Sunday, 29 March 2009

Flirting with organic

I've always had this sort of half-hearted intention to be more health-conscious, but kept putting it off for the future... Well, it looks like the future has arrived - for some reason, about 2 weeks ago I woke up and just decided to make a bigger effort with regard to this. I think this is partly as I'm aware that, like everyone, I'm not getting any younger (the hoardes of old people on the bus to Carabanchel in the morning are great reminder of that - though I try not to feel too sorry for them as though they're frail, they're deceptively ferocious, and capable of beating a teenager in the race for a good seat!)... And no, I'm not trying to live till 100, it's just that the longer you live the more 'mishaps' happen (falling down a flight of stairs, getting some illness, whatever) and I guess that if you are in optiumum 'condition' it might just increase your chances of being able to recover from said malady.

So, once the decision was made, the question was how to go about it? Vegetarianism? No way. I love meat and will NOT wear plastic shoes (or tie dye, or 'celtic' earrings). Macrobiotics? It seems to work for Madonna - though I'm sure having your face injected with cow's collagen is also helpful ;) No, I'm not ready to give up dairy products or potatoes and don't have the time or inclination to chew each mouthful of food 25 times (yes, 25) before swallowing it. So... I've decided to go moderatly healthy; so, for example, butter is ok, but on wholegrain, organic bread if possible... Instead of Coke, orange juice with sparkling water, etc. No strict rules or militancy, but just a bit more awareness...

Warning; this post now gets a bit cruel and misanthropistic (nice people avert your eyes).

Luckily, my neighbourhood is full of places where you can get healthy food and products. Unfortunately, most of them are called things like La druida de Lavapies - doesn't exactly conjure up images of youthful glamour. The other slightly worrying aspect of these places is that the people working there (who I assume to be health freaks) and almost all of the other customers look exhaused, pale, unhappy and a host of other adjectives which I feel are cruel to mention (but I will; hairy, chubby... ok, that's enough). I was struck by the same impression yesterday, when I insisted on dragging a friend to a vegetarian restaurant, whose customers turned out to be the entire population of Middle Earth. But, honestly, I don't give a damn whom I'm sat next to in a restaurant, what matters is that we're going to have a healthy, wholesome meal. It turned out to be the worst meal I'd ever had in my life. The starter of 'pastel de verduras' was a wobbly yellow paste that tasted of, well, nothing. For the main course, I decided to go for something a bit different; 'seitan'... (apparently it's some sort of meat substitute - in this case grilled), Satan would have been a more approriate name. Not only did it look awful, but I can only compare its taste to a tablecloth that has been slowly boiled overnight. I actually took a photo of the leftovers, but I can't inflict this on my 'readers'. 2 main things shocked me about this restaurant (El Granero de Lavapies - I hope they don't read this and sue), firstly that there was a queue of people to get in to the place, secondly, that it's perfectly easy to make delicious food without meat - and half the world does so quite effortlessly (I'm not a chef, but have managed to make both a pretty good vegetarian curry and bean-chilli this week).

Now I understand why everyone in the funny druid shop looked so anaemic and unhappy; they simple haven't had a good meal in years! I also think, that we've come to associate health with beauty, when in reality, though they can go together, they often exist completely independently of eachother. I'm off to have a big steak right now!

Seitan - I actually ate something that looks like this:

P.s. A random thought. I think an increasing amount of non-hippy types are going green and getting into 'wellness' and being healthier these days - someone should open a health shop in Madrid, but geared to this market - with not a windchime, insence stick or gnome in sight.

Monday, 23 March 2009

One year on

This is a post about not posting something. A year ago today something not-very-nice happened and I had this need to write something about it. I didn't want to write about it as it seemed cheesy and almost self-pitiful to do so, a cliché, but I reeeaally needed to. So, I wrote about it, and it felt good to do so. In fact, the post wasn't self-pitiful, it was even funny in places and was in some ways more about other people and humans in general than about myself. But the more I wrote, the more I had to say - it started to turn into an essay instead of a short, conversational blog post. In fact I had so much to say that I couldn't even finish it. And the very act of writing it, somehow dulled the necessity to publish it. So for the moment I'll leave it, maybe never touch it again, or perhaps go back and write more if I feel the urge. The main thing is that, overall, despite and because of many things that did and didn't happen I'm still very happy :-)

Friday, 20 March 2009

Today I'm craving...

