas for dinner after Little Planet went to bed.
  • Movie after dinner was the Coen brothers' hilarious Burn After Reading.
  • The motto for Sunday was "Don't shop with a full wallet and no sense!" After complaining to M that Little Planet has too many toys and that she would be getting more at Christmas from friends and family, I walked into the Early Learning Centre in Brent Cross with my mum and came out with 5 bags full of toys for Little Planet's Christmas.
  • However, over the past three or four months I've packed away alot of her toys (she gets given alot) and I rotate toys every few weeks rather than having them all out. This way she discovers her old toys afresh. I've also passed on many toys to others. And M and I haven't personally bought her toys for months.
  • Also, the toys I bought at the ELC were much needed ones completely appropriate to her age: she's drawing now so I bought her some craft and arts things, she's playing more imaginatively with toy animals so I bought her some small animal figurines, she's manipulating objects with greater dexterity so I bought her a toy piano, she's playing throw and catch and chase (even by herself) with a ball so I bought her a bouncy ball...
  • Now that she is exclusively walking now (and running) I can dress her up in more dresses. I don't like flouncy, frilly pink things, so I pretty much shop online or at Green Baby, Bonpoint and Baby Gap for her things. On Sunday, I bought her a number of denim, cord and cotton tunic dresses, including the one below.
  • The rest of the day was spent at home with Little Planet - my mum visited as did Little Planet's Granddad on M's side.
  • Homemade pizzas again for dinner.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Things to do

Our busy weekend began on Friday night when M returned home with fish and chips, which we ate in front of the TV (recordings of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Breaking Bad). My working week had been particularly stressful due to having to work with a particularly controlling and obstructive colleague, so vegging out mindlessly felt so good.

Saturday began with hot croissants at home. An old friend of mine was meeting us for brunch at Carluccio's in the Brunswick Centre at Russell Square, but as it was raining so hard and Little Planet had ripped the only raincover we have for the buggy, M and Little Planet could not come out so I went alone to meet him. We both lectured together at university but whereas I moved career into advertising, he has remained in academia and is doing very well. He ordered scrambled eggs and I had a fruit salad and we caught up for an hour.

We separated at the British Museum where he went on to meet another friend and I took a cab to the White Cube in Hoxton to see Anselm Kiefer's The Fertile Crescent exhibition (photo above). Kiefer was inspired by a trip to India where he was taken by the sun-dried mud bricks of rural brick factories. The smell of thick, encrusted oil paint filled the gallery and was heady and earthy. It's been a few weeks since I've visited a gallery and I really needed this emotive hit of Kiefer - one of my favourite painters.

It was raining so hard that I cabbed it back into central London, to the Courtauld where they were exhibiting Frank Auerbach's abstract oil paintings of post-war London building sites (photo above). Like Kiefer, these weighty, gutsy paintings with thickly layered paint really got took my breath away.

It was still raining when I left the gallery but I decided to walk to Piccadilly where the second part of Anselm Kiefer's exhibition continued in the White Cube's Mason's Yard gallery - this time featuring monumental forest diptychs and triptychs enclosed in glass vitrines.

I tried to see Anish Kapoor's show at the Royal Academy Of Arts, but the queue was a mile long (despite, or perhaps because of, the rain) so I decided instead to search for a raincover for Little Planet's Bugaboo Bee buggy. I called Mothercare and Selfridges but they had sold out. I was fortunate in John Lewis - they too had sold out of the raincover but they graciously gave me a good-as-new display model for free. While I was there I also picked up some Neal's Yard baby balm which is so good for Little Planet's nappy rash whilst she's teething her big molars. Then down to Carnaby Street where I bought some Kiehl's products from Liberty and some candles from Muji.

Finally, I ate a late lunch (at 2.30pm) at Masala Zone, where I ate a vegetable thali and got talking to a nice elderly Indian couple from Barnes (south London) seated next to me about Anish Kapoor, iPhones and disabled parking in central London. I've eaten at a wide variety of Indian restaurants - from cheap to expensive - but Masala Zone and Rasa are still my favourites.

I came home in time for Little Planet's dinner time. M had spent a lovely day with our daughter - going to the park, playing and also doing loads of things around the house, including baking bread. Later on, M made homemade mayonnaise and crab cakes which he served with a salad dressed in homemade sesame seed dressing. It was delicious.

This Sunday morning, the weather was bright and sunny so M and I took Little Planet to the British Museum. We saw the The Power Of Dogu exhibition of small ceramic figures from ancient Japan (photo above) and the exhibition of Mexican Revolutionary Prints. At 10am, both exhibition rooms were virtually empty which was wonderful for the three of us as Little Planet was able to toddle around to her heart's content and M and I were also then able to really focus on the exhibits. Little Planet found alot to interest her in the exhibitions as we encouraged her to identify ears, eyes, noses, chins, mouths, hair, feet and hands on each of the Dogu statues and also on some of the people depicted in the Mexican prints. She really enjoyed this activity. Then we took her to the fountains in Russell Square.

The rest of the day was spent at home. All three of us napped after lunch for an hour then M planted Spring bulbs in the back garden whilst Little Planet played throwing and fetching balls on the lawn and I was upstairs sorting laundry. Little Planet watched Supernanny with me (!!) and then some CBeebies and then we all played before a family dinner of roast chicken, sweet potatoes, sweetcorn and broccoli.

This is the first time we've eaten dinner together. Because Little Planet goes to bed at 7pm she has her dinner at 5pm - this is too early for M and I but we thought for once we would give a shared family dinner at 5pm a try. It was too early for us and I didn't really enjoy the meal; also Little Planet does not eat well when she has an audience (such as people sitting at the table with her) so she hardly ate a thing. Oh well, at least we tried and we will try it again periodically.

Now she's in bed and because we've already eaten, we have a good four hours stretching ahead of us before our own bedtime. Such a long time not punctuated by meal preparation and eating! What shall we do with the time? I'm sure we'll think of loads of things.

Hope you all had a good weekend too.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Being a hermit

Saturday saw much lovelier weather so we spent most of the day outside in the fresh air. We took Little Planet to London Zoo in the morning. She particularly enjoyed staring at the gorillas and walking through the butterfly enclosure. Then we spent the afternoon with her in the park. Sunday was spent shopping locally for groceries and visiting with my mum.

I've been super busy at work. I'm going through a number of end-of-year reviews with clients, even though it's still only November. And as the year end is fast approaching, I'm also doing some client entertaining planning. This year, I am not looking forward to the client entertaining season. Perhaps it's because I am busier than ever, perhaps it's because I am more tired, perhaps it's because I no longer enjoy drinking as much now that morning lie-ins are a thing of the past, or maybe it's simply a phase I am going through... but right now, I can think of nothing better than snuggling in at home with M. I don't want to go out and socialise.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Cooped up

We had another very low key weekend. Saturday morning was spent in the park; the afternoon was spent napping, playing at home and sorting through paperwork in the study. We all ate well - Little Planet devoured pasta with a cheese and tomato sauce for lunch, and scrambled eggs and peas for dinner. M baked rye bread with caraway seeds and also a lemon sponge cake. For dinner, he grilled venison steaks and we ate them with roasted cauliflower with capers and sauteed potatoes. In all, Saturday was blissfully languid.

