Six suitcases and a rescue package

We have been living out of six suitcases and a rescue package since early January when we landed back in London. At first it was fun, it was like an adventure camping in our own homes then the reality of not having more than two plates begins to set in…

There are pluses, like the peace you get from having an uncluttered home without heaps of stuff everywhere. Having a very minimal wardrobe which forces you to wear everything you have and makes you realise how little you really do need. (This one is a huge bonus and is making me think I need to keep with the cutting down of clothes and moving towards an ever more streamlined wardrobe).

On the minuses cooking with two saucepans and a frying pan does rather limit one. That and only having one kitchen knife, two plates, four mugs and a few knives and forks. The things I have really missed have all been to do with the kitchen and cooking and eating. I cannot wait to eat at a dining room table again. Nor to have my recipe books or my kitchen gadgets, like a really good grater, it is surprising the things you miss. Or to finally be able to invite people over for dinner and hosting dinner parties again.

We are moving ever closer to having our stuff again though so this shouldn’t be for too much longer. I’m sure soon enough I’ll be rabbiting on about how much crap we have and how we really need to get rid of it all…

Adventures with Gnocchi

 

For some reason I decided I wanted to try making potato Gnocchi. I have never made it before, it couldn’t be that hard could it?! Well yes, as it turns out there is definitely a knack to it. One which with practice I will hope to achieve.

If you read everything on the web you are led to believe that potato gnocchi is almost like the devil incarnate, it will never work how you want it to, you will always over flour or cause some other trouble. Most recipes recommend an egg, then say that the real way is without an egg. Navigating potato gnocchi land is not so easy.

I found an excellent video on Saveur where the chef Cathy Whims talks you through making gnocchi. It looked easy enough from her video…

So I cracked on, boiled my potatoes with their skins on, peeled them warm, grated the warm potatoes (this was not so much fun, those hot little bastards hurt your fingers) and then mixed in the flour. And this was where it all started going a little wrong… I didn’t use enough flour, not at all. Even with the generous dusting I had put on the counter, even though it came together and rolled nicely it was not really a dough, more grated boiled potato with a tickling of flour.

I didn’t realise this though, they looked like they should they were gnocchi sized and shaped! But upon putting them in the pan for the briefest of time and pulling out gloopy little starchy falling apart-y blobs I realised the error of my ways.

So gnocchi, you had not defeated me yet, I will try again, I feel like this is one of those things that when you master it you’ll never turn back and it seems like a good dinner thing. Onwards with culinary adventures!

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Guinea

I went to Guinea for work recently, it was the first time I had been to West Africa and the first time I have been to a country which is as poor.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, I’ve been fortunate to have travelled a fair bit, but nothing quite like this. To start with there are the medical concerns, the yellow fever vaccination, the anti-malaria medication, the warnings about food hygiene, water safety and everything else you have to think of. Guinea is one of the countries where the mosquitoes carry cerebral malaria, the kind that kills you within a couple of days of contracting it, the kind you really really don’t want to get. Then there’s the cholera epidemic they are just coming out of the other side of. When you start to read about all the things which you can contract and which can cause you trouble it is easy to worry (or for me it is at least). Thankfully work and my client were excellent in preparing me and ensuring we had the necessary.

We arrived in the afternoon, it was hot and humid, a stark change from the cold and grey I had left behind in London. The airport was easy to navigate and we swept through quickly. The hotel we were staying at was a short drive away and we got our first chance to begin to get a feel for a Conakry. Unsurprisingly it is a low-rise city, with houses along the road and as we drove along we saw children playing football on make-shifts pitches, family gatherings and the ebb and flow of people’s daily lives taking place. Conakry has no sewerage system, so you also see piles of rubbish on the side of the road and the odd burning pile of rubbish where someone has decided that there is a more than enough and it needs to be got rid of. I also saw goats, cats and dogs wandering along and vendors walking along with their dead chickens or fish ready to sell.

Most of the week was taken up with work so we didn’t get out and about very much, in fact we spent all day working and then had dinner and a beer before crashing out under the mosquito net. However on the final day there my colleague wanted to buy a couple of things for his kids so we were taken to a local market to try and buy a football t-shirt and a dress. As soon as the vendors saw us we were surrounded, everyone wanting to sell us their goods, everyone knowing as soon as they saw us that we had money and could afford not to drive such a hard bargain. As we drove away we had kids knocking on the window asking for money, for a drink. It made me acutely aware of all that I had and how very lucky and privileged a life I lead.

I came away from the week away thinking about what could be done, about how when a country is somewhere down at the bottom of the GDP per capita table there is so much scope for change and how hard it really is to do that. It was a reality check seeing the poverty and the life that goes on and meeting people who were warm, friendly and full of optimism. I’m pretty sure I won’t be going back anytime soon unless work takes me there again but I am glad that I got the opportunity to visit a corner of the world I might never have been able to get to and to be able to reflect on what it is I have and how lucky and blessed I am.

Moved

We made it. After returning from San Francisco we went head first into sorting things out, throwing stuff away, giving stuff away, selling stuff. Anything to try and process everything we had in our flat in Washington. It was both incredibly cathartic doing all that sorting and getting rid and at times hard. There were moments when I had to stop because I couldn’t bear just throwing away things which were still good but we couldn’t fit in our luggage or take with us.

So six suitcases later we arrive at Heathrow, tired, excited and feeling slight trepidation about what happens next. J chose a lovely flat, lots of natural light and space, plus thankfully warm, especially these last few days. The first few days were tough, not so much a cultural adjustment, it all felt very familiar, more a life adjustment. The odd feeling that this was it, we weren’t just visiting like we had been for the last couple of years.

