Monday, February 24, 2014

London Guide: The Refinery

Located in the row new buildings near the south bank of the Thames in Southwark, K and I stumbled upon The Refinery while looking for brunch on Sunday (and the place we were originally going to eat had a 40-minute wait). I was immediately taken in by the decor, which played to the strengths of the area's many converted warehouses.

It was brunch, so coffee and cocktails were obviously in order.  The coffee was good and came with a little chunk of gooey brownie on the side, which is a really good way to win me over at the start of a meal.

I ordered a Breakfast Club 1985, with Little Bird gin, Campari, fresh raspberries, lemon, sugar and egg white, and it was pretty good - both bitter and sweet.

For brunch, I ordered the Californian kick start - poached eggs on rye with hummus, guacamole, tomato, mushroom and sweet chilli sauce.  I'm not going to lie, I was definitely expecting my plate to be a little more full and a little less stylised, but it was the perfect amount of food to sate my hunger but not make me feel stuffed.  The dish would have been really good if my poached eggs were cooked correctly, but both of the yokes were well done and hard, making the whole thing just too dry.

K ordered the proper London fully loaded breakfast, which was comprised of grilled sausage, sweet cured streaky bacon, roasted tomato, field mushrooms, baked beans, black pudding, two eggs cooked to order and unlimited toast - except that the waitress didn't know that it was unlimited toast and we were unable to argue when she said she'd be billing for extra toast once our menus had been taken away.  K said the breakfast was good, but an English breakfast should be something you can mix all together - particularly the beans, as they add a lot of the moist, and the separate compartments made this awkward.

Overall, The Refinery was perfectly pleasant, but somewhat victim to style over substance.  We were told by our waitress that the brunch menu was new and that they were still working out the kinks, so I can forgive that somewhat.

One thing that I did love was the taste wheels in their drinks menu, placing beer and red and white wine on a wheel according to taste - visually fun.

Ratings: (numbers out of 10, £ out of 4) 

Food: 6.5
Atmosphere: 7 
Service: 7
Price: ££
Overall experience: 7

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Patrick Dempsey's Family Home in AD

Architectural Digest's March issue features Patrick Dempsey's family home, a beautiful adoption of one of Frank Gehry's earliest houses. Built in the late 1960s, this Malibu house was originally built by Gehry for artist Ron Davis.  Dempsey now lives here with his wife, three children and French bulldog, Horton.  Their home is beautiful and looks incredibly peaceful and warm.

Is that McDreamy's trailer I spy?

Monday, February 17, 2014

A New Home

Over the weekend, I moved to a new flat in a new neighbourhood on the opposite side of London to where I've been living for the past three years.  I'm moving from the lovely little suburb of Twickenham that really has felt like home back to to North London to (the also very lovely) Highbury and a lot of new beginnings.

I'm excited but also apprehensive. As I am settling in - and after all the new house tasks are done - I know there will be good days and bad days ahead.  I also feel like there's a lot of fun to be had and a lot of new discoveries to be made, and that's giving me a lot of hope.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Dreaming of a Dressing Room

I am moving to a new flat and a new part of London soon, so I have recently been going through the gauntlet that is the London rental market.  In the last few weeks, I have seen some terrible, small, dark, run down flats that are still asking for premium rental prices.

I have now found a lovely flat in a lovely neighbourhood, but amidst fighting through the frustratingly expensive and dreary London property market, I have found myself dreaming of having enough space for a dressing room - or even for a large closet.  Any of the following will do.

(Nate Berkus's dressing room via Architectural Digest)

(Emily Schuman's closet via Elle Decor)

(via domino)

(via domino)

(Jenna Lyons' dressing room via domino)

In the meantime, I've at least got a good sized built in cupboard.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Cook This: Braised Pork Cheek in Red Wine

You may have noticed, but in my recent restaurant exploits, both in London and in New York, I have discovered how yummy cheeks are.  So I was delighted when I came home Friday night, and K told me that he'd picked up some pig cheek from the butcher.

Admist an afternoon/evening of rugby (the 6 Nations started this weekend - see one of the reasons that girls should watch rugby here), I made some guacamole for lunch and took some care to give these cheeks the attention that they deserved.  Slow cooking is key with cheeks, and you don't want to rush it.

(I was so excited that I didn't pay much attention to presentation -
enjoyed with home brewed IPA)

Recipe: Braised Pork Cheek in Red Wine (for 2)
A bit of olive or other oil
Pig's cheeks (I used 6 pieces around 400g)
1 large carrot, chopped
1 parsnip, chopped
2 shallots, roughly chopped (I ended up using 1 shallot and half a red onion I had left from the guacamole)
2 cloves of garlic
A bunch of thyme
Bit of rosemary
3 bay leaves
2 tbsp or so of fruit jelly (I recommend quince)
1 green apple, diced (I used Granny Smith)
Squirt of honey
1 bottle of bold, rich red wine
Sprinkle of flour
Salt and pepper for seasoning

1. Marinate the cheeks in red wine for a few hours.  This step probably isn't essential, but will make the cheeks more tender.