Sunday was altogether a very different day. For a start, it poured with rain; it was so blustery that we couldn't go out with the buggy. So we hunkered down inside all day. At first I thought, "How wonderful, we can snuggle in all day and be supremely lazy!" But I developed a painful stomach ache from the previous night's venison; I subsisted on white buttered toast all day and lay prone on the sofa. And all three of us suffered from cabin fever - we whinged and whined to some extent all day long. I think Little Planet in particular disliked being cooped up all day inside. It's part of her daily routine to be outside for a few hours each day. Fortunately my mum came round in the afternoon so Little Planet was relatively happy being distracted by her "Gramma".

My stomach still hurts, but I'm at work now so I am being distracted from the pain.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

All about sleeping

Having been away for a week in New York, rushing around doing lots of fun things, all I felt like doing this weekend just gone was staying at home and chilling.

Unfortunately, my daughter had other plans for us all (as children do!). She has most of her teeth now but teething has had little impact on her good, deep, night time sleep thus far. But now the poor little thing is teething one set of her big molars, so she was wide awake screaming at 5am on Saturday and was inconsolable (immune to cuddling, Calpol and sleeping in our bed). So that's when the day started for us.

In truth it was fine because she is such a delight and we knew we could all catch up on sleep later in the day. However, the early start meant a very stressful morning as she wasn't ready to nap but at the same time was extremely cranky so not much chilling got done. She finally napped (as did we) for an hour or so after lunch. Thereafter, fully rested, she was a dream child - happy, playing, rested, chilled. The afternoon turned out to be wonderful.

She woke up screaming at 4am on Sunday, but thankfully went back to sleep within minutes of me giving her some magic potion (= Calpol!). Then she slept on another few hours. Consequently, Sunday was wonderful for all of us as she was fully rested. We simply played with her all day long. And in the afternoon, after her post-lunch nap, my mum came to visit her. My mum also bought M and I dinner for that night - homecooked chana dal curry and cauliflower curry. So delicious that we had to eat it again on Monday night (rather than freezing).

Honestly, life with my daughter is just so much fun (much more fun than when she was a baby). She's got a cracking sense of humour, laughs all the time, chatters away non-stops and her vocabulary is growing by the day. She can point to things and correctly name them eg leaves, trees, cars, bin, bib, books, flowers - she pointed to a buttercup in our garden and said, "Flower!" and then she pointed to a nasturtium and also identified it as a "Flower!"... She saw a photo of a boy and said, "Boy!", and she saw both her Grandmothers in a photo and she exclaimed, "Gramma!" It was particularly sweet when we were leafing through a photo album together and we came across a photo of the three of us together. She pointed to the image of M and exclaimed, "Daddy!", she pointed to the image of me and said, "Mummy!" and then she stopped at the image of herself and hesitated, really staring at it. M said, "Who's that?" And she replied, "Baby!"

She also now enjoys pointing to animals and imitating the sounds they make: "Woof woof" when she sees a dog, "Squeak, squeak" when she sees a mouse, "rrrbit, rrrbit" when she sees a frog, "meeeooow" for a cat... When she sees a lion, she flings her arms back, thrusts out her face, opens her mouth wide and really roars!

She loves dancing to music - she stomps her feet and shakes her body and flaps her arms around. The other day I caught her trying to imitate a woman doing a yoga pose on TV (the tree pose, incidentally). She also enjoys pretending to read - she'll open a book up and look at the words and babble away as if she is reciting a nursery rhyme (sing song style) then turn the page over and repeat. It's very endearing.

Life is more difficult too. As a baby, she was far more mobile - we could, generally, take her anywhere. But now she has a mind of her own. If she's decided she doesn't want to be somewhere, she makes her feelings known loudly. If she doesn't want to eat or do something then she will emphatically say (or shout, or cry) "No!" and turn away. We don't push her too much if she doesn't want to do something. I recognise that at the moment she cannot be reasoned with so I have little choice but to go with the flow. Going with the flow is a learning experience for me!

She also really fights going to sleep in the buggy when we are out and about - there is too much for her to see and do and she doesn't want to miss out on all the fun. It means we can no longer go out for longer than a couple of hours at a time before she is beside herself with tiredness but refusing to nap and so is hysterical. It's okay. It's just a phase. Eventually her stamina will build and she will no longer need to nap anyway.

Sunday afternoon ended with M carving out a happy Halloween pumpkin for Little Planet (photo above). We lit it and switched off all the lights. We kept switching the lights on and off because she was so excited by it all - she was literally shaking with excitement.

Sunday night was a little better for her and us in terms of sleep. She is usually a deep sleeper at night (a light sleeper during the day) and regular readers of this blog know that she started to sleep through the night from 12 weeks old (generally 7 to 7 or 7 to 6.30). But teething makes her night sleep much lighter and more broken, so on Sunday night she was roused from her sleep just by M and I going to bed at 11pm. She cried for a minute and then went back to sleep so we didn't need to go into her. She also cried out at 2am in the morning but fortunately went back to sleep after a minute so again I didn't need to go to her. Unfortunately I was, then, wide awake and it took me an hour to get back to sleep!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

New York minute #3

Monday was our last day in New York and we began the day by packing our bags and checking out of our very cool Hotel On Rivington. We headed over to Battery Park and boarded a packed ferry to the Statue of Liberty (our first visit ever despite numerous visits to NYC). Then we walked alongside the Hudson River to Tribeca for an early lunch at Bar Artisanal. There we ate the very best cheeseburgers, fries and craft beers in beautiful surroundings. Bar Artisanal is truly a great place to eat and Tribeca itself has numerous good restaurants and cafes. We'll explore more when we next visit New York. Afterwards, we walked off our lunch by strolling through Central Park in the glorious sunshine. But dodging the hundreds of determined joggers was hard work! We escaped onto 5th Avenue and did a last bout of shopping in Barneys department store before heading back to the hotel to pick up our bags and a cab to the airport.

Returning to London on Tuesday morning was bittersweet: we were sad that our vacation was over and were very tired from the overnight flight, but we were excited about seeing our baby daughter again. When we arrived at our house, we napped for a couple of hours. M's wonderful mother had already cleaned the house and done all the laundry. After our quick sleep, we picked Little Planet up early from daycare. As soon as she saw us she shouted, "Daddy!" then "Mummy!" and jumped into M's arms. It was lovely!

And now it's back to reality again and work, work, work, play, work, work, work, play. Still, we have the weekend to look forward to and we plan on doing nothing but chill out at home with our daughter.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

New York minute #2

Apart from the sheer buzz and energy of the place, eating is a primary reason for us to stay on the Lower East Side when we come to New York. There are some seriously good bars and restaurants to eat at here. You already know about Schiller's Liquor Bar where we ate and drank on our first night. On Friday, we dined at wd-50 on Clinton Street. To start off with, I had eggs benedict (photo above) and M ordered hanger tartare with smoked almonds, banana and hibiscus. Then I ordered the scallops with pine needle udon, grapefruit dashi and Chinese broccoli. M ordered the duck breast, Worcestershire spaetzle, parsley root and mustard greens. For desserts, I devoured the sake sorbet with licorice and Bartlett pear, and M chowed down on the soft chocolate with peppermint ice cream, black cardamom and toffee. Everything was exquisitely fresh and light and perfectly portioned.

