Monday, November 24, 2008

You Can Read The News Or Make The News... You Can't Do Both

Hello, it's me! I am alive, I am well, I am brimming with tales of adventures and activities that have kept me from adding to my series of The Happy on Hypatia Avenue and generally brain-dumping here. I think I'm spreading myself rather thin as I have recently discovered that Twitter and Facebook can actually be good for new friends and very old, long-lost friends that I thought were lost to me forever but are actually only a few clicks away on a social networking site. I'm also still very involved with Londonist and the dayjob which is inching ever closer to the exciting new offices so I'm spending leisure time offline more often than online, just to allow myself to recover from intensive form-filling, spreadsheets, charts, minutes from meetings and seating plans. I close my eyes and see those seating plans.

A list then, for the memories when I come back here on a quiet day and wonder what I got up to as the seasons turned from autumn to very distinctly winter...
... I went to the Francis Bacon exhibition, the Turner Prize and the Rothko: I was deeply moved, indifferent and frustrated, baffled and awed respectively
... I embraced nature and went for a long walk in the soggy autumnal woods around Stanmore and Harrow, visiting Gilbert of Gilbert & Sullivan's house and saw the lake where he died
... made new friends at a graveyard where there were readings of ghost stories and far too much free rum punch and then pubs with ridiculously priced but oh so tempting Talisker whisky
... sewed black velvet bean bags for a different set of new friends with immense pride and a surprising amount of sewing skill
... finished reading Death at Intervals by Jose Saramago and only fully enjoyed the last 50 pages; also read The Alice B Toklas Cookbook and loved it from the first to the last page
... I saw a one-woman performance based on The Alice B Toklas Cookbook and ate sandwiches, drank very good white wine and took great delight in the Gertrude Stein puppet that was wheeled on stage then beaten up by a frustrated, suppressed Alice
... I've seen plays and written reviews, I've coached new writers onto Londonist and watched them flourish
... I've cooked, I've read about cooking, I've talked about cooking and I have also dreamed of cooking. I think I'm obsessed - and I'm not resisting it
... I've been very happy and busy and happy to be busy

I'll be back, I'll write more, with links and photos, once the giddy whirl has slowed down a bit. Until then, hold tight - we're off into adventures again!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Happy on Hypatia Avenue No. 3: Good Cookery Books

I have a big collection of cookery books and books about food. Each one fills me with joy and while Mr Hypatia Avenue can happily read thick tomes of non-fiction on political, social and economic history or collected essays by big hitters such as George Orwell and Gore Vidal (he's terribly clever), I can read a collection of Catalan cookery recipes from cover to cover. For the fellow food-lovers and bookworms who follow this blog (hello Planethalder!), here is an incomplete but indicative list of what's on my foodie bookshelf:

Nigel Slater (2)

River Cafe
Heston Blumenthal

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall
Claudia Roden - The Book of Jewish Cookery Irish Traditional
Scottish Heritage Food
Music, Food and Love (a Chinese musician's memoirs mainly about food, with recipes)
Elizabeth David (2)
Ainsley Harriott's Cooking for Friends and Family

The Alice B Toklas Cookery Book

The Elizabeth David books are classics and one of them was a wedding present (thanks Sir Humphrey and Lady Humphrey) The recipes fill me with horror but I can't stop going back to them... the stand out recipe is for a chicken and ham pie which, once you have combined the butter, cream, lard and animal fats is about 85 per cent cholesterol. And then, just before serving, you're instructed to poke a hole in the top and pour in a pint of boiling double cream.
I love pie but I like the idea of living beyond 45 as well.

The Ainsley Harriott book was a present and not something I would pick for myself but I was pleasantly surprised by the West Indian recipes within. The Alice B Toklas book is full of appalling food and even worse name-dropping but I'm learning more about Alice and her relationship with Gertrude Stein, which makes the reading even more fascinating. I'm looking forward to a live show about the two later this year - and I'll get to try the food too!
And then there's this...

