Monthly Archives: March 2015

Some of my favourite things

I write this from my sick bed while on holiday on the Suffolk coast. I have been ‘glutened’, in my profile I state that I am gluten free, this is not by choice. I have Coeliacs disease, which is an intolerance of gluten (barley, wheats, oats & rye), eating any gluten at all makes me incredibly ill and causes a lot of damage to my body that takes a very long time to recover from. I won’t bore you with the details of how it happened but when a restaurant advertises a gluten free menu and you confirm with them three times when you are there that everything is gluten free and you are assured it is and then they feed you gluten it feels just miserable. So I thought I’d cheer myself by writing about one of my favourite subjects. Books.

I absolutely adore books, I always have. My house is full of them, on shelves, in boxes under the beds, in piles next to my bed. I have tried my hardest to pass this gift, this love of books, onto Lulu and so far so good. An outing to the local library after her ballet class on a Saturday morning or a trip to the bookshop for a browse on a Sunday is always a winner for both of us.

Books are a huge source of comfort to me, they soothe me, inform me and transport me. I read different books depending on my mood, at any one time I can have unto ten books on the go. But I just love that feeling when you come across a book so gripping, so enthrawling that you try to keep your eyes open in bed just so you can read a tiny bit more of it, rain towards the end. But then when you do get to the end you feel a little bereft and wish you hadn’t raced to finish it. Like having an amazing chat with an old friend and then they have to rush off.

I have read a lot of books, different styles and subjects but I do have a small core of favourites which I am happy to read over and over again. And on the occasions that I lose my reading mojo it is to one of these stalwarts that I turn to get me back on track.

In no particular order here are my favourite books of all time, so far;

1. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh. From the spires of Oxford to the Second World War, beautiful, poetic and other worldly.

2. American Psycho – Brett Eastern Ellis. Controversial, disturbing, amusing view of 80s yuppies in New York. Involves serial killing.

3. Hollywood Wives – Jackie Collins. Glorious glamorous trash.

4. The Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger. Coming of age and teen angst at its finest, possibly the Great American novel?

5. Bridget Jones Diary – Helen Fielding. Chardonnay, Mr Darcy, ‘that’ scene in the lake, you know the score.

6. The Secret History – Donna Tart. A contemporary of Ellis, dark and addictive. Another contender for the Great American novel?

7. An Omelette and a Glass of Wine – Elizabeth David. Beautiful food writing that always has me salivating.

8. Medea – Euripides. Fifth century BC GreeK tragedy, betrayal, infanticide & a dragon pulled chariot.

9. A Room with a View – EM Forster. An absolute classic, set in Florence and England.

10. Neals Yard Womens Health – Wise words regarding alternative remedies and holistic treatments.

Told you I had eclectic taste.

IMG_6077Some of the books I have on the go at the moment are as follow-

Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov . I’m re reading this controversial book to see if my view of of has changed since I read it 20 years ago.

Skeletons – Jane Fallon. Loved all her other books, great holiday read.

The Opposite of Loneliness – Marina Keegan. Collection of works from an exceptionally talented woman

The Goldfinch – Donna Tart. A favourite author’s long anticipated book

The Big Allotment Challenge: The Patch. Grow Make Eat – Tessa Evelegh. This accompanies the BBC TV series. I WILL use my allotment this year, honest.

The main picture is the beautiful Southwold Books.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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You Are Enough

Lulus father left just after her second birthday, I had never factored in being a single parent. I won’t lie, the last two years as a single parent have been challenging, ok being entirely honest, they have been damn hard. Suddenly I found myself responsible for everything, getting Lu to nursery and home when I work full time in London, Lu wasn’t sleeping through the night ( she rarely does now), she was still in nappies, still teething, the only family I have is my mum who lives in Greenwich, south London which is as far away from me on the tube map as you can get. And I was sad. The man that I loved had left me for no apparent reason, well nothing he was prepared to verbalise to me. Not only had he gone, but he had moved far away.

My mum was a single parent, my grandmother was a single parent to seven children to all intents and purposes (my grandad was alcoholic) and I really really tried my best in all my decisions to ensure that my baby would have two parents who stayed together. My dad abandoned me entirely when I was 18 months and the irony that my husband left when Lu was two was not lost on me.

I was brought up by my mum and my grandmother, both of whom were strong, tenacious and brave, though they had entirley different personalities. My mum is quiet while my grandma was loud, verging on bolshy. I’m more like my grandma than I am my mum. And while my grandma has pass on her influence on me is ingrained.

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So when I became a single parent I never worried about my ability to bring up a well rounded happy child, I worried about how I could fit in all the practicalities that had previously been shared between two. My mum stepped in (though she drives me insane, ‘why don’t you..’ ‘if I were you…’ arrrggghhh) to help with nursery pick ups, she did the laundry, she read lulu bedtime stories, she cuddled me when I cried and it all felt too much. But the thing that helped the most was that she had complete and utter faith in me, every time that I had a wobble she would say to me over and over again ‘You are enough’ ‘You are enough’ ‘You are enough’ and now I know that I am, indeed, enough, that I can cope well with the grown up stuff, getting a mortgage, arranging my own divorce, and that I am a good mum to Lulu.

