Monthly Archives: May 2011

In search of good Thai food…

It’s always been one of my firmly held convictions that you can’t get decent Thai food in London. I say this as someone who once waitressed (on reflection, quite badly) in a very good Thai restaurant in Australia. The Bangkok-born chef made sure the kitchen staff only prepared half a recipe so they would come back to buy the food rather than re-creating it at home, and his wife got away with paying 30 bucks a night, no matter how late you worked, by providing a staff meal at the end of the night. Quite frankly I would have worked for free.

I did once go to Sing Buri in Leytonstone, we had very good Thai. I’ve been back a couple of times, but the first time we got completely lost and it was full so we ended up at the not-so-good Thai restaurant down the road, and the second time we got completely lost and ended up almost missing our two-hour window to eat, and hell will freeze over before I attempt a third visit with a screaming infant thrown into proceedings.

But as it turns out I might not have to, because there is now a Thai food stall, Moraes of Manna, at the London Fields Primary School Saturday Market (a kind of spillover to Broadway Market; there’s also a farmers’ market on Sundays from 10-2). I had a green chicken curry, but they also do summer salads, chargrilled pork skewers with tamarind sauce, red tofu curry and sticky rice with bananas and taro. And it was really, really good. They are there tomorrow and I would recommend a visit.

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Something for the to-do list: write to the Lord of Dalston

The indefatigable Bronwen Handyside, Secretary of Hackney Keep Our NHS Public, has forwarded details of how you can contact Lords about the proposed dismantling of the NHS.
The ‘pause’ in the Bill’s progress ends at the start of June, so now is a good time to write. Although most of the discussion around the changes focuses on amendments to the current plan, the scariest aspect of the Bill, which barely rates a mention by Cameron et al, is the removal of the Secretary of State’s legal duty to provide health service in England. Read below to find out more… Continue reading

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In search of decent kids’ books

I’m new to the world of children’s books – or rather, returning after a rather long absence – and I have been impressed by what is out there at the moment… and keen to find more.

I started off in true PFB (Perfect First Born) fashion by reading my son books that were a bit too old for him. But they seemed to ‘overstimulate’ him (squawking and jerking around; it’s easy to spot after a while but at first you think, oh dear, he’ll be on the Ritalin in a few years) so now we’ve gone back to baby books, ie. anything with flaps to look under, and I’m saving the other ones for when he’s a bit older.

He also loves a bit of poetry, I think because babies respond to rhythm, and that is what poetry is all about. Plus it’s meant to be read aloud, so is a good way to appreciate it properly and entertain your baby at the same time.

Here are some of the children’s books I’ve either discovered or rediscovered lately. I would love to hear any recommendations of good authors & books… Continue reading

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Sight of Eternal Life Church, Shrubland Road

This battered corrugated iron church on Shrubland Road looks like it would be more at home in Alabama, or perhaps a Flannery O’Connor novel, than in Dalston, and I have always been intrigued by it. So I was happy to open a copy of Hackney: Modern, Restored, Forgotten, Ignored, and there it was. Built in 1858 at a cost of just £1250, it’s believed to be the oldest surviving example of an iron church in existence, a ‘tin tabernacle’ as they are called.

Published by The Hackney Society and available through their website or from Pages of Hackney, I found this book at the local hairdresser of all places, and went out to buy a copy soon afterwards. It looks at 40 buildings in Hackney to mark 40 years of The Hackney Society. As well as historical buildings it features contemporary homes and new schemes such as Adelaide Wharf and Sutton House, and is beautifully photographed and well researched. The saddest chapter, ‘Forgotten’, looks at buildings that have been demolished.

A bit of a gem, and a fantastic book for anyone interested in architecture, history or Hackney.