The launch involved massive trays of Portuguese cakes and glasses of white port or bottles of syrupy chocolate milk, plus lots of beautiful people sauntering over from design offices and work/live warehouse conversions in nearby Shoreditch. Not only did I get my book signed along with doodles of the authors' favourite cakes, I also got a wall chart that describes, in mouthwatering photography and text, the history, ingredients and signicant features of each Portuguese cake ever made and sold. Portugal is definitely on the list of places to visit, even if I can only order cake and coffee and the occasional glass of port when I'm there. I won't be unhappy, not at all...
The Happy on Hypatia Avenue No. 2: The Good Life

Next in my series of The Happy is the beginning of The Good Life which started when I bought a tomato plant in July. I've never grown or kept plants before but had the urge to do so when we had some bright sunny days and our balcony was getting sunshine all afternoon and evening. So the tomato plants came home with me one weekend and then followed several excited early Saturday morning wake-up calls to my husband who patiently listened with one eye open while I stood at the foot of the bed in gardening clothes, exclaiming about the flowers and the tiny green things that might turn into fruit soon.

We eventually got the first fruit from the plant and there was much rejoicing. Then Mr Hypatia brought home two boxes of salad plants for window boxes that had been sent to his office for press purposes - nobody wanted them so he brought them home to me, his wife with new green fingers! There was much more rejoicing and many nights of fresh spinach, mizuna and baby chard.

The salad boxes haven't survived the wet and stormy weather very well but the spinach is still good. We'll have carrots at the end of October which should be interesting... and the tomatoes are still bravely growing though the days are shorter and the air is colder.

It has made me immensely happy and proud to get over my childhood dislike of soil and gardening. I've had meals made from things I've grown myself, and even though we're far from self-sufficent (we've grown six tomatoes so far but I cook with minimum 12 for a basic sauce so that's *very* far from self-sufficient), I do appreciate organic vegetables far more. I get stupidly excited at farmers markets and no longer turn my nose up at the prices.

I've even got on my hands and knees to dig around in compost with my bare hands. AND just this week, I picked off two enormous caterpillars without screaming. I have come a long way. And when we get the house of our dreams with the roof terrace garden, I will be ready to go even further.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Happy on Hypatia Avenue No. 1

I don't write here very often any more, having spread myself rather thin with Londonist, resuming critical writing and a handful of other (offline) projects, but what I came to realise when I checked the last post I put here was that I'm not writing as much here because... because... because I'm having such a good time elsewhere. At the theatre, galleries, more theatre, weird live shows in strange places, at weddings, at launch parties, at monthly Londonist socials and smaller ones for select persons in the team, my family gatherings, my husband's family gatherings, spending time with new friends and catching up with old ones, gardening for the first time in my life and sprucing up the homestead with my beloved so that when we have a rare night in together we can wander around the flat saying to each other "It's so nice here!"

BUT these are exactly the kind of things I want to document and share on The Avenue; I want to be able to look back on all these good times and re-live them, remind myself if I have a bad day that there are things to love in the world and that I can be happy, if I just remember how. Practically, rather than confine myself to a linear, chronological catalogue, I thought I would pick certain recurring things that always cheer me up and incidentally reveal a little about myself so that I can write and record and ruminate all in one spot.

And so to the first of The Happy on Hypatia Avenue: pie!

Anything wrapped in pastry, served with mashed potatoes, gravy and peas will put a smile on my face. I love each and every pie:

stodgy pork pies with the layer of jelly between pastry and meat
mince pies at Christmas
lemon meringue pie (but I've yet to find a really decent one that doesn't have lurid fluorescent yellow lemon filling that could melt lead if left out of the fridge too long...)
apple pie with lots of cinnamon but nothing on the side - I don't like to pollute the pureness of the pie withice cream or cream or custard
Cornish pasties with lots of vegetables stuffed inside
And most recently added to my repertoire of great pies is the Olym-pie by Square Pie, which I tried for the sake of Londonist and the Olympics. It's politics wrapped in pastry - and it's very good. I like this company enormously, you can buy unbaked pies to have at home or stick in the freezer until you need another fix.

Pictures show, from top: handshaped steak pie with mushy peas at Concrete next to the Hayward gallery; pie (minced beef) with mashed potato and parsley sauce aka liquor at G Kelly's, a genuine East End pie and mash shop (big bowl of jellied eels just out of shot); the Olym-pie in three stages of deliciousness.

More to come in this series of The Happy - yes, more!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

"I'm currently out of the office. I will respond to your query on my return on 5th August."

