Food glorious food

My love affair with food is a long standing one, but in recent days I’ve been teetering on the brink of overdoing it with foods so rich and fatty I was starting to feel unhealthy. Take last night, for example, when I was treated to an early birthday dinner by my best friend. After consuming a fair amount of cheese and red meat earlier in the week I decided I would order neither. And yet, when the waiter came over, I found myself ordering deep fried brie followed by duck in red wine sauce. When it arrived, the wedge of brie was almost the same size as one you’d buy in a supermarket, but did I leave some of it? What do you take me for? By the time I got three quarters of the way through the duck, however, I had to admit defeat – a rare occurrence, as those that know me will attest to.

Today I decided to start afresh with the healthy eating plan. At lunch we all went to an Italian restaurant for someone’s leaving do where I was determined to order a salad. But as soon as I clocked the £8.95 lunch deal – applicable only for pasta and pizza – I shelved my plans for a salad and went for a pizza instead. Lashings of melted cheese? Tick. Bloating and self-loathing on the side? Tick. In short, it seems I have a serious problem with self-control where food is concerned. But never mind, it’s nothing that cooking an indulgent three-course meal for friends tonight won’t cure….

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In another life

If you had to choose five alternative careers what would they be? I’ve thought about this question for some time and my five (besides being a famous author, which I haven’t put on the list since I’m hopeful it might yet happen) would be:

1. Restaurant critic

It’s no secret that I love food (the only eating disorder I’d ever be capable of would be extreme binging – without the post-binge purge), so I’ve always thought being a restaurant critic would be right up my culinary street. Can you imagine making a living out of stuffing your face? Not only that-stuffing your face with top quality fare (because I’d obviously only be sampling the delights of the top rated Michelin star restaurants, not Happy Eaters or Wetherspoons. Hang on, do Happy Eaters even exist any more? Oh God, I think I may be showing my age).

2.Chocolate/cheese/wine taster (ideally all three)

On the same theme as number one, this is a no brainer. Chocolate, cheese and wine are unquestionably three of my favourite things, so why wouldn’t I want to spend my working day sampling them? One possible danger of this career choice would be risking getting sick of what you spend all day tasting. Possibly also the high chance of becoming morbidly obese and/or an alcoholic. Would still be fun though-for a while at least…

3.Photographer

I have my second job to thank for my  interest in photography. A colleague – who sadly passed away from a brain tumour while I was working there – taught me the basics of working in a studio with an SLR camera, and when I subsequently went travelling I bought my own second hand SLR to take with me. In the years since I’m ashamed to say the manual settings have taken a back seat in favour of automatic, and after my camera died a death (RIP Canon EOS 3D) I reverted to taking snaps on my phone, as I still do today. The iphone does have a good camera but nothing beats the feel of an SLR in your hand and the thrill of capturing a really crisp, professional looking shot. I wish I hadn’t let my photography skills slide. I think I’ve got an eye for a good picture and could have been a good professional photographer.

4.Travel journalist

Another no-brainer; I love to travel, I love to write, hence getting paid to do both would pretty much be my dream career. It’s not hard to see why this is one of the most sought after and competitive careers out there. But a girl can always dream…

5.Psychologist

I studied psychology as an undergraduate, and have always wondered whether I should have pursued it as a career. I’m interested in all of the theory (in particular Freud’s psychoanalysis) but in practice I was never all that academically minded, and I was beyond useless at statistics. Perhaps I’m just looking back with rose-tinted glasses, but if I had my time again I might just consider taking it forward. Fortunately I now have a job that has an element of psychology to it, so I suppose I’ve got the best of both worlds.

Thinking about it, in one way or another my life does incorporate most of the things I’ve mentioned, it’s just that not all of them bring financial gain. And as everyone knows money can’t buy happiness, that suits me just fine.

 

Of course another career could have been as a pop star. I think I look right at home with McFly in this picture, taken way back when they came to play at McDonald’s on the Strand for competition winners when I worked for Ronald McDonald House Charities. Can’t think why they didn’t ask for a duet…

Final day in the U, S of A – cheese and cupcakes

My final (sob!) day in New Jersey didn’t get started until gone midday, due to our impromptu late bedtime the night before. We took our time having breakfast and getting ready before heading into Manhattan for the main event of the trip: Murray’s Cheese Bar. Jen had told me about this place a couple of weeks before I arrived and I’d been eagerly anticipating my visit ever since.

Originally set up as a cheese shop, six months ago Murray’s opened its cheese bar where, for a very reasonable price, lovers of cheese and wine can find utopia. The bar itself, located on Bleecker Street, is decked out in pine with red detail. Diners can sit at tables but the best spot is along the bar that runs the length of the room, where the ultra-friendly staff (our server, Brad, was a great character) can chat to you as you sample the fare.

Murray’s does provide a range of starters, mains and desserts but the jewel in its crown is the cheese boards, which can either be selected from the menu or recommended by the knowledgable staff (we sampled Brad’s favourite cheese as part of our five-cheese board and both agreed it was the best of the lot).

