Storm warning

waiting at the bus stop

“Once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

— Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

(An old photo from Auckland, waiting at the bus stop in the rain. A weather system from oh, five years ago.)

The Bell Jar

The Bell Jar

“Everything she said was like a secret voice speaking straight out of my own bones.”

A little tidbit I just learned: Sylvia Plath first published the The Bell Jar under the nom de plume Victoria Lucas.

Sylvia Plath

I’ve just finished reading it for the first time in, oh, ten years or so. The voice of Esther Greenwood is honest and raw, capturing what it’s like to feel control slipping away. I can’t believe it was published in 1963, because so much of it feels relevant to my experiences as a young(ish) woman today.

My favourite line from the book:

Then I folded the linen napkin and laid it between my lips and brought my lips down on it precisely. When I put the napkin back on the table a fuzzy pink lip-shape bloomed right in the middle of it like a tiny heart.

Cook the books

I scored these two very shiny and pretty cookbooks for a fiver at Oxfam Dalston:


Heston’s Fantastical Feasts by Heston Blumenthal, and Creole by Babette de Rozières. I bought the Blumenthal book mostly because it has instructions on how to make lickable wallpaper, a la Willy Wonka. But I am more excited about the Creole book, described as a “colourful and sumptuous celebration of West Indian Creole cooking”.

Vegetables of the West Indies

Rice with Beans

Coconut flan

Just a bit of a preview before adding the to the towering pile of books next to my bed – aren’t the pictures luscious? Can’t wait to make some of the sweet dishes from the Creole book, like coconut flans with caramel, and try some traditional Guadeloupean ti’punch – a white rum and lime mix.

Currently Reading (And Listening To)

I  am on a real foodie kick at the moment! I just – belatedly – finished the last few pages of Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef (which was very good, my tardiness wasn’t a reflection of the book’s quality at all), and have spent many happy hours leafing through the The Flavour Thesaurus for cooking inspiration. And now Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain.

Anthony Bourdain

I’ve been hearing for years that Anthony Bourdain is a bit of a badass, and then a copy of Kitchen Confidential showed up in my Christmas stocking. Funnily enough the parts I’m enjoying thus far, are those moments from a softer time:

My brother and I were reasonably happy here. The beaches were warm, there were lizards to hunt down and exterminate with readily available pétards, firecrackers, which one could buy legally (!) over-the-counter. There was a forest within walking distance where an actual hermit lived, and my brother and I spent hours there, spying on him from the underbrush. By now I could read comic books in French and, of course, I was eating – really eating. Murky brown soupe de poisson, tomato salad, moules marinières, poulet basquaise (we were only a few miles from the Basque country). We made day trips to Cap Ferret, a wild, deserted and breathtakingly magnificent Atlantic beach with big rolling waves, taking along baguettes and saucissons and wheels of cheese, wine and Evian (bottled water was at that time unheard of back home).

A few miles west was Lac Cazeaux, a fresh-water lake where my brother and I could rent pédalo watercraft. We ate gaufres, delicious hot waffles, covered in whipped cream and powdered sugar. The two hot songs of that summer on the Cazeaux jukebox were Whiter Shade Of Pale by Procol Harum and These Boots Were Made For Walkin’ by Nancy Sinatra. The French played those two songs over and over again, the music punctuated by the sonic booms from French air force jets that would swoop over the lake on their way to a nearby bombing range.

There’s something about food & music isn’t there? The two seem inexplicably linked. Laura Vincent of Hungry & Frozen always lovingly lists her current sounds, and Turntable Kitchen matches recipes with records. How does Tame Impala with creamy couscous sound? I think they’ll even post you out a pack of ingredients with a song to match.

Music while dining matters too. I read an interesting article on the sometimes inspired, sometimes insipid music choices of restaurants and pubs and how they shape the experience.

Likewise, last night’s Mexican feast at Thor and Liv’s place probably would have had an entirely different atmosphere if we weren’t stuffing our faces to the sweet tunes of Mariachi El Bronx. (By the way, thinly sliced green apple, dressed with fresh lime and Swedish black salt is incredible. Think of that if you listen to the Mariachi song.)

What do you like to listen to when you’re eating, cooking, or dreaming of food?