Meanwhile, here are some photos of what Hypatia did on her holidays. Food photography has been limited to 3 poorly lit pictures of an unusual square pizza as even the internet in its monstrous capacity to contain 99. 5 per cent of the world's inconsequential holiday photos cannot document all the was cooked, all that was eaten, all that was purchased to be eaten and what was plucked off the Triffid-like tomato plant and dropped on the terrace floor before it had a chance to be eaten.

A small but hopefully successful series of updates are scheduled for the Avenue so drop in again soon.

Friday, April 11, 2008

It's All Me, Me, Me

The Millennium Wheel Millinery Model
Londonist supplied the questions for the first round of the Museum of London pub quiz and a genuine pearly king was asking the fiendishly difficult questions we had put together. When the quiz progressed to the arts and craft round, Team Londonist excelled, producing a full working, turning model of the London Eye made out of drinking straws, pipe cleaners and masking tape. I modelled it later on, walking to the next pub, and I am delighted to confirm that
the wheel still turns even when balanced on a slightly tipsy short person. It is currently in our living room, being lovingly twirled in pride of place on the dining table or being kicked out of the way of the TV, depending on which one of us in the household has to deal with it.

The Pundit
I was called upon, as co-editor of Londonist, to comment on the websites of the London Mayoral candidates for BBC London.

It's not my first pundit job for the BBC as I have previously gone head to head with other major international cities in the run-up to a BBC World simulcast, saying my bit for London two days before the event. I've also been pundit for Sky News so I'm beginning to get the hang of it.

I particularly enjoyed this BBC London clip, especially the extensive amounts of blog-miming I had to do. You can see my enthusiasm for the interview in the many layers of lipstick I applied (with a trowel).

But it was quite strange to come into the office after a long morning setting off fire extinguishers as part of fire safety training, to find all my as-yet-uninformed-about-Londonist colleagues standing around the big screen TVs, watching me on the lunchtime broadcast. I was right to be nervous about the consequences of working in a multimedia newsroom with Sky News and BBC News 24 piped in continuously on extremely big screens. I have since had many, many conversations waiting for the lift with complete strangers who spotted me on Wednesday "all over the news like a rash." I feel like I've been outed. It's a jagged sort of pride.

The B&Q Burlesque Dancer From Barcelona

I love this picture, it captures the extremely high spirits and good time had by all at a 30th birthday party in a country house somewhere near Barcelona. It was about 2am in the stone floor lobby area - just out of shot is a Roman stone column and a huddle of party folks about to go to bed. I was perfecting the chair dancing technique that I had developed the night before in Barcelona city centre at about 3am when I had found a chair in a skip between the bar and the club. I decided to use it as a prop for some interpretative, free form, German expressionism inspired dance in the middle of the road. It was a very handy prop; when I got tired, I simply parked it on a traffic island and sat down until I got my breath back.

When I saw the pile of garden chairs in the country house and the expanse of floor space revealed by all the people retiring to the beds upstairs, I started up again, this time adding some Australian aboriginal touches and flamenco style flourishes to my contemporary dance improvisation. At least, that's what I imagined I was doing. I'm sure for the few people who were still up and about at that time, it looked more like I was attacking invisible assailants with a plastic garden chair while chucking glasses of cava over myself.

A brilliant weekend, then. What I can remember of it. Yes.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

"Exploring An Aesthetic of Absence"

I've decided to take a little break from theatre and live art. It won't be a period of total abstinence - I've got a few performances and productions I want to see coming up in the next few weeks - but I'm not going to write about them unless they're particularly fitting for Londonist or it's a commission I particularly want to take on. My critical writing programme finished a week ago and I'm going to rest my pen and frequently over-stimulated mind for a short while.

I've previously offered a list of things you probably don't know about me. Here's another, because it's late on Sunday night and I'm in a musing, rambling mood and putting off going to bed.

1. Sometimes, I pour myself a large glass of red wine after work and find myself unable to finish it. So I add a little Diet Coke and pretend I'm a Madrileno, sipping this sweet and boozy combo in the heart of Spain, where I learned this trick. It tastes like Dr Pepper.

2. I don't pronounce the first half of my surname correctly. It should be a harder, more emphatic Ch- sound for an accurate Cantonese pronounciation but I've always preferred the softer Sh- sound which is a more Mandarin sound. I've always felt a bit uneasy about this but then I read this article and felt a bit better.