...thai sweetcorn fritters with sweet chilli sauce. Whilst my cravings are usually savoury, occasionally I get a craving for something sweet - like the other day, when I would have killed for one of those chocolate-cornflake cakes like we used to make at school... Well, all this craving brought to mind this gross-yet-fascinating site 'Pimp that Snack' which I stumbled on a while ago. The disturbing concept behind this site is readers re-creating 'pimped up' (basically, giant) versions of their favourite snacks and posting them online. One of my 'favourites' is the Cadbury's Creme egg below, the instructional photos are terrifying. On the site, people have made giant versions of everything from Gummy Bears to Mars Bars. I'm not weird enough to do this, but if I had to pimp up a snack I think I'd make an enormous raspberry Jellybean :-)

Monday, 16 March 2009

Tired of crap photos

I've decided that I can no longer hold my head high (?) as a blogger if I don't learn how to take proper photos. If a blog is all about documenting things, then it really has to be almost as much visual as it is written. At the moment I look on enviously at other people's blogs wishing I could take 'arty' snaps of bowls of ravioli and cushions to accompany my writing on these highly important matters. I'm not so bad at taking photos of people, and anyone can take a nice photo of a monument, but I've noticed some people can use a camera to make the most mundane, everyday objects look beautiful - I guess many of these people are called photographers. I don't want to be the next David Bailey, just to be able to take snapshots (especially indoors) without making the space in question look like a darkened prison cell, and the inhabitants like greasy convicts. I was going to upload some of the bad photos I've taken of people, but I don't think my friends would appreciate the greasy convict analogy. A (small) part of the problem is my not-so-great camera, but the real problem is lack of skill behind the lens... Whilst it's perfectly normal for me not to be able to use the more technical functions of a camera, what surprises me is that someone as visual as myself finds it so hard to create/spot a good composition and capture it. Anyway, I'm not going to fork out 1000e on a photography class, so it looks like I'll be heading to the nearest kiosko to buy one of those magazines on taking photos (I have always wondered why those magazines always have some half-naked lady on the front?)

Always take photos facing the natural light source, for bright and airy shots like this one ;)

Friday, 13 March 2009

Letting of steam

I got back from one of my every-2-months-or-so trips to Oxford last night and I have to say I was relieved to return. Whilst I enjoy the shopping, the copious amounts of M&S biscuits and the occasional chance to see old friends and I can't deny Oxford is a beautiful city, in general I cant wait to get back and get away from the land of carpets in bathrooms, non-mixer taps, grey skies, saying 'sorry' all the time and rules, rules, rules EVERYWHERE, both written;

Polite notice: please wash your hands
Please do not use the milk; it belongs to the cleaner(??)
Please ensure that the shower curtain stays inside the bath so as to avoid flooding
No stong-smelling foods on the bus

.... and recorded;

Toiletries not meeting the 100ml maximum will be confiscated and destroyed (yes, destroyed! Airport workers would never ever feel tempted to take a brand new bottle of Chanel Nº5 for their own use)
Please face forwards and keep clothing away from the conveyor belt
G4 vehicle moving backwards, please stand clear
The law requires you to wear a seatbelt on coaches .... arrrghhhh!

I think I have got to used to Spain, where there are (plentiful) rules but they are mainly unwritten and you find them out for yourself - or usually some old lady makes you aware of them. I have always been anti-id-cards on principle as 'we brits value our freedom', but honestly I don't know why? In reality there's about as much freedom in Britain as in (dare I say it?) Sudan.... Ok, ok, that's a terrible thing to say, to compare the UK to a country where human rights and dignity are violated on a daily basis by evil islamist dictators... but still, my point is that in Britain you can't move without being told what to do (be quiet, stand in line, wait here), herded like a sheep or cajoled into buying something you don't need on buy-now-pay-never terms...

So, back to last night; I was smugly returning to my beloved Madrid... the land of freedom, I was looking forward to shouting without being told to shut up, dropping my used toothpicks on the floor without feeling guilty and breathing cigarette smoke over everyone around me without them being able to do a damn thing about it... (of course I don't really indulge in these activities, but the sheer act of being in the UK and being told that I can't even yawn without asking permission made me want to).

Well 16 hours later and I'm not feeling so smug; I've been kept awake all night by my mature neighbour 'making love' to (or perhaps killing?) her even more mature boyfriend incredibly loudly and expressively all night - houses in my neighbourhood have walls made purely of toothpicks, scraps of cloth and rubble (I have seen this with my own eyes) so you can hear absolutely everything. I have also woken up to a giant dead cockroach on my bedroom floor, which no doubt had been using my body as a trampoline/theme park all night - for all its shortcoming, in Oxford there are no cockroaches (the rules do not permit them; they are not allowed in the city or to attend the university) and although I can't prove this, I'm sure people make love very quietly, always respecting the sensitivity and need for sleep of their neighbours, and they especially do not make love after the age of 45.

In short, nowhere is perfect.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Hot or not? Interiors

A sort of coolometer of interiors by me (because I'm so qualified in these matters) - with a strong dose of influence from the credit crunch.