Currently Reading: The Night Circus

The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern

There has been a lot of hoopla around Erin Morgenstern’s début novel – The Night Circus. After seeing many glowing reviews I was keen to read it myself, and even more so after hearing the book started life as a National Novel Writing Month manuscript. NaNoWriMo, as it is lovingly called, and is an annual challenge to write a 50,000 word first draft in the month of November (it’s a fun experiment and as my friend Rebekah said – it’s excellent for turning off the inner critic).

Last night I finished reading The Night Circus, and to my surprise felt very conflicted. I adore the premise – immersive experiences really float my boat. And the book is stuffed with gorgeous imagery – think ice gardens, a living carousel, paper birds and other transcendent illusions. I have no doubt that this story will be translated for the screen.

But when it comes to mechanic like character and plot, it is a rather clunky story. This thorough Amazon review cites a lot of grammatical errors that will make you frown, and the use of first person present tense makes you feel like you’re leafing through a child’s choose-your-own-adventure. While Harry Potter is technically for younger readers, as a 25-year-old I can still read the series and feel satisfied. Likewise with Meg Rosoff’s fantastic How I Live Now. I don’t feel this with The Night Circus.

The plot staggers around the world like a drunk, flipping from dull character to character. And like some drunks, it’s got a bit of a paunch. It just didn’t feel fully polished and the middle of the books sags. Writers, if you’re concerned about your weight, Kat Asharya has written an excellent piece on fictional Flabby Middles and How To Tone Them.

Once you’ve spewed your dreams on paper and have that shitty first draft down, it’s time to re-vision the work.  It’s important to edit, edit, edit and when you’ think you’re done, put it away for a month before editing some more. Various writing tutors I’ve met over the years always say hard work is where the magic lies. I really wanted to love The Night Circus. To echo countless parents around the globe – I’m not angry, just disappointed.

October Reading List

I went on a book buying binge yesterday afternoon from the comfort of my kitchen table. Here are the books I now have lined up on my Kindle to read. It’s an odd mix… a little bit like October.

Life by Keith Richards

Life by Keith Richards

Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford

Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford

London Fields by Martin Amis

London Fields by Martin Amis

Made To Stick - Chip Heath, Dan Heath

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath & Dan Heath

Jacob's Room - Virginia Woolf

Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf (it’s free for Kindle!)

Sputnik Sweetheart - Haruki Murakami

When we left the restaurant, the sky was a brilliant splash of colours. The kind of air that felt like if you breathed it in, your lungs would be dyed the same shade of blue. Tiny stars began to twinkle. Barely able to wait for the long summer day to be over, the locals were out for an after-dinner stroll around the harbour. Families, couples, groups of friends. The gentle scent of the tide at the end of the day enveloped the streets.

Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami (rereading this – one of my favourites)


Currently reading

A Visit from the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. I’m reading it right now – so far, so good! It’s set in a not too distant time, and I love this musing on the ‘evolution’ of language:

Rebecca was an academic star. Her new book was on the phenomenon of word casings, a term she’d invented for words that no longer had meaning outside quotation marks. English was full of these empty words – ‘friend’ and ‘real’ and ‘story’ and ‘change’ – words that had been shucked of their meanings and reduced to husks. Some, like ‘identity’, ‘search’, and ‘cloud’, had clearly been drained of life by their Web usage. With others, the reasons were more complex; how had ‘American’ become an ironic term? How had ‘democracy’ come to be used in an arch, mocking way?

(Don’t worry, the rest of novel is not all as earnest as this – it’s a bit more sardonic.)

Currently reading

Blood Bones & Butter - Gabrielle Hamilton

I love good writing about food, and Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chefby Gabrielle Hamilton ticks all the boxes. Hamilton is not only the chef/owner of Prune restaurant in New York’s East Village, she also has an MFA in fiction writing from the University of Michigan.

“I wanted a place with a Velvet Underground CD that made you nod your head and feel warm with recognition. I wanted the lettuce and the eggs at room temperature … I wanted the tarnished silverware and chipped wedding china from a paladar in Havana, and the canned sardines I ate in that little apartment on Twenty-Ninth Street. The marrow bones my mother made us eat as kids that I grew to crave as an adult. We would have brown butcher paper on the tables, not linen tablecloths, and when you finished your meal, the server would just pull the pen from behind her ear and scribble the bill directly on the paper like [the waitresses in France] had done. We would use jelly jars for wine glasses. There would be no foam and no ‘conceptual’ or ‘intellectual’ food; just the salty, sweet, starchy, brothy, crispy things that one craves when one is actually hungry.”