So to my mum and grandma (wherever they sent you!), though Mothers Day has been and gone, and I think that you mither too much mum, I wanted to say thank you, for making me me and I wanted to tell you that I am not frightened anymore. I know that Lulu and I will be okay.

So to anyone having a hard time let me tell you this, You are enough, You are enough, You are enough, You really are enough…..xxxxxxx

I ate more of The Big (gluten free) Apple

More about all the lovely gluten free food I ate in New York, the pictures don’t do all the deliciousness justice but to be truthful I was too eager to eat than take photos.

IMG_2011Risotteria www.risotteria.com – If you have ever searched for a gluten free restaurant in New York this place will pop up time and time again. I found it many moons ago when I was seeing what the rest of the world had to offer gluten free and it was at that time only doing it one night a week but now it always serves a gf menu. They don’t take reservations but there is a little bar area to have drinks (loads of gf beer) and wait. Its quite cozy so don’t arrive with a days worth of shopping bags. The wait staff were super friendly, there were big fat crunchy gf bread sticks on each table and loads of gf risottos, pizzas and pasta, and ‘proper’ puddings (#fruitisnotapudding). Again the bf ate gf, bolognese risotto for him (heavenly) and pizza for me, light crispy and very olively, it had a tapernade base which i loved. I would eat here every night of the week if I could, well, I’d alternate it with Lilli and Loos. Baked cheesecake for pudding with a proper cheesecake base and tiramisu for him, were perfect. Its not a ‘hang around and chat’ sort of place, it was very busy and clearly extremely popular. Do not miss it off your list.

IMG_2052Friedmans www.friedmanslunch.com – This was recommended by many fellow gluten freers but more importantly it was recommended by my trusted friend www.glutenfreemrsd.com, so I put it on the list. It is in the middle of Chelsea Market which is a bit of a foodie heaven. Amazing looking fresh seafood places, a great looking wine cellar and an Antroplogie to wander around. Friedmans don’t take reservations so you put your name on the list and mooch around the rest of the market. We had a reviving coffee standing at the counter of No9, great coffee, highly recommended then wandered back for our table. We both ordered the waffle with fried chicken and syrup which was very unusual but delicious. The chicken was deep fried and crispy and all the things us gluten freers are usually denied because of cross contamination in fryers. The non alcoholic special drink was fresh raspberry lemonade was superb. We also got chatting to the people on the next table and one of them was a coeliac too! By the time I finished all my chicken and half my waffle I was full up so no pudding for me, which is very unusual. There were lots of amazing things on the menu and I really wanted to go back but the trip was too short to allow that. Chelsea Market is a great spot to start the Highline walk, www.thehighline.org, which is exactly what we did after lunch, hot coffee in hand. It was beautiful, it is an old railway track that has been re purposed as a walkway across the city, there are plants growing and seating areas all along it, you get a perfect view of the busy goings on in the streets below while you feel rather serene safe on your viewing platform.

IMG_2072Lilli and Loo www.lilliandloonyc.com – I love Chinese food, love love love it because I very rarely have it, and I’m talking once every 5 years. It is virtually impossible to find a gluten free Chinese place anywhere near me. Or anywhere in England actually. The main culprit that prohibits us gluten freers is the use of soy sauce, you can get a gluten free version but it is rarely used commercially. So imagine my prolific joy at finding a Chinese restaurant with a gluten free menu, even it t was nearly 4000 miles away in New York. Four hours after our place landed I was sitting in Lilli and Loos admiring the menu. Unfortunately it was then that I hit a wall of tiredness but I soldiered on and ordered special friend rice and stir fried spinach, the boyfriend ate gluten free too so I could share, and the dumplings he ordered to start were so delicious that I ate most of them and was then too full for my main but I persevered and it was amazing. We went back for lunch two days later and again it was wonderful. I was sad to fly home after such a great break but it wasn’t New York I was going to miss, it was Lilli and Loos. If you have the chance, go go go.

I ate the Big (gluten free) Apple

Following on from my last post, The Big (gluten) Free Apple, I thought i’d let you know what the food was actually like at the places that I went to.

IMG_1961Pips Bakery pipsplacenyc.com I was so excited about this place and it did not disappoint. There are  a number of gluten free bakeries in New York, such as Tu-Lus and BabyCakes NYC, but I loved the look of Pips website and they had a shop right around the corner from my hotel which clinched it for me. There were lots of great looking cakes and muffins but, to be honest, when I find gluten free cake I am drawn to the things I would rarely make at home so when I saw the gorgeous chocolatey loveliness of their freshly baked eclairs I knew that it was the cake for me. They also fill their eclairs with creme patisserie instead of cream which I prefer. I think the photos say it all.