And then there’s the wine. Since arriving here I’ve been amazed by the quality of the wine, and not a little embarrassed about the relative rubbish I’ve hitherto been consuming back home. It’s true that wine is more expensive in bars here than in England (a glass will set you back on average £8 or £9 compared to about £4 or £5), but the standard is noticeably higher so it really is worth it. At Murray’s you can have your cheese board paired with different wines in faster form or select one wine to drink throughout. We opted for a 2010 Argentinian Malbec which was just beautiful.

Our cheese board comprised one Camembert, a dolce latte, a blue cheese and two hard cheeses and they were, without exception, the most delicious cheeses I’ve tasted. Each board comes with a selection of bread, crackers and olives which the staff are happy to top up as required. The total bill set us back $100 including a $20 tip (I’m only just getting used to the 20% tipping system, but now I understand how little staff are paid in restaurants here I’d never consider not paying it) and it was worth every penny. We were even given two fresh baguettes to take home on our way out.

After Murray’s we decided one final culinary blow out was in order and walked over the road to Patisserie Rocco, but were dismayed to find it closed. Fortunately Jen recalled the name of another nearby patisserie, Sweet Revenge, which (as it happened) was also the place my friend had recommended I visit but whose name I myself had been struggling to remember – it must have been fate!

Sweet Revenge blows Magnolia Bakery’s cupcakes right out of the water. It’s only a small place but it has a lovely ambience and a mouth-watering selection of treats. Best of all, they offer a wine and beer pairing menu to help you choose the perfect alcoholic beverage to accompany your cupcake. I had the self-titled house speciality cupcake, the Sweet Revenge, which had peanut butter frosting and chocolate in the middle, and it was the most delicious cupcake I’ve ever tasted! It was paired with the same Malbec we had enjoyed in Murray’s.

After our cupcakes we rounded off the evening with a decaffinated cappuccino. Just before we left we offered the bar staff our baguettes as we knew we wouldn’t eat them and didn’t want them to go to waste. We were delighted when they not only accepted but promptly brought out a plate of cheese from the fridge and sat together to eat it with our bread. It was a particularly lovely moment given it was Easter Sunday-we joked about the irony of us having had our last supper before breaking bread with strangers.

Back at Jen’s we had one final picnic on the floor (now somewhat customary!) with peppermint tea and s’mores before turning in. As I write this it’s seven hours later and I’m sitting at Newark airport waiting for my flight back to London. The past six days have been nothing short of perfect, I’ve really loved every single second and don’t feel we could have done anything better if we’d tried. Jen’s been the perfect host and I’m now in no doubt whatsoever that we will be friends for life-amazing given that when I arrived here we’d only met once before in an Indian ashram two years ago, where our shared love of wine and food didn’t even come to light! I know we’ll support one another in achieving our writing goals, and I hope I’ll have an opportunity to repay her generosity in London if she makes it over anytime soon.

It’s been the best holiday and I’ll be smiling at the memories for a long time to come. I love New York! 🙂

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Time flies

I can hardly believe my final week at work is already upon me. It’s a cliché, I know, but time really does fly – not so sure about the ‘when you’re having fun’ bit, but hopefully that’s still to come. This time next week, quite possibly, as I recover from this weekend’s 16 mile Wholefoods run in style with a trip to the Big Apple to visit the girl I affectionately call my ‘spiritual twin’ (so named after the two weeks we spent helping each other  cling to our sanity in an ashram in southern India in 2011).

After the events of the past few weeks a holiday is just what the doctor ordered, and I’m very much looking forward to taking some time out to reflect on the imminent changes in my life (not to mention start tackling the enormous writing-related tomes I’ve purchased in preparation for going freelance). The plan, thus far, is to sip coffee, nibble (oh alright, scoff) cake, down wine and eat inordinately large amounts of CHEESE – with a bit of sightseeing and a LOT of nattering thrown into the mix to boot. In short, we’re going to set the world to rights one mouthful at a time and I cannot WAIT.

Because of all the recent changes in my own life it’s no surprise that I’ve been ruminating on the nature and importance of change as a life driver. Should we, I wonder, embrace it regularly as a way to rejuvenate ourselves, or should we rather seek out a more preferable state of equilibrium, in which we can be happy to see out the rest of our days?

At the moment I’m inclined to think the former, not least because of this article I remembered having read a few years back about how the brain perceives time. The article discusses the central concepts of a book, Making Time, written by Steve Taylor. In it, he claims that as we get older it seems as though time is speeding up, but that’s only because we fall into hum drum existences and get caught up in the same old cycle, day in, day out. If we seek out new experiences – for example by filling our weekends with trips to art galleries, coffee in kitsch new coffee houses and lunches and dinners in new locations with friends and family – then our perception of time actually changes and we view it as having passed more slowly than it actually did.

It could be argued that this is counter-intuitive, since the sensation of being bored often feel s as if it spans a lifetime, but if you stop to consider how fast the last five years have gone since you joined your current company you might begin to give credence to the idea.

As I’m no expert in how to live life, I’ll close with a quote from Steve Taylor’s book:

“Make sure your life is as full of new experiences as possible. If you live a life that’s full of routine, then time will always speed up but if you make an effort to travel to new environments and expose yourself to new situations, new challenges, even something simple like a new route to work, new interests, new hobbies, then this degree of newness slows down time.”

It seems a pretty compelling argument to me. Now where DID I put that passport….?

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I fell in love with this clock in the main square of Prague’s old town. It looks like a time machine!