Thursday, March 31, 2011

It Won't Get Any Better

I can remember the exact moment when I first heard - or, rather, knowingly heard - an LCD Soundsystem tune. It was in late 2004 or very early 2005 - John Peel had just died, to date it - in Hi-Fi, a bar in the East Village in NYC, and a friend from home was visiting. I'd sort of lost touch with new music, and she could not believe I'd not heard of them; she put on Daft Punk Is Playing at My House for me.

I can't say I was an instant convert, but when Sound of Silver came out, it slowly but surely happened for me, and the first time I saw them live, that was it: I was in love. I did not think I'd love a band again in the way that I did as a teenager but LCD Soundsystem provided the soundtrack to my falling in love with New York, with developing strong and solid bonds with my friends here.

And now James Murphy et al. are retiring LCD. While I'm saddened by that, the real devastation came when I missed out on tickets to the last ever show at MSG but, fortunately, we scored tickets this week when they released more. We're going to be in the gods, barely able to see, but we need to be there; LCD has been a soundtrack to our time in NYC, it feels right to be there when the band signs off. Although we saw them last night at the pen-penultimate gig, it would not have been the same. While I can't quite believe we won't get to see LCD perform again, I think it's a good thing, it's time; the shows have got increasingly large with increasingly large numbers of idiots and people who don't seem to care about the old stuff. Go out on a high before you end up lacking respect for the people who behave like idiots at your shows, I say. Go out when people love you, when people will mourn you with genuine love and affection.

I will.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Abstemious (Part II)

Ye gods, the indulgences have just kept coming.

Saturday: our friend made an array of Italian starters (including a fabulous calamari and bean salad and some amazing mortadella mousse), then we had a ridiculous slow-cooked rabbit ragu and his homemade porchetta, followed by assorted desserts and including one of the best ice creams I've ever eaten, a pumpkin one that wasn't too heavy at all, or overly cinnamony (my pet peeve re pumpkin flavoured things) from this fabulous place very near to us.

Sunday: we made that tried and true friend of ours, this ridiculous cod dish which is utterly simple, wholesome and comforting with a truly remarkable depth of flavour.

Monday: I may have been converted to oysters, thanks to a trip to Desnuda. The ceviche was crisp, glorious to look at in its many colours, but the highlights were tea-smoked oysters, and a phenomenal basic oyster plate with ginger shallot, and increasingly smokey and spicy toppings. Yes, I am a convert. Despite them still being slightly like licking phlegm off a tortoise. Now to get myself to the John Dory's happy hour.

Tuesday: Tia Pol is one of my dearest friend's happiest places and I finally have been to share it with her. The food is, frankly, ridiculous, as is the wine list - we actually had two bottles of wine that I am serving at my wine club on Friday night. Auspicious - particularly as they were both excellent. The tapas are great - I don't know what they do to the chickpeas, but they are glorious, as is a squid dish in its own ink that makes you look like you've decided to become a Goth. Fabulous.

Time to sit indoors with some very plain pasta and think about all I've consumed, methinks.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


So, after a week full of vegetables and roasting and fun, I've come to a very large amount of rather indulgent food in a very short space of time. But, honestly, it's been GLORIOUS. Glorious. Thursday night was spent with extraordinarily inventive small plates at Casa Mono, where my personal highlight was a virulently garlickly sopa de ajo, pungent and sweet, that served as the bed for a crispy and extremely tasty little fillet of fresh mackerel; the duck egg, fried and gooily spooling over the duck confit was perfect.

And then last night was even better, possibly. Dovetail is one of my favourite restaurants, and not just because one of my closest friends works there. But that does help. We sat at the bar and ate our way through so many good things, it's hard to single anything out, but the goat ravioli was wonderful and the soft boiled egg on a bed of bacon, oyster mushrooms, butternut squash was one of the best things I've eaten in a very, very long time. I also had a Slovenian white wine (liked it - very unusual) and tried a phenomenal red wine that I've not had before, a Bonarda.

And tonight, one of the best cooks I know is preparing a giant feast for us. It's a hard life.

Except I DO have to do some work for the next few hours and it's cancelled my day plans. So, you know, it's not all fun and games.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fun With Vegetables

No, this is not a dodgy sexual predilection post. Instead, it's one reflecting genuine joy regarding the cooking and eating I've done this week. Usually when on a health kick I retreat to the same things: soup, maybe salad for lunch, or a baked potato, followed by supper of roasted veg, possibly with a veggie burger. The veg - mushrooms, onions, courgettes, aubergines, tomatoes, peppers and (v important) whole cloves of garlic in their skin, so that they get sweet and mushy and delicious - are always roasted with a little chile and oregano and white wine vinegar. This week has all been a variation on the latter, but with much more experimentation and fun results.