Up (still digging these):

Origami everything; mobiles, cushions (not towels though). Might spend next Friday night indoors making origami and saving money by not buying G&Ts :-)

Chintzy prints (I'm not keen on this one as I lived through the last chintz fad in the late 80's - hopefully it will never really take off in the mainstream). Modern chintz matches wallpaper, fabrics and lamps with the same pattern - but I'm sorry, for me, even Chloe Sevigny can't make chintz cool.

          Green; grass green, olive green, green green (recession = back to nature), green is everywhere at the moment; in prints, fabric patterns, often teamed with black and white and a bit of wood (blonde more often than dark). Green isn't just being seen in furnishings but also in our increasingly eco-friendly attitudes (not mine admittedly). Plants also feature highly, and are being displayed more creatively than ever in hanging gardens and unusual vessels. Just below is Chloe Sevigny's green wallpapered hallway.

        I love these 'wall gardens' but hate to think of all the creepy crawlies they could provide a home for...

        The lady (?) to the right is standing on a real moss bath mat, apparently very absorbent.

        Scandinavian furniture (I think this one is going to last). I 'heart' Hans Wegner.

        Re-purposed furniture (e.g. doctor's cabinet used as a bathroom cabinet or the office archiver below used in a home setting)

        Down (time to bin these trends):

        Neo-baroque - especially those black chrystal chandeliers and flock wallpaper

          Wall decals/stickers (at some point these just started to look cheap and now I only think they're ok in kid's rooms)

          Modular sofas - too hard and inorganic in shape. We need sofas that are going to 'hug' us when we're broke and forced to spend the entire weekend indoors.

          Resin furniture (too hard-edged and aggressive in these times of trouble)

          Culturally themed living spaces like Chinese bedrooms and Indian living rooms (unless you are actually in said country)... On second thoughts I predict a comeback for Africa as a design influence...

          Having too many designer pieces in one room (Fortunately, I am poor and don't suffer from this problem, but the same principle would apply if I were to fill my house with reproductions of designer pieces). An Eames lounger, a Barcelona chair and a Philippe Starck ghost chair in the same space is just showing off in these times of trouble, 'less is more' in the famous words of Mies van der Rohe - hear me preach!....

          Experimenting in the kitchen - 'asian' seabass

          A while ago I said I'd like to try more asian-inspired cooking and last night I did just that. It was pretty good (the audience was appreciative ;-) and I'll definitely try it again, perhaps subtly adjusting some of the flavours - I didn't follow any recipe, but I'm sure you could find recipes similar to this in cookbooks.

          Ingredients (for 2):

          • 2 fillets of sea bass

          • a piece of ginger about 2cm long, finely minced

          • a clove of garlic, finely minced (I'd use 1/2 a clove next time)

          • about 1/3 cup of coconut milk

          • generous splash oy soya sauce

          • grated rind of half a lime

          • juice of half a lime

          • spring onions, cut into julienne

          • handful of mint leaves, finely chopped (ideally though, I'd use coriander)

          Next time I'd also consider adding a bit of finely chopped red chilli


          Mix all the ingredients and marinade for an hour. Bake the fish and the marinade juices in the oven (covered with foil so that it steams) for around 15 minutes or until the fish is tender. I'm sure this would also work very well in a steamer or wrapped in a banana leaf or something.

          Serve with rice (which I've yet to learn how to cook properly) and mango salsa - I made the mango salsa by finely dicing a mango and adding minced ginger, chopped mint, lime juice and a little honey (you wouldn't need the honey if the mango was very ripe and sweet).

          I hadn't cooked with coconut milk for a long time (apart from making Piña Coladas, which strictly speaking, isn't cooking) and using it this time made me remember what a great flavour it has... Must find more ways of using it, perhaps in some sort of chicken noodle soup with lemongrass?? Hmmm...

          Art on post-it notes

          Mark Johns is the illustrator of the 'things to focus on; happy' drawing I used in a previous post. I love the apparent simplicity of is penwork and his cute scrawl, and wish I had the audacity to try and sell something I had drawn on a post-it note.

          I can totally relate to this sentiment:

          With this one I can tell myself that all those do-gooder greenies are really no better than me (really they are though :-)

          Even earwax can be cute:

          'French industrial' furniture

          More things I want, from Wisteria. I love the big wheels. Would look great in an airy white loft (wouldn't anything?)
          Behind-sofa console (though I see this more against a white brick wall):

          Locker room bench:

          Coffee table (tamer than the two items above, but still nice):

          Satisfying lamp

          I saw this lamp (Norm 03 pendant light) the other day and I can only describe its form as satisfying and completely covetable. There's something about its elliptical shape and coral-like plastic sinews that makes me just want to hug it (weird, I know).

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