On Saturday, we dined at The Stanton Social on Stanton Street, which encourages diners to share several small dishes. So we chose: Stone-ground blue corn crabcake corn dogs; lobster paella cakes with chorizo and artichoke salad; grilled cheese slider with Cheddar, house-cured jalapeño bacon, fried green tomato and lemon aioli; Rhode Island-style lobster roll; butternut squash and sweet potato ravioli with vanilla brown butter and candied pecans; charred squid lettuce wraps with spicy papaya kimchi, miso mayo and jalapeño-soy; grilled hanger steak with a smoked paprika crust, caramelized onions, potato and chive tater tots and Spanish bravas sauce; and finally roasted beets with lavender honey and goat cheese. Once again the food was achingly fresh and delicious. On a Saturday night in LES, the place was heaving so the atmosphere was terrific.

And on Sunday night, we ate at Freemans, which is at the end of Freeman Alley off Rivington Street. Surrounded by taxidermy on the walls and immersed in candlelight, we started with hot artichoke dip with crisp bread, and shrimp and grits with bacon, shallots and green pepper puree. For our main dishes, M chose a stew of Colorado lamb with butternut squash and grit cake, and I chose a Hudson Valley duck breast with local mustard greens and a Concord grape reduction. I couldn't resist a dessert of sweet potato pie and buttermilk ice cream. M had his first sour mash. The place was heaving and it was a lot of fun.

Aside from eating on the LES, we ate a lovely lunch on Saturday at the Austro-German Cafe Sabarsky in the Neue Galerie on Fifth Avenue. We always eat here when we come to New York because the food is excellent, the atmosphere is lovely and the cafe is close to the Met. The long queue to get in was worth it for the bratwurst mit sauerkraut and röstkartoffeln (roasted sausage with Riesling sauerkraut and roasted potatoes) that we ate. For dessert, M ordered sachertorte (Viennese dark chocolate cake with house-made apricot confiture) and I ordered milchrahmstrudel (Quark cheese strudel with vanilla sauce).

Beforehand, we had explored the new American wing at The Metropolitan Museum and saw Robert Frank's The Americans exhibition there (photo above). As always, the photos were amazing. I loved the way he focused in on people to describe a larger event - such as close-ups of politicians' faces or an orator at a political rally rather than the crowds at the rally itself; or close-ups of a few attendees at a funeral rather than a typical funeral scene such as a casket being carried or lowered surrounded by mourners. I was most intrigued to learn that Frank was friends with Beats such as Kerouac and Ginsburg, and to later "alternative figures" such as Sam Shepard and Patti Smith.

Afterwards, we visited The New York Public Library (photo above). M and I have both been blessed by opportunities to study in some wonderful libraries - the Bodleian in Oxford, the British Library in London and the reading room of the British Museum also in London. But none have been open to the general public. So it was a real pleasure to see the beautiful NYPL building.

The rest of Saturday was spent shopping along Fifth Avenue, culminating in a visit to toy shop FAO Schwarz where we bought Little Planet a couple of Charlie and Lola stuffed dolls and several books from Barefoot Books (photo left) - I love this publishing company because their books are very colourful and bold and also multicultural. Incidentally, both Barefoot and Charlie/Lola are British companies/brands.

On Sunday, we visited the Witney Museum of American Art, which disappointed us with its meagre collection. I wanted to see more Edward Hoppers, more Winslow Homers, more Franz Klines and Andy Warhols and Jasper Johns... more of everything.

Afterwards, we stopped off for coffee and pastries in a lovely independent cafe on Lexington called Corrado Bread & Pastry. And then we browsed the big stores Bloomingdale's, Bergdorf Goodman and Macy's (the latter of which disappointed - it was so rundown).

Then we became real tourists and climbed up to the top of the Empire State Building. What a view - we giggled and took photos and tried to identify buildings and our hotel. We felt like kids! I can't wait to take Little Planet up there one day (photo above). And then we came back to the LES for diner in Freemans, but I've already mentioned that.

More soon...

Friday, October 16, 2009

A New York minute #1

It's 4.45pm and we're back in our hotel to catch our breath before dinner. M's having a bath and I'm reading Sarah Napthali's exquisite book Buddhism For Mothers Of Young Children - Becoming A Mindful Parent.

We've just come back from 5th Avenue, where M bought some shirts from Brooks Brothers. Before that, we were on Bleeker Street having lunch with a friend from university who usually teaches at Harvard but is doing a year's research at NYU so is now living in the West Village. And before that, we were walking The High Line from Chelsea to the Meat Packing District - a 1.45-mile section of elevated freight railroad which has been redesigned and planted as a green and verdant parkway (photos above).

We've also seen some very good art shows today - Jeff Wall's pseudo-documentary photographs (photo above) at the Marian Goodman Gallery (staged images of a couple eating fries out of a paper bag, people lining up at pawn shop booths, a man siphoning fuel from a car, a man throwing knives at a garage wall, and more); Daido Moriyama-trained Keizo Kitajima's portraits of people on New York streets or in dive bars off the US Army base in Okinawa and of Tokyo drag queens, to name but a few, at the Amador Gallery; and Edward Burtysky's monumental photos of oil tankers, oil refineries, oil fields and other stark landscapes such as quarries and even an LA freeway interchange (photo below).

We'd arrived in NYC on Wednesday night. After we'd checked into the Hotel On Rivington, we headed to the excellent Schiller's Liquor Bar for steak and fries and beer. This is my fourth trip to New York, M's seventh and our third trip here together as a couple. Each time together, we have stayed at the Hotel On Rivington. It goes without saying that we love this city and if we ever had the choice to live and work outside of London, then it would be here in NYC. And we particularly love staying on the Lower East Side - this part of town has the same buzz and energy as London's Shoreditch or Hoxton, with a little bit of Brixton thrown in.

Yesterday, we walked through SoHo, shopping for clothes at Vince (where I bought some amazing quality knitwear as it had turned cold and rainy in NYC and I had arrived unprepared!), Thom Browne, and Odin which sells clothes from US designers (M bought a very cool, grey woolen Woolrich jacket designed by Daiki Suzuki - again, he was as unprepared as I was for the sudden downturn in the weather). We also stocked up on books and magazines at McNally Jackson on Mott Street, where purchases included two children's picture books based in NYC for Little Planet: Good Night New York City by Adam Gamble and Joe Veno, and Subway (right) by Anastasia Suen and Karen Katz - two very colourful and sweet books that I can't wait to read to my daughter when we get back home next week.