Monday, I had my traditional roasted veg, but with a LOT more garlic than usual and loads of crushed fennel seeds over the top. Tuesday, I stir-fried brussels sprouts, peppers, courgettes, shallots and garlic with a garlic & black bean sauce and water (to semi-steam the veg), and had that with a shedload of kimchi (seriously, when did my obsession with that start? dunno, but it's here for the foreseeable future). And Wednesday was possibly the most experimental (for me) - a first attempt at cooking okra, which I stir-fried with leeks for a while, then added black pepper, a couple of chopped tomatoes, let them simmer for a bit and then added a touch of curry powder, and then served that with the ubiquitous veggie burger and a sriracha spiked mayonnaise.* Plus a big batch of kale chips - I finished off some a friend had made for me, then on Wednesday attempted them myself. Not up to my friends' levels, yet, but they are damned good. So yes, while the vegan burgers have been the same boring protein, I like that boring protein, and the veg has more than made up for it.

Oh, and my local 24 hour, organic grocer's - where I have been purchasing all this veg - sells my favourite, favourite BCN beer - Estrella Damm. Fabulous.

* Note: the sauces, of course, were not homemade. I'm not made of time/madness/that thorough.

March Mehness

A frequent question during my month off drinking is "Why February?" January makes more sense to a lot of people - the excesses of December need to be shirked from one's body and I have quite a few friends who do choose January. But January is cold, bitter, and (most importantly) TOH's birthday, so I can't choose January. Plus, why go cold turkey? Foolish.

My usual blithe (and honest) answer is that February is the shortest month. Yes, I give myself a day off for VD so that TOH and I can enjoy a bottle or two of plonk. So, in fact, it's only 27 days. But that seems enough for me.

Some people suggest March, however, little preparing themselves for the horror that suggestion inspires. Frankly, March is already dreadful enough without prohibiting myself from a warming glass of bourbon, a comforting spicy red wine or something along those lines. I have grown to loathe March since moving to the US. At home it's nippy and windy and rainy, it's true, but it's somehow offset by the blossom and blooms and sense that the year really is progressing to warmer, nicer weather. By this time of year the magnolia tree on my road is in near to full bloom, Mum and I hopefully will have already had a trip out to see the bluebells, and there will be crocuses and daffodils everywhere, with the air often heavy with the smell of hyacinths.

Days like today solidify my loathing. It's extremely gloomy; the clocks having changed made no odds this morning with the murky light barely penetrating my windows, making it seem as if I were up at half five instead of closer to eight. It's just above freezing, and raining, although we're promised by the weather people that this will all clear up this afternoon and be positively warm starting tomorrow. But, not trusting March, I can't quite believe there won't still be some sting in the tail, some snow left to come. The mini gardens along the route to work are still scrubby and brown, there's hardly any foliage anywhere as of yet. There are daffodils poking their green shoots out in the garden but they won't arrive fully for another couple of weeks yet.

Many people complain about the "summer" in Britain, whether from there or overseas, but for me, it's a very close run thing as to whether I'd prefer the NYC summers (which are often filled with disgusting humidity, thunderstorms and insect bites beyond belief) or an earlier, longer spring, rather than the four weeks we get in April/May before it becomes sweltering.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Proverbial Bat

I've come to the conclusion that I need glasses more or less all the time. Given my forgetfulness, I've decided to plump for contacts. It's all a bit strange, really, but it came to a head when I was getting breakfast the other morning (avocado on toasted wholemeal bagel - a truly glorious breakfast) and I couldn't read any of the wall signs without squinting and they were all a little fuzzy even with very severe scrunching of my eye muscles. Not dignified, good for my crow's feet, or for seeing potential muggers.*

So, here we go. I have to be fitted and given a lesson (seriously - an hour's lesson!), and then I'm going to set reminders in my calendar to change them every two weeks. I'm nervous but actually quite excited; apart from anything else, it means that I'll be able to see the other end of the pitch for my eleven-a-side football. Whether I'll be able to run it is another issue altogether - I played two back-to-back yesterday and my knee is not right, unsurprisingly.** It's just reached a plateau that means back to the doctor I go because, apart from anything, TOH is still convinced I can get better. That's based on all his years of medical training, obviously - and his eternal and gloriously sunny optimism which is a wonderful tonic for my naturally rather morose reactions to this sort of thing.