We’re getting there, day by day. Seeing friends, trying to write the long list of people we want to catch up with and balancing it with needing to live a leaner life and within a tighter budget. London thankfully is still the wonderful city I remembered it to be and we are enjoying discovering a new part of it (we’re NW now not SW as we were before).

Now to wait the few weeks (months?!) until our stuff arrives across the ocean and then we’ll all be set!

San Francisco (Holiday!)

We went West for Christmas. It was good, for us both. Although the weather was not all that California weather is meant to be (read pissing rain for many of the days we were there) the enforced inside time and relaxation was a blessing.

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Due to the terrible weather we spent the first day in the California Academy of Sciences. They had an amazing coral reef aquarium with the most beautiful array of fish. I could have watched it for hours.

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Of course there is the bridge, which is as spectacular in real life as it is in your imagination. And it really was that grey for many of the days… Although there’s something about dull, low grey and mizzle which makes me feel so cosy.

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Our friends took us in search of sunshine and find it we did. We even found some Elk. Who knew there were Elks in Northern California, certainly not I. Speaking of Elk we also saw Elephant Seals and hummingbirds (so very amazing).

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And then the last day spent in a blaze of sunshine, seeing the city on foot and enjoying the colours and contrasts that this city provide, old vs new, green space vs urban sprawl, poor vs rich.

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I’m sure we’ll be back.

2012 in review

2012 was a year of travel, a lot of it. It was another busy year, I remember feeling incredibly positive at the beginning of the year, I think because 2011 had been such a tough year in many ways. By mid-autumn admittedly that positivity had dropped, it felt like we were mired in just getting stuff done and dealing with crap.

In short I did the following travel:
2 trips to South Africa
1 to Australia
1 trip to France and the UK
4 trips to the UK
1 trip to Canada
1 to San Francisco
A few nights in New York

All of the above coupled with an incredibly busy work year and no proper holiday meant that by the end of the year I was exhausted, physically and mentally. If nothing else 2012 has taught me how much I really need to look after myself and what a work-life balance is not.

2013 starts with a huge change, we move back to London and have to work out living in somewhere we know so well but which will be different from before. I am hopeful again for next year. I am planning holidays in my head already, we have a friend to visit in Istanbul, we have Italy to explore and we have time to spend together on a beach doing sweet f.a.

I am also looking forward to reconnecting with old friends, keeping new ones and taking the next steps in J and I’s life together. We want to buy a house at some point, we’d like somewhere of our own, who knows maybe that’s what 2013 will hold for us.

Christmas 2012

We spent Christmas together this year, just the two of us in San Francisco. For the first eight years together we went our separate ways for Christmas, it was the easiest thing to do, I saw my family, he his. Sometimes we might visit the other one after Christmas and before New Year but in the main we kept things as they had always been.

The last two years have been different. Last year we were in DC, sharing Indian takeaway with friends. This year we were on holiday, our first holiday which was longer than 4 days since probably last Christmas. It was a quiet affair, the weather in San Francisco was horrid, truly truly horrid and so we didn’t have much of a desire to get out and about. Instead we made one foray to the restaurant for lunch and then spent the rest of the day relaxing, I even squeezed in a two hour nap.

Lunch was dim sum, a big departure from the more traditional Christmas fare, and certainly no pudding, Brussels sprouts or even Port. In some ways it was good to be doing something so different, it made it less odd to be so far away and just the two of us.

As much as it was lovely to be spending the time together and having a very relaxed time, having done things differently for two years I now feel ready to return to more traditional ways and to sharing it with family as well as friends. At some point J and I will get to build our family traditions for Christmas, thankfully this shouldn’t be too contentious as both families are relatively aligned. In the meantime however, I will look forward to next year knowing that it will again be different from the last two but familiar too.

10 years

J and I have been a couple for 10 years now. 10 years of time spent growing up together, learning about each other, working together, celebrating, commiserating and becoming the people we are now. It felt momentous that moment when we ticked over into double digits.

It’s been another whirlwind year, so much going on since last year and more big changes to come. Thankfully though before the changes we get to relax a little, we are heading off to San Francisco for Christmas and some down time. Time to re-connect, to forget all the stress and crap we have to deal with and to get on with enjoying being together and exploring somewhere new.

I do wonder what the next 10 years will hold and I am looking forward to finding out…

 

Nine years

Eight years

Seven years

Health

I’ve been under the weather for about 3 weeks now and after a while it really starts to get to you. Normally I’m in fairly rude health and this most recent stint of illness has made me realise how much I take it for granted that I’m healthy. It’s also made me think about how I really do need to take better care of myself.

This year has been busy, work has been intense at times, good but with no let up and I have travelled a lot. I’ve not had a holiday where I’ve had an entire week off since last Christmas when my in-laws visited. I really need a break to relax properly and give my body a little love.

I’m contemplating a cleanse, I’ve never done one before but with the illness has come very few gym visits and comfort eating so that of course means a slightly more relaxed waistline than I would perhaps like… The next few weeks are crazy busy though, we fly back to the UK for a few days to try and find somewhere to rent, then I have a work project for a week, the following week we head to San Francisco for a few days and throughout this time we also have to sort everything out to move. Fun times.

Still I can’t complain, I’m feeling better, things *are* happening and slowly but surely we’ll get there, one way or another. As a wise friend said recently you have to eat an elephant one bite at a time.