Food is a very important part of our trip. Before we arrived here, we'd pored over magazines such as Time Out New York, New Yorker and New York as well as guidebooks and the internet. We stopped off for very good coffee and raspberry thumbprint cookies at Ground Support on West Broadway, chilling out and people watching from a repurposed cedar wood bench and table. The cafe reminded me of my favourite London cafe Fernandez & Wells.

We knew we wanted to eat at Keste Pizzeria on Bleeker Street. We met up with one of my childhood friends for dinner there and we were blown away. This truly is terrific pizza and I want to eat there now for every meal! My friend was born and brought up in London but now works as a business development manager in NYC. He lives in Manhattan and loves it. It was good seeing him after so long. Earlier on in the day, we'd lunched at La Esquina Taqueria and Cafe in Nolita where we ate delicious Mexican food - sopa de tortilla (soup of shredded chicken, tomato, onion, ancho chile, cotija cheese and lime), huevos rancheros (a little too much sauce on this dish), and carne enchilada (soft corn tortillas with char-grilled adobo rubbed pork, grilled pineapple, onion, cilantro, salsa verde and lime).

After lunch we took a tour of two restored homes of two Eastern European Jewish families who lived in a tenement building at 97 Orchard Street at the turn of the 20th century. The tour was operated by the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and was incredibly detailed for just one hour. I highly recommend it.

And what did Little Planet do yesterday at home in London? Her two Grans are looking after her. They give us regular updates via texts, emails and calls. My baby is doing absolutely fine. Yesterday she was visited by a little 8 month old friend who lay on the floor while Little Planet stroked her hair, brought her endless toys and cooed "Baby, baby, baby!" Obviously my little baby is no longer a baby herself at 16 months but a little girl :-)

Of course I miss her terribly. M and I talk about her constantly as we stroll New York's streets. But this trip is so good for our marital soul. Each year, I think, we will go abroad just the two of us and let Little Planet enjoy quality time with her Grandmothers.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Life 2.0

My weekend began on Friday evening at 7pm. I had just put Little Planet to bed and had now settled down on the sofa with a novel (The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz). I love the hour or two of silence that descends between putting my daughter to bed and my husband returning home from work.

A couple of hours later and M came home bearing assorted pizzas from Princi which we ate with salad in front of the TV. We watched our recording of steamy, brooding vampire drama True Blood. Apart from the football, I can't remember the last time we watched TV in real time. We record everything - TV 2.0.

My Saturday began at 6.30am. I was wide awake, lying in bed, my mind racing with work thoughts while my husband and daughter were still fast asleep. A little later, everyone was up and while M and Little Planet ate their breakfast, I headed into town to get my hair done at Aveda in Holborn, central London. I was very annoyed, actually I was mad, at the Tube driver for ruining my attempt to read my book in peace by making endless announcements. The wonderful head massage I received at the salon, though, soon calmed me down.

I ate a stodgy vegetarian brunch at Neal's Yard Salad Bar - not the best vegetarian food I've eaten, though the soya banana milk shake was delicious. I bought Indian and Colombian coffee beans from the Monmouth Coffee Company in Covent Garden. Then I watched Pixar's new movie Up in glorious 3D in the Covent Garden Odeon. I found the film very poignant and I loved it though I wondered whether it was really suitable for some children. One boy - perhaps 6 years old - in the audience said loudly, "It's very sad, isn't it?" Another boy of a similar age was whimpering, "I'm scared Daddy, when will it finish." I admit that I cried a fair bit, but then again I am a big softie.

After the movie, I popped into Borders bookshop on Charing Cross Road to buy Parents and Real Simple magazines. Queuing up to pay, I couldn't resist being tempted by a bright yellow Mr Happy umbrella for Little Planet (photo top). Then off to Muji on Tottenham Court Road to buy candles, soap refills and notebooks. I took a bus up Oxford Street to Selfridges where I bought a DKNY grey cardigan and a John Smedley black cardigan for myself for colder weather. Finally, I ended up in John Lewis where I bought Mini A Ture lilac trousers for Little Planet, a bath mat, a mattress protector, a grey lambswool throw for one of our couches, plus cheeses, fruit and snacks from the Food Hall. Though I work in central London (off Oxford Street, in fact), I rarely have time to pop out and shop on this scale aside from weekends and days off.

Laden down with bags, I caught a cab home and spent the rest of the afternoon with Little Planet, M and my mother-in-law who is staying at our house for a week and a half to look after Little Planet when M and I go away to New York this Wednesday - our first holiday in two years!

Dinner was pan-fried cod with a hazelnut and caper crust, accompanied by sauteed potatoes and a salad of spring onions and tomatoes from our garden. Did I mention in a previous post that M's home cooking is one of my "best things in life"? One of my "worst things in life" (post to come) is washing up afterwards!

Sunday began, as all weekend mornings begin in the Planethalder household, with a big family cuddle in our huge, super-kingsized bed. Our weekend morning ritual is this: Little Planet wakes up and shouts out from her bedroom. One of us brings her into our room and changes her nappy whilst one of us goes downstairs to warm her milk and make coffee. Then one of us feeds her her milk in our bedroom whilst the other snuggles back into the bed. After her milk the three of us end up snuggling in our bed with the CBeebies channel on. It's a lovely routine.

Later, after breakfast, my mother-in-law and I took Little Planet to get her (fourth) haircut then we took her to visit her auntie and uncle who live nearby. M stayed at home to chill out in peace (though he also cleaned and hoovered the house, good man!). Little Planet snacked on almond croissants with us, plus blueberries and strawberries. Then I took her home for lunch. She hates being strapped into her buggy so she screamed most of the way - I tried to distract her with leaves and keys, which worked for a while. Her frustration with being in the buggy makes going out with her quite difficult, but we persevere as we have to go out. It's all a phase, so won't last. But it does stress me out hearing her getting so mad. Oh well.

On a positive note, for the first time ever she properly strung two meaningful words together - her Dad was walking out of the bedroom and she waved and said, very clearly, "Bye bye Daddy!" Mind you, she was saying "Off we go!" a couple of months ago when she was 13 months. New words she's said this week include, "blueberry" and "finished" (when she shows us her empty plate).

She ate a good lunch of pasta and tomato sauce, and then she went down for her nap. In the afternoon, my mum and dad came to visit, so Little Planet was in her element with her two Grandmums and her Granddad all showering her with attention. I had to work though, for a few hours, upstairs as I have a big presentation in Paris tomorrow (fortunately the trip can be done in a day so I will be back tomorrow night). M also had to work for an hour.

And now it's the evening. M made Little Planet a stew of sweetcorn and tomatoes, which went down well. He'll be roasting a chicken for our dinner. Then we'll settle in to chat, read the weekend papers, do a little packing, and watch some TV.

Another weekend over, but I am not sad because in two days' time we will be off to New York (have I mentioned that to you?!)!!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Best things in life...