2. Preheat the oven to 160C/320F. 

3. Heat oil in a pan (use a dutch oven or other stove-friendly roasting dish if you have one), season the cheeks with salt and pepper, then brown the cheeks for a minute or two. Remove from the pan.

3. Saute the carrot, parsnip, garlic and shallot on a low heat until soft.

4. Tuck the cheeks back into the pan amongst the veg.  Sprinkle with flour.  Season with thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, salt and pepper.

5. Add a tablespoon of fruit jelly and enough red wine so that the cheeks will be mostly submerged once in the oven.  Stir and bring to a boil.

6. If you're using a pan that cannot go straight in the oven, transfer everything to a glass dish.  Cover and stick in the oven for 2-2 1/2 hours.

7. After an hour or so, taste to check the seasoning and re-season as necessary.  Add one further tablespoon of fruit jelly and one small green apple (At the last minute, I decided to add mushrooms instead of apple, as I had quite a hungry K to feed - but we both decided that apple would taste better). Cook for the remaining time or until the cheeks are tender enough to come apart without much effort (i.e. with just a fork or nearly).

I recommend serving with creamy mash and green veg. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Read This: My January Reading List

I constantly have a book on the go.  I'm not sure that there's anything that I love more than books.  I'm also an avid hater of regular e-reading and need the real lief, physical experience - but I won't go off on a tangent and try to persuade you (at least not today).

Since the new year, I have been just plain hungry for reading.  I want to devour books as quickly as I can but am also very sad when they end.  I've managed to get through four this month, and I highly recommend them all.  

This is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz

And that’s when I know that it’s over.  As soon as you start thinking about the beginning, it’s the end…

The half-life of love is forever

The chapters of This is How You Lose Her read like a collection of short stories often linked by the recurring character and Yunior, who appears in Junot Diaz’s previous books, at various stages of life and the major theme of the infidelity of men in romantic relationships. Diaz himself has described the book as a young man’s struggle to overcome his Dominican cultural training and inner habits to create lasting relationships.  Yunior is certainly a man who appears to be seeking intimacy and, perhaps, lasting love, but he is ultimately terrible at succeeding in this.

Ultimately, I read the book as being a struggle with time in love, both familial and romantic. This book is presented in a very minimalist state, in that Diaz uses his words sharply and directly to tell these tales across a mere 224 pages, which in its own way adds to the conveyance of this struggle.

Rating: 7/10

Where'd You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple

"You are bored. And I'm going to let you in on a little secret about life. You think it's boring now? Well, it only gets more boring. The sooner you learn it's on you to make life interesting, the better off you'll be."

I now understand why this book was widely very popular over the last year.  Where'd You Go Bernadette, which reads like Bernadette's daughter piecing together the events in her parents' lives, is a darkly funny tale of a modern family.  Bernadette, former famous architect, mother and wife, is a great character who has lost herself and then goes missing.  A quick and witty read.

Rating: 7/10

The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy

"...the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don't deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don't surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover's skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don't. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won't. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn't. And yet you want to know again. That is their mystery and their magic."

"The air was full of Thoughts and Things to Say. But at times like these, only the Small Things are ever said. Big Things lurk unsaid inside."

I thought that this book had lost me within the first chapter, which I found quite confusing - maybe due to switching between the direct writing styles of Junot Diaz and Maria Semple to something much more full of imagery and multiple meanings.  I'm glad I stuck with it.  The God of Small Things is the story of a family, of the caste system in India and of love - the Love Laws, that lay down who should be loved and how and how much.  It is the story of a widow, of a proud man and of two-egg twins who lose themselves to a tragedy that lingers throughout the book.  What I really loved about the way this book is written is how Roy plays with the words, using capital letters to make proper nouns out of important concepts and how a large part of this dark story is told through the innocent eyes of children.

Rating: 8/10

Ghana Must Go, Taiye Selasi

"He isn't sure he ever knew them, or could, that a man can know a woman in the end. So, the women he;s loved. Who knew nothing of satisfaction. Who having gotten what they wanted always promptly wanted more. Not greedy. Never greedy...They were doers and thinkers and lovers and seekers and givers, but dreamers, most dangerously of all. 
They were dreamer-women. 
Very dangerous woman. 
Who looked at the world through their wide dreamer-eyes and saw it not as it was, "brutal, senseless," etc., but worse, as it might be or might yet become.
So, insatiable women.
Un-pleasable women.
Who wanted above all things what could not be had. Not what they could not have - no such thing for such women - but what wasn't there to be had in the first place. And worst: who looked at him and saw what he might yet become. More beautiful than he believes he could possibly be."

Another story about family, Ghana Must Go, is about the Nigerian-Ghanaian Sai family living in the United States.  This is the story of the fallout of a family once prospering, after disgrace causes the head of the family, Kwekeu, to abandon his wife and five children and return to Ghana.  The family becomes fragmented and is brought together again after a decade by another tragedy.  Taiye Selasi's debut is beautifully written and completely captivating.  She elegantly portrays the effect of personal damage and grief and pays equal tribute to the lasting effect of one's scars and the ability to overcome. This novel has been tipped to win awards and deserves them.

Rating: 9/10
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