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I want back the next day but there were no eclairs (boo) so I had a slice of coconut cake which was very coconutty and very moist. They have a little counter for eating so I perched there with my coffee and watched the world go by, I would highly recommend this place.

IMG_1975El Rey www.elreynyc.com This isn’t strictly a gluten free place but I didn’t go there for food, I went for coffee and it was great. I’d read about it in Bon Appetit (December 2014) magazine that the boyfriend had brought back from his last trip to New York and there was a glossy article about this new very cool spot. As soon as I received my invitation to NYC I dug out the magazine and brought it with me. El Rey is described as a luncheonette which is such a lovely old fashioned sounding word. Again, like Pips, it is small but oh so perfectly formed. Its a little off the beaten track, I went after a tour of The Tenement Museum,http://www.tenement.org, which is near by, and both are well worth the effort. I rambled on at the staff about the article in Bon Appetit and how lovely the place was and they were totally amenable to me taking photos. It was a warm haven from the cold snowy streets and the coffee was delicious. The most beautiful thing was the glass beehive water cooler but I didn’t get a photo, silly me.

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Bloom’s Deli www.bloomsnewyorkdeli.com This place had been recommended on a few gluten free blogs, and their chocolate and banana pancakes were highly praised so it was naturally the first place I went to the morning after we arrived. It it was super early so that the boyfriend could come before he headed off for a day in the office. Ps. His office is in the Chrysler Building, such a beautiful place, he is a very lucky man. These are the infamous pancakes and they were, well, ok but I must be honest and say that I wasn’t blown away. I make griddle pancakes for Lulu (and my boyfriends children when they stay over) on a Sunday morning and I have to say that they are rather nice. Nicer than those in America (whispered). The chocolate in America is very different to that in the UK which I wasn’t keen on, I think next time I’ll order one of their Ruben sandwiches which also gets high praise. There is actually a dedicated gluten free menu so there is plenty of choice.

I shall tell you all about Lilli & Loos, Risottorea and Friedmans soon (Spoiler; they were all just amazing).

 

The Big (gluten free) Apple

It has been many years since I flew anywhere – business or pleasure- so an impromptu invitation to New York was firstly, a complete surprise and secondly, a very welcome break from ‘life’. Being a grown up has been very trying recently – divorce, solicitors, finances – and an escape to a new destination was, literally, just the ticket.

Dont get me wrong, I have travelled quite a bit, my first plane journey was at the age of eight, all on my lonesome, visiting my father who lives very far away (I am the product of divorced parents). In those days your mum handed you over at check in, the nice air stewardess put an ID hanging from a piece of string around your neck and you amused yourself in Duty Free until they found you and put you on your flight.

But I digress. My point being that I love travelling but for some reason have never made it to New York. The only places in America I have visited are Miami – beautiful but expensive – and Las Vegas for my honeymoon (see reference above to divorce! Not that I’m blaming Vegas). I see a clear theme running through these detention choices; they are all locations for the CSI series but that really wasn’t why i chose them. (Ps. I adore CSI, Team Grissom).

So I had four nights and three days to make New York my own. My boyfriend was officially ‘working’ so I was left to my own devises on Friday and then we spent Saturday and Sunday together. For those of you who don’t know, I am a planner, not a “at 9am we are doing this and then we must be at place a. by 2pm’, I take a more ‘organised spontaneity’ approach.

Firstly, I found all the yummy restaurants and coffee places I wanted to try out and then I left the rest to chance. I marked them all very clearly on my map (goodness, am I overly organised?). The reason for this was two fold; I love love love food and I have Coeliacs disease (an intolerance to gluten – barley, wheats, oats and rye), it is a serious disease that is just miserable if you don’t adhere to a gluten free diet, and the long term consequences are grave. So I can’t just go with the flow and eat where ever the fancy takes me therefore I have to be organised.

From the research I did, and the recommendations from fellow gluten freers, New York had a great variety of paces to eat at, top of my list was Lilli and Loo on the Upper East Side, a Chinese restaurant with a gluten free menu. I tweeted with them to confirm they still catered for gluten freers and they sent me a copy of the dedicated gluten free menu which I kept drooling over. In fact, I was so excited about having Chinese food, usually impossible because of the wheat in soy sauce and wheat batter used in some dishes, (including cross contamination issues, ie frying gluten free food in a fryer in which gluten covered items were cooked renders every thing contaminated with gluten) that I planned dinner there twice.

The other big things on my list were pancakes and waffles and I was lucky enough to find two places, Blooms, an old skool diner, around the corner from my hotel, and Friedmans in Chelsea Market. They both had gluten free menus and I tortured myself for ages regarding what I’d choose and, as US portions are simply huge, I wasn’t sure i’d be able to get through more than one dish at each place. That’s where my boyfriend always comes in super handy, I get him to order something else that I’d like to try and then share his. He is a good man, he is not coeliac.