* I occasionally get (nonsensically) panicked about being attacked and going through one of those courtroom cross-examinations where the defence lawyer picks apart the fact that I can't really see that far. Yes, I'm paranoid; contacts should at least assuage that a teeny bit. Note that I do not get panicked about actually being mugged.

** Also not right: my back, shoulders, glutes, ribs, my left ankle which got one hell of a kick from an opposing player yesterday. Also injured: my pride and dignity after I had a real shocker upfront - from the sublime(ish) the week before (a reasonably well-taken goal) to the ridiculously awful.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Keeping Myself to Myself

This week TOH is off skiing in somewhere in the Rockies. It doesn't really amount to much more time apart than usual, but it is rare that I have a Saturday or Sunday night without him. Usually I try and embrace and enjoy the time for me to watch terrible, terrible tv (Fashion Police, I'm looking at you), eat aubergines and rarely leave the house.

Yesterday, however, I was still feeling the aftereffects of Friday night's fun, so I just sat and ate pasta, drank red wine, and watched Hot Fuzz for what may be the 50th time. Today involves hoeing the garden, football and then some gentle work tonight, probably in front of Battlestar Galactica (which I am STILL working my way through) or An Idiot Abroad, which is on our On Demand channel and according to reports is very interesting indeed.

But for now: time to grab the gloves, gardening apron and get out in the garden for half an hour.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Botanics: February

Last weekend we went to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens for the second in our series of monthly visits. (In fact, we even went once in-between when we had friends in town - we're all BBG, all the time, it seems). The major change was, obviously, the change in temperature that had thawed (most of) the snow and brought out far more visitors to share the gardens with than on our previous trips. So I'm not going to post all of the photos because although there is now green to be seen, there's not much flowering and still an awful lot of brown stalks everywhere. Occasional crocuses and snowdrops could be seen, which bodes well for our visits in March and April.

The fountain.

The cherry orchards from above.

The herb garden - you can see green things! sort of!

Proof that the temperatures haven't climbed that much.

The flowering quince - absolutely spectacular. I find bonsai and their cultivation a bit strange, I have to say, but this was exquisite.

Resolutions: February Update

  1. Shooting, Shooting, Shooting: Take the camera off auto-settings. This has been pretty hard. I'm getting better, in part because I've occasionally resorted to seeing what the contrast is between settings I use and the auto setting uses, and then reaching a compromise. It's been tricky to realise that I need to adjust the settings, often between shots. It sounds silly, but it's just not been automatic for me, but I'm training myself and getting better. And, often I choose my own settings or something close to that than the auto settings, which makes me happy. It's just time, really, that I need.
  2. Cooking, cooking, and more cooking. We've been ok on this. This month we made a pepperoni pizza soup from Tasting Table, which was pretty good but I'm not desperate to repeat it. There hasn't been as much cooking as usual because work during February was somewhat overwhelming - it was a lot of leftovers and cobbling together what I could find in the cupboard. Hopefully March will prove a little more inspiring.
  3. Reading, reading and more reading. Not good. I don't even have one of the 100 book list entries out from the library to pretend I'll read and then have to return. Will remedy that now. A Bend in the River is what I will not be reading in March.
  4. Looking, looking and more looking - at exhibitions. Again, a little bit of a fail. As in, I didn't go anywhere. But again, February was a bit miserable in terms of time to spare for fun things.
  5. Solving, solving, solving. Done some but not many.
So, February was far less successful than January. But I'm hopeful that March will be a little better...

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Address Book

I just purchased a copy of Sense and Sensibility on the internets (horrified to admit that I have never read it and certainly don't own a copy, so I'm remedying that thanks to TNC's current and rather lovely obsession with Austen), and decided to have it sent home rather than to work, which is my default for larger items. And I was struck, as I always am when I change address on Amazon, by the list of addresses and names that my packages have been sent to in the past. It features the flat I lived in with this lady in Blackheath when we first graduated from university; Mum's home; Dad's home; my flat in Barcelona; TOH's parents and various work addresses over here, plus his home in Providence; and the apartment we lived in when we first arrived, in Washington Heights - the first place we ever lived together. It's a little reminder of how times have changed and brings back a strange amalgam of memories. But good ones.