3. Every single item of underwear I own is black...

4. ... apart from a certain bra and pants set I wore under my wedding dress which is hot, hot pink with diamante details.

5. I can't do front crawl when I go swimming. I've tried and tried but clearly need proper teaching, or an oxygen tank and water wings to perfect my shoddy technique.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

"In every picture you look either cross or scared or both."

Because the lovely and now quite large Planethalder requested it, here is a picture of me as a baby with abundant, slightly mad, very black hair. I've spent a lot of time wondering what my offspring with Mr H. Avenue will look like as he has fine, pale ginger hair, glorious freckles and skin that burns under streetlamps. I, on the other hand, come from strong peasant stock and was obviously built to toil for many years under the sun, in the fields, with indestructible black, black hair and skin that is not swarthy but certainly strong enough to withstand hours in the glare of the outdoors.

Of course, since my half-white French, half-Hong kong Chinese niece arrived, I can stop wondering and see for myself just how adorable and lovely a mixed race baby can be. She has the most charming pair of eyes I've ever seen - huge pools of black diamond shine, brimming with wonder as she grows up with rosy, snowy skin and very dark brown, characteristically mad hair.

I've neglected the writing I like to put here and was beginning to feel a little bad. But then I started counting to myself all the things that keep me from scribbling away here, keeping me from my fellow blogging friends and here's the list. I think it's forgiveable.

- I am now working in a new job with a company / product that I love (let's just say it's a big, liberal, broadsheet newspaper...)
- I'm still in administration but the responsibilities are greater and quite different as I'm in multimedia now and have to concentrate a lot more when I'm in the office - no sneaky blogging in my lunch hour and then realising I haven't actually finished when the office suddenly empties at 6pm
- apart from the dayjob, Londonist is coming along in leaps and bounds, with quite serious things to attend to, distracting me further from the Avenue
- I went to Barcelona and rocked it hard for four days solid, then took two weeks out afterwards to recover from the excesses of The Party That Would Not Stop
- I've been out and about a lot
- oh, I don't want to make excuses, I've just taken some time off writing and now I'm back, with pictures and improved upper body strength

More to come. Lots and lots more to come. It's good to be back.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Vote! Vote now!

Londonist has been nominated for best European blog - vote now! We've had an amazing year: from January 2007 to January 2008 we've gathered an amazing, friendly, lively team and developed some well-loved strands on the site. Our voice is settling into something reliable and fun without being flippant, and we're nurturing some great relations with Flickr photographers, food writers, cowboys, cooks and generally fantastic Londoners.

It's been my rock, my source of creativity and consistently good social life during a fairly turbulent year when my skills, talents and creativity were stretched, challenged, neglected or underused. It was very up and down last year in terms of my career and how I decided to change it. This nomination is a good reward for all the dedication and faith in Londonist - vote to make the nomination a win, vote to prove me right: it was all worth it.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

"Just stick the microphone down your jumper, that's lovely..."

Look! It's me on Sky News! I've tried to embed the clip but it doesn't seem to be working so here's the link - requires Flash. I'm talking an enormous amount of rubbish, but that doesn't matter as my hair looks *fabulous*.

I got picked up in a cab from East London and was driven all the way to Sky Village which is a compound of lots of Sky TV buildings near Heathrow. Got dropped off at the Sky News building and was ushered into the Green Room where I had to wait half an hour as my driver was so worried about the traffic he floored it through West London and I was so early I clashed with the folks preparing for the 7pm Five News. I got to stand very awkwardly next to presenter Matt Barbet who is as twinkly and cute in real life as he is on TV - 100 watt smile and perfect hair.

Then he left and I had to sit and make polite, interested conversation with the lone guest for about 15 minutes. He wasn't a cocaine-snorting Blue Peter presenter as Katy had hoped, but better: it was Rimmer from Red Dwarf!

I made small talk with Rimmer from Red Dwarf and didn't once call him a smeghead or do the big twirly Space Corps salute! He was very nice, very keen to talk and when I watched his clip on the monitor, I noticed he used several phrases he had used in our conversation so having a chat with me was clearly a bit of rehearsal for him.

I really enjoyed saying 'inappropriate touching' on live TV and suggesting that LOLcats could crash planes.

So that's a small moment of media glamour to start the year. What's next? I'll let you know...