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 G√ľnther 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.