  • When my daughter chuckles to herself at something she's doing or thinking
  • My husband's home cooking
  • Being immersed so deeply into a project that I lose track of time
  • Anticipating a holiday - as satisfying often as the holiday itself!
  • Coming out into daylight after watching a matinee movie in the cinema
  • The Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota - an hypnotic environment redolent with so many fond memories for me
  • Hot, buttery mash potatoes
  • Marmite on white buttered toast (always has to be butter)
  • An empty hour or three with a good book or the weekend newspapers
  • My mother's embrace - so comforting when I'm upset
  • The sound of silence
  • Very loud rock music
  • Bach's cello concertos - the only music that has brought me to tears with its beauty
  • All Stars or Converse sneakers - the best things for my feet
  • Trashy rom-com movies - my guilt pleasure
  • British weather - I truly love the unpredictability of it
  • A Sunday movie on DVD - I am really looking forward to the day Little Planet can curl up on the sofa and watch a movie with me
  • Living in London - every day here is an adventure and I can't imagine living anywhere else in Britain
  • Spontaneous hugs from my husband or daughter
  • DKNY t-shirts
  • John Smedley cardigans
  • Nicole Farhi jumpers
  • American Apparel baby clothes - bold colours and well made
  • Standing out in the garden at night when the world is hushed and breathing in the fresh chill air and looking at the stars
  • Freshly roasted Monmouth coffee
  • Napping
  • Dancing with my daughter
  • A foot massage from my husband
  • Snuggling... into my husband, into my baby, into a duvet
  • Being pregnant - I loved my hair, my skin, my body, feeling her move about inside me, the nesting, the dreaming... I felt so powerfully feminine
  • Pottering at home
So many more things, but this is it for now...

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Adult tantrums

Ever since I hit puberty, I have been blessed not to be cursed by my monthly periods. Yes, I have suffered a few cramps, a few spots and low level mood swings, but overall... nothing unbearable or dramatic. And certainly, over time even these low-level cramps and mood swings have disappeared.

So it was a shock to all when my temper turned exceedingly foul this weekend. Even my daughter and her constant babbling - usually so endearing (well, most of the time) turned me into a black-hearted witch. I was so irritable, all weekend; I couldn't stop moaning; and it got so bad that I even voiced the taboo phrase, "I wish I had never had a baby!".

Now, I am naturally quite quick-tempered. But I am also quick to calm down. I am going through a stressful pitching process at work. But again, what's not stressful about my job. I have a few medical worries too. But, these are part of my life now. I have a toddler who is expressing her independence. But she's a toddler and it's all part of normal development.

Despite my black mood, we managed to have a good(-ish) weekend. We walked down Marylebone High Street - buying winter clothes for Little Planet from Bonpoint, books from Daunt's, meat from The Ginger Pig and vegetables and cheese from La Fromagerie. We then walked down to Piccadilly and saw Subodh Gupta's amazing sculptures at the Hauser & Wirth gallery (all photos).

We ate some really good meals: on Saturday, rare fillet steaks and greens stir-fried with garlic; and tonight M is making Nigel Slater's pork chops with apples and cider. We saw my mum.

And we spent alot of time playing with Little Planet. Well, M did... I was in too dark a mood to do anything other than work (on a work presentation), lie prostrate on the couch and generally grumble and whinge like a toddler. Even my own toddler was better behaved than me this weekend.

I hope I snap out of this soon.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Make believe

Little Planet treated us to a lie in on Saturday, so we decided to treat ourselves and head into central London for brunch. We went to Carluccio's in the Brunswick and ate toast with fig jam, croissants and panetone which Little Planet particularly loved. She enjoyed a run around the place too, confidently chasing pigeons and tentatively edging towards and away from dogs.

We took her to the fountains in Russell Square, which amazed her. Then we headed into Covent Garden to buy coffee beans and a ceramic filter from Monmouth Coffee, wine from Oddbins, toiletries from Kiehl's, and assorted cheeses from Neal's Yard Dairy. Before heading home for lunch, we let Little Planet loose in the children's department of Foyles, where she enjoyed playing peekaboo with some 7- or 8-year old girls who were reading there. Inevitably we bought her some books, including Floella Benjamin's My Two Grannies - an utterly charming and funny picture book about a little girl and her two grannies - one from the Caribbean and one from Yorkshire.

It looks like that, at 15 months, Little Planet has gone down from two naps to one nap a day, after lunch, for around an hour and a half. So she was awake the entire time we were out in central London. Back at home, we fed her a lunch of pasta with cauliflower cheese followed by apple, then we put her down for her post-lunch nap. M and I also managed to have a nap! We woke her at 3 and then spent the rest of the afternoon playing and reading in the garden as the weather was so glorious. We also managed to do two loads of laundry.

After Little Planet went to bed, M made us pork chops with apple and horseradish sauce, accompanied by red cabbage and apple, and roasted cauliflower. I'm on the verge of a cold so I retired early to bed at 10pm and read Time Out's guide to New York. Just two and a half weeks to go!!!

Sunday - today - began at our usual time of 7am. After giving Little Planet her milk, M went out for a jog and I dusted and hoovered the entire house while Little Planet pottered about from room to room. She has discovered make believe play. She walks up and down the kitchen having long rambling conversations on her toy phone, concluding each call with "Okay, bye!". She also stirs food in her plastic saucepan with a wooden spoon and then feeds her dolly. She feeds her dolly a plastic bottle of milk. She tries to put socks and shoes on her dolly. She pretends to garden with her plastic gardening set. It's so delightful to watch. I am looking forward to alot of tea parties in the near future.

She ate her toast sitting on the back garden step while I hung out some washing which M had put on before he'd gone jogging. When M returned, he made us all scrambled eggs on toast. Then we went to the park. Lunch for Little Planet was red pesto pasta and peas, followed by peaches. M baked bread and washed down the kitchen floor and then Little Planet went down for her nap. Our lunch was freshly baked bread - still warm from the oven - and cheese. When Little Planet woke up, we washed her hair. We keep this to once a week because Little Planet gets hysterical having her hair washed. She hates it so much and I dread having to wash it.

My mum came to visit so the rest of the afternoon was spent chatting with her and sitting in the garden en famille. My mum's been busy with Durga puja here in London, but she still found time to make M and I some lamb and plum curry as well as some cauliflower curry. We'll eat them tomorrow night. We are all happy because my mum is bringing my dad permanently to London this week. He's got a place in a new care home just a few minutes from my mum's house.

My mum left for another puja. She's not particularly religious, but likes attending for the sociable aspects. We put Little Planet to bed and now I am roasting chicken thighs and legs with squash, red onions, sage leaves and whole garlic cloves for our dinner tonight. M will slow-cook some potatoes and spinach from our garden. We'll finish off with some homemade blueberry and apple crumble and Cornish ice cream.

Looking forward to it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sweating patience

It is an understatement to say that patience is not my strong point. But with M not home until 9pm tonight, I thought I would test my patience by attempting a borlotti bean and pancetta risotto. I've never cooked a risotto before.

At work today, in between a conference in the morning and back-to-back meetings in the afternoon, I dreamed of serenely chopping onions, celery and garlic, and sweating them on a gentle heat until they softened almost into a mush. I imagined myself flicking through the weekend papers in between stirs. I actually thought the activity of making risotto would be a calm, even meditative affair.

The reality isn't too far off. I've been reading the newspapers in between stirs. But, but, but I am anxious all the time, repeatedly returning to the stove to check nothing is browning too much or too fast. And I still haven't got round to the "slowly adding chicken stock" bit, which will, no doubt, test my patience further.

In short, I am already bored and wish I had decided on a stir fry instead.

Monday, September 21, 2009

These feet were made for walking

Little Planet had her first ever fitting for shoes on Saturday. We took her to John Lewis on Oxford Street and they measured her as size 4.5, width E. We bought her some red and tan Start-rite Dinky Tots (photo above) and some pink and plum Clarks Dizi Days (photo below). She looked so cute and grown up stomping around the children's department. She also looked very pleased with herself.
That afternoon, both her Grandmas came over to our house. We all spent the afternoon enjoying the warm and sunny weather in the garden. M's sister and her boyfriend also popped round later and, after Little Planet went to bed, we all ate roasted sea bream followed by blueberry clafoutis for dinner in celebration of both my mother-in-law's and sister-in-law's birthday.

Sunday morning was spent in the park - an expedition which has become so much more fun and enjoyable for M and I now that Little Planet is walking. She particularly enjoyed chasing after the pigeons!

Her vocabulary is growing by the day. New words she's been saying in the last week have included "keys", "shoes", "tractor", "cheese" and "wow". And when she sees her bedtime book Goldilocks, she says "Goldy"! She is quite the little communicator at 15 months. She also enjoys singing (not the words, but the tunes) - "Ba ba black sheep", "Row, row, row your boat" and the theme tune to "In the night garden". And I am teaching her David Bowie's "Starman" when she is in the bath, which she is beginning to pick up the tune to while we play with her bath toy star. She is also taking a great interest in dressing herself. She tries to put her socks on, as well as her bib and she also tries to put her arms inside the sleeves of her baby-gro or jacket.

After lunch, I left M baking bread and Little Planet having an afternoon nap and went with my mother-in-law and mum to the cinema to watch Julie & Julia, about the food blogger Julie Powell and food writer Julia Child (photo above). The movie has received such bad reviews, but I was thoroughly charmed by it. It was utterly uncomplicated and simple and didn't pretend to be anything other than a feel-good movie. Perfect Sunday matinee fodder. Though I admit, I'd have happily watched the movie had it been solely about the effervescent Julia Child but not if it had been about the self-absorbed Julie Powell. And of course, the entire movie was unadulterated food porn! I am itching to try out Julia Child's recipe for beef bourguignon.

And then back home for a roast chicken dinner, the leftovers of which I am now making into spinach and chicken curry with new potatoes for tonight's dinner. M is on his way home and I am very hungry.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Precious times

I had the day off work yesterday. I went with M to drop Little Planet off at daycare and then we headed to the Fleet River Bakery in Holborn for breakfast. M had a pain au chocolat and coffee; I had a cheese and ham croissant, and pear juice. Though highly rated amongst reviewers, I am less enamoured by this rustic, homely Holborn cafe. The cakes and bread always seem dry; they never offer to heat up my savoury croissants or sandwiches; and the service overall seems remote.

M went off to work and I walked through Covent Garden, Chinatown and Soho. I like walking through here before 10am, whilst the stores are not yet open and the delivery men are still unloading their wares.

I saw two good art shows at the Haunch of Venison: a collective show of Enrico Castellani, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd and Günther Uecker and then the monochromatic watercolours of Uwe Wittwer. If you're stuck in Piccadilly with a full bladder or with a baby with a full nappy then I highly recommend this gallery's toilets - very nice and clean and, most importantly, usually empty. I also saw the Keith Arnatt photography exhibition at Karsten Schubert on Lower John Street.

I had hoped to see the latest Abstract America exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery off Sloane Square but it was closed for a private function. I didn't feel like window shopping along the King's Road so I headed to Paddington to catch a train to Oxford.

There, I ate a disappointingly stodgy lunch (too many potatoes) at the stuffy Nosebag cafe opposite the Oxford Union. I then wandered past the Bodleian library and the Radcliffe Camera, and through the still delightful Covered Market (photos above and below).

I studied in Oxford and I adore wandering around its pretty streets. For me, those streets resonate with history, and the scent of academia is so palpable it still makes me shiver with pleasure. I admit I am totally “rose-tinted glasses” about my alma mater. I had no negative experiences studying in that high-pressured environment. As much as I am energised by my career in advertising, I never felt more at home or more at peace than when I was immersed in pure academic research. What I dislike about academia is the teaching and the pressure to “publish or perish” and so I left it aside as a career option.

However, my memories of Oxford are tainted by the fact that I became quite ill while I was there. I recovered, but every other year, I have a checkup with an oncologist at the Churchill Hospital. Everything is usually fine, but still I get quite emotional in Oxford. In fact, I still get emotional whenever cancer is mentioned on TV, in movies, in real life. The last time I had a check up, Little Planet wasn't yet born. I am married, I have a daughter, and I feel like I have so much more to lose nowadays. It doesn't bear thinking about really.

So I was relieved to leave Oxford and overjoyed to return to London yesterday evening, to kiss my husband and hold my little girl tightly before putting her to bed.

Life is so, so precious that it hurts. But the fact that it is precious can produce pure joy too. Thank goodness.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Catching up

Last weekend, we didn't do much but chill at home, which is always lovely. Little Planet has a busy time with her childminders during the week, with lots of activities and general hustle and bustle, so we thought it would make a change for her to have a quiet weekend with us. One of her grandmothers was staying with us that weekend, which made it extra special for both. On Sunday, I left Little Planet, Grandma and M at home and travelled to St Albans where some of my old Oxford University friends were gathering for lunch and a catch up. Most of them are also working parents: two work for the UK government and the other works in Tanzania for UNESCO. Between us, we have four children. I love it how time moves on and we move along with it. We're proper grown-ups - my, oh my.

During the week, M and I also caught up with another Oxford friend. The three of us did our PhDs together and now we have baby daughters of the same age. This friend lives in Arizona where she lectures; her partner is a photographer. She has just accepted a prestigious job at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. She's currently in London doing research in the British Museum, so the three of us lunched at Korean restaurant Bi-Won on Coptic Street, where we ate deliciously spicy and moreish dolsot bim bim bap.

Also during the week, I joined colleagues for lunch at the cafe in Liberty as one of them was leaving for maternity leave with her second child. The food was very nice. I drank elderflower presse and ate a salad of baby spinach, poached egg and black pudding, followed by lemon tarte.

Some dinners I cooked this week included minestrone soup with savoy cabbage, cabbage curry, and curried paneer with tomatoes and peas.

Yesterday, M, Little Planet and I went into central London. Little Planet enjoys going on the Tube - we take her out of her buggy and she sits on her own seat or stands between our legs looking at everyone and trying to make them smile. We walked through Covent Garden to Foyles bookshop, where Little Planet explored the entire children's section for half an hour or so. M also bought a book by photographer-artist Gregory Crewdson.

We had to pop into my office just off Oxford Street to change Little Planet's nappy! We went over to Postcard Teas to stock up on a variety of Indian, Chinese and Japanese tea leaves as M loves proper tea. Then we walked down Bond Street to the White Cube in Mason's Yard to see the latest exhibition by Zhang Huan (photos above). Huan uses incense ash from Buddhist temples to create ethereal and transformative images. Here's a link to a previous exhibition of his work I've written about (in a lot more detail as those were the days "before child"!).

Before heading home, we picked up some delicate Japanese sweets ("wagashi") made from peaches and red beans from Minamoto Kitchoan on Piccadilly.

Back at home, we gave Little Planet her lunch of pasta with green pesto and some peas, and a dessert of fresh strawberries. She played a little and then we put her down for her nap. Nowadays, when we lay her down in her cot to sleep, she always waves and says "Bye bye". It is so sweet and it takes alot of willpower for us not to scoop her back out for another cuddle.

While she slept, M and I lunched on thick slabs of dark rye bread with cream cheese mixed with caraway seeds, plus some gherkins and also some radishes fresh from our own garden which were delightful dipped lightly with sea salt (photo above).

The rest of the afternoon was spent in the garden as the weather was gloriously sunny and hot. M prepared crab cakes for the evening meal while Little Planet played with her various plastic toys in the garden and rolled around on the lawn. She loves lying on her back, looking up at the sky and waving "Bye bye" at the aeroplanes and birds, so was doing this a lot. Her evening meal was green bean and beef stew followed by more fresh strawberries. Then it was her night time bath, bottle, book and bed routine.

For dinner, M and I ate his homemade crab cakes topped with homemade tartare sauce and accompanied by a salad of spinach, rocket, watercress and avocado (photo above). We ended the night watching a quirky and fun movie from Japan called Turtles Are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers, which I had bought from JP Books in Piccadilly a few weeks back.

Today is Sunday and the weather has been cooler and more overcast. M took Little Planet to the park while I went with my mum to run some errands. M returned from the park and fed Little Planet dal and rice and put her to bed for a nap. Then my mum came back home with me. She bought with her containers of boal fish and green mango curry plus a mixed vegetable curry with shim, okra, sweet potato and lal sag. M and I will eat it for dinner tomorrow night after work. I love my mum's cooking!

We spent the rest of the day in the house... reading, playing, chatting. M made bread. We did laundry, cleaned the house a bit, did a little bit of ironing.

Now Little Planet is in bed. I'm blogging this post while M is cooking a recipe we saw on the BBC's Economy Gastronomy programme last week: Seared squid, chorizo and chickpea puree. He'll serve it with panfried smashed potatoes from Gourmet magazine. For dessert, we will have New York cheesecake which M made yesterday from the American Regional Cooking cookbook, topped with blueberry and maple sauce.

We've also started a list of things we want to do in NYC next month.

I am so sad the weekend is already over.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Three-day weekend

This weekend was a long one for those of us who live in Britain as Monday was a public holiday. On Saturday, we walked from Farringdon over Blackfriar's Bridge, along the South Bank in the glorious sunshine, and to the National Theatre complex, where Little Planet enjoyed clambering over the giant-sized AstroTurf three-piece suite.

We stopped for blueberry muffins and coffee in Benugo in the BFI, where Little Planet enjoyed clambering over the sofas. She is climbing over everything nowadays and is constantly on the move. We crossed the Thames at Embankment and walked through Trafalgar Square. By this time it was 11.30am and Little Planet had fallen asleep.

From Arigato in Soho we bought pickled umeboshi plums, fresh shiso leaves and yuzu concentrate. We picked up wine from Oddbins on Wardour Street, passionfruit cheesecake and strawberry flan from Princi, Kiehl's products from Liberty whose facade we noticed had been covered with floral Liberty print wallpaper. We then went to The Photographers' Gallery to see André Kertész's utterly absorbing photos of people reading (photo top). And then home.

At Princi we had also picked up some ham and cheese quiche and some green olive bread sticks, so back at home we ate these for lunch along with a spinach and rocket salad. Then we read in the garden and played with Little Planet in her Wendy house and tunnel. M did some DIY in our bathroom. After Little Planet went to bed, M grilled some mackerel and served it with wilted fresh spinach with a black sesame seed dressing.

On Sunday, M went to my mum's house to collect boxes of my books. I stayed at home with Little Planet. We played in the garden - in her tunnel and Wendy house. I also took her shopping to our local butchers (pork belly ribs) and greengrocers (five big bunches of spinach). My mum came back with M and then spent the rest of the day with us - playing with Little Planet and chatting with me while M worked upstairs in the study.

After Little Planet's bedtime, we dined on roasted pork belly ribs with macaroni cheese and wilted spinach with loads of garlic. Dessert was Cornish vanilla ice cream and fresh strawberries. We then ended the night watching episodes from the first season of The Office (original UK version), which they were showing on TV. So funny, so droll. Brilliant!

Monday began with a hoover and clean of the house then out to the shops with Little Planet. I left M and Little Planet and took the bus into central London. I usually take the Tube as it's faster, but this morning I relished the chance to sit down at leisure and relax into a longer journey, free to think about anything or nothing, with no interruptions or distractions.

I ate lunch at Abeno near the British Museum. I had pork om-soba (fried soba noodles wrapped in a light omelette and decorated with Japaneses mayo, ketchup and okonomiyaki sauce). I also had agedashi tofu with bonito fish flakes and grated ginger. All this eating to a fantastic 1970s soundtrack of Talking Heads and David Bowie. Abeno has very good taste in music!

I walked through Soho and picked up some organic soya sauce, black and white roasted sesame seeds, firm tofu and a bag of kimchi from Arigato - all ingredients needed for a variety of dinners we will make this week for ourselves. I picked up a US parenting magazine (Parents) from Borders. And then I watched the movie Moon at the cinema on Panton Street. The movie is directed by David Bowie's son Duncan Jones and stars Sam Rockwell and the voice of Kevin Spacey. It was superlative: visually arresting and emotionally taut. An existential tour de force that I would love to see again.

I came home to Little Planet and M playing in the garden. M had managed to have a client conference call during her afternoon nap (he had arranged the call to coincide with her usual nap time; otherwise I would have stayed at home to look after her). He'd also done some cleaning (the bathroom) and baked some bread (wholemeal rye bread plus pizza bases). After Little Planet's bedtime, M made pizzas for our dinner - anchovies, mozzarella, freshly made tomato sauce and basil from our garden.

As much as I enjoy my work, I am sad that the long weekend is over.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Malaysian beef rendang

I cooked beef rendang on Sunday and we ate it for dinner the next night. Like all curries, the rendang really benefited from having "rested" for a day before eating as the flavours were particularly intense.

Serves 2-4 (depending on appetite and number of other courses!)

Process the following ingredients in a food processor:
  • 1 red onion, coarsely chopped
  • 6 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 2.5 inches ginger, coarsely chopped
  • 1 stick of lemongrass, coarsely chopped
  • 8 kaffir lime leaves, shredded
  • 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 1 heaped teaspoon of turmeric
  • 0.5 teaspoon coriander powder
  • 0.5 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 2 teaspoons of red chilli flakes or 3 red chillies, diced
Then add this spice mixture to a heavy bottomed saucepan and fry. After a few minutes add:
1.5lb diced stewing steak

Fry until the meat is lightly browned and coated with the spice mixture then stir in the following:
  • Grated flesh of half a coconut
  • 165ml coconut milk
  • A little water so mixture does not dry during simmering
  • Salt to taste
Bring the mixture to the boil then simmer for 1.5-2 hours on low. Serve with rice.

Sorry, no photos. I need to get back into taking photos of anything other than my daughter ;-)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Busy doing nothing

This is perhaps the shortest weekend post I've ever written, for all we did this weekend was buy fruit, vegetables, fish and meat from our local grocer, butcher and fishmonger; make bread; visit the park; roast a chicken; bake some sea bream; make a chocolate raspberry clafoutis; cook beef rendang; and spend alot of time reading and playing in the garden. We didn't even clean the house! The weather here in London was superb and we simply wanted to enjoy a chilled two days at home. Wonderful.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


It's been a long time since I've recorded a recipe on this blog. Last night, I cooked two dishes for our dinner. One was a sour aubergine and tomato curry and the other was a simple lightly-spiced cauliflower dish.

For the cauliflower curry, I gently fried half an onion with 1 inch of fresh ginger (finely diced) and 3 cloves of garlic (diced). When the onions were golden, I added 1 teaspoon of black onion seeds, 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds, a pinch of red chilli flakes and half a teaspoon of ground turmeric. I gently fried the mixture on a low heat for a few minutes and then added the florets of a whole cauliflower. I ensured all the ingredients were well mixed, then added half a cup of water. I brought the dish to a boil then turned down the heat to a simmer, with lid on, for 15-20 minutes. Salt to taste, of course.

For the soured aubergines and tomatoes, I had already roasted the vegetables on Sunday and left in the fridge - five aubergines and three large tomatoes. Tonight, I roughly chopped the mixture and left to drain in a colander. Then I fried half an onion with an inch of finely chopped ginger and 4 diced cloves of garlic. Once the onion mixture had turned golden, I added a teaspoon each of fennel seeds, ground ginger, whole cumin, turmeric and red chilli flakes, plus a generous pinch of asafoetida. I stirred the mixture well and fried for a few minutes. Then I added the aubergines and tomatoes and cooked the mixture for a good 15 minutes, letting all the flavours infuse. I added a little water so the mixture did not stick. Finally, I added 2 teaspoons of tamarind paste and left to cook for a further. Salt to taste.

It was all very tasty (as a Leo, modesty is not my strong point!).

Monday, August 17, 2009

Eating, teething and pruning

Since she was born, we've settled Little Planet into a conventional 7am-7pm routine because it suits us. M and I are both early birds. Even before our daughter was born, morning lie ins rarely went beyond 9am, no matter how late we went to bed. We also have to get up at 6.30am every week day for work, so 7pm bedtimes are a must for Little Planet if she is to get a good quota of night time sleep for her age.

People often remark on how much M and I manage to pack into a day, but aside from personality, much of it is to do with the fact that we start our day so early! So making a hair appointment for 9am on a Saturday morning isn't unusual for me, especially now I am a mother. To Aveda in Holborn I went and spent two hours being pampered whilst M and Little Planet relaxed at home.

Afterwards, I picked up two bags of whole beans - Indonesian and Indian - from the Monmouth Coffee Company in Covent Garden, and soap and a black top from Muji. Then I caught a bite of lunch at the Portuguese-Brazilian cafe Canela off the Seven Dials. I had an oven-baked dish of salt cod cooked with potatoes, onions, herbs and cream and accompanied by a leaf salad with a simple citrus dressing. My drink was a freshly squeezed lemonade and my dessert, of course, was a Brazilian creme caramel.

Then I detoured north to John Lewis on Oxford Street to pick up a plastic dinner set for Little Planet decorated with pirates and pirate ships (a plate, a bowl and a cup) then walked south down Regent's Street to Piccadilly where I bought Gourmet, New Yorker and Time Out New York magazines from Waterstone's. This is forward planning for our holiday to NYC in the Autumn - just getting a feel for the things we want to do and the places we want to see.

Back at home, I played with M and Little Planet in the garden. After her bed time, M and I ate roast chicken and steamed broccoli for dinner.

On Sunday, my mum came early to our house to play with Little Planet. Then I took my mum out for the day into Central London. It was my parents' wedding anniversary on Saturday. My father is ill and has been in a care home back in East Anglia for the last year. I've not really written about this on my blog because it has been a painful experience for all, but we are all getting used to it now. Now that my mother has moved to London to be nearer her granddaughter, she is in the process of transferring my father down to a care home near her new house. It means that we should be able to celebrate Christmas together as a complete family again. It means my parents will be able to celebrate their wedding anniversary next year together. But this year, my mum was alone in London and so I wanted to make sure she wasn't too sad and lonely.

I treated her to a cab ride into town where we spent a few hours wandering around the Indian garden, the South-east Asian room and the Garden And Cosmos exhibition at the British Museum (photo above). Then we went for lunch at South Indian restaurant Malabar Junction. My favourite South Indian restaurant is any of the Rasa restaurants, but I like the laid back, genteel, old-fashioned atmosphere of Malabar. It's not trying to be trendy and it suits my mother's personality perfectly.

We started with parippu vada (split Bengal gram mashed with red chilli, curry leaves, ginger and onions and made into patties) and aubergine slice fry (with chickpea batter). Then we had mains of Kerala mutton curry (lamb pieces cooked with turmeric, coriander, chillies and black pepper), meen manga puli (white fish with green mango cooked with fenugreek, onions, tamarind, curry leaves and coconut milk), and Malabar kichadi (beetroot with curry leaves and grated coconut).

Back at home, my mum enjoyed playing with Little Planet for the rest of the afternoon in the garden. After Little Planet had gone to bed and my mother had returned home, M cooked us macaroni cheese with bacon and spinach. Dessert was homemade apple flan. No, I did not refuse dinner; yes, I am a glutton.

Poor Little Planet had an incredibly restless night last night due to intense nappy rash brought on by teething her molars. She woke up every two hours. She's always been such a good sleeper since her 12th week... we can count on one hand, in fact, the number of restless nights she has had in her 14 months. So last night was difficult for her and for us. We didn't really know what to do but we finally managed to settle her at 2am with lots of cuddles and a little bit of Calpol. She fell fast asleep eventually, but of course, M and I slept fitfully until morning as we kept waiting for her to wake up again. I hope tonight is a better night for her.

Today, M had the day off to oversee some tree pruning work. We have two very tall and overgrown trees at the back of our garden which, apparently, are obstructing one of our neighbour's satellite reception. We chortled when we heard this, but in fairness it must be annoying for them and the trees are too big. So today the tree surgeons were very busy. M was busy also: we have four bookshelves in our living room but more books mean we needed more shelf space. So we ordered two more bookshelves and M put them up today while the tree surgeons were at work: one more in our living room and another on our upstairs landing. My favourite form of interior decoration is books, books and more books, so I love the way our home looks and feels now.