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On becoming a British citizen

So I became a British citizen a few weeks back at Hackney Town Hall. Of course, I’ll never be truly British. The entire Australian cricket team are still dead to me, for a start*. But I quite liked the idea of making the decade I’ve spent here official, and Old Blighty has been good to me. This rite of passage coincided with my reading ‘Watching The English’ by anthropologist Kate Fox and although it’s somewhat reductive, I wish I’d been handed it on arriving at Heathrow in 2001 with a single battered suitcase (the exit strategy won’t be quite as straightforward).

She points out so many little things that I’ve sort of absorbed over the years, but would have benefited from knowing outright. For example, it’s a little rude to introduce yourself at a party. That’s seen as American. And the greater your power, or intelligence, or status, the more you should take the piss out of yourself (this is why friendly UK doctors are so liked in Australia, while the homegrown ones tend to have a God complex). And while you should do a good job at work, you should never take it too seriously. That’s being a jobsworth (one of my favourite English terms). Pubs are for banter only, never serious conversation. And the queue is sacred.

I was reminded of this last point when registering at the Town Hall. First you are told to mill about, and then once it looks reasonably busy a man calls, ‘Form a queue to get your documents checked.’ I resisted the urge to make an obvious joke about this being part of the test, because although most did a pretty good job the woman behind me practically climbed on top of me to hurry things along, and I don’t think she would have got it. I did give her a little tut, though, which is the correct way to deal with this sort of thing.

Then we waited around for a while upstairs before being ushered into the council chambers for a discussion of the how ceremony should run while our families waited outside. It became dismally apparent at this point that there was a definite mismatch between how Hackney Council would like these ceremonies to roll out – with dignity and a certain sense of occasion – and how they usually run on the day. Hanging over everything the woman said was the heavy shadow of former ceremonies that hadn’t gone so well, with complaints filed, tears shed and meetings held.

‘Even if you’re not giving your oath, please show respect to others by keeping quiet when they are giving theirs,’ we were told, and: ‘If your children are being noisy they will have to leave.’ [Later, children were kicked out for being noisy, she was deadly serious]. And, ‘When you come to give your oath, you’ll see on the paper that it says, ‘I (name) do solemnly, sincerely….etc’. When you come to read it out, don’t read ‘I, name. Please insert your own name there.’ This is the sort of thing I do, so I crossed out ‘name’ and wrote in my own. I didn’t think anyone else would be so silly, though, until the real ceremony began and the second person said, ‘I, name, do solemnly….’ And then had to start again.

Once we’d all sworn allegiance to the Queen we came up to receive our certificates, had our photos taken and were given our certificates by the rather queenly deputy Speaker Linda Kelly, who welcomed each us personally and told us that there are around 200 languages spoken in Hackney, and that when she came over from India as a child she had no such ceremony, so we were very lucky. I was expecting tea and digestives at this point (at the Australian ceremony, I’m told, you get lamingtons), but I suppose these are miserable times for that sort of thing. We were, however, given an I Love Hackney bag.

Later, as I was walking towards Hackney Central for a spot of trolley rage in Tesco, I saw something that summed up what I love about England: the polite tolerance allows a lot of people to jolly along, a lot of the time, on a very crowded little island.

The traffic was banked up on Graham Road, and a bloke in a white van leaned out of his window to the a shopkeeper standing outside his shop and yelled, ‘’Ow much for a mixed bunch?’

The florist said, ‘A fiver,’ so in the man leapt out of his van while someone inside the shop brought out his change. As he took the bunch he turned to the driver behind him – who was patiently waiting, although the lights were green by now – and said, ‘To keep me on the right side of the missus.’

To which the man nodded in a wise sort of way and remarked, ‘Now you can go and get pissed’.

* This is untrue, I just like the way it sounds. I couldn’t give a shit about the Ashes. In fact, I think it’s good that Australia loses its lustre as a Great Sporting Nation. After all, it’s possible to be a sport-obsessed nation but also focus on things other than sport occasionally. Just look at the Germans, with their world-reknowned manufacturing expertise. And they are batty about sport. I remember when David Cameron came to power and I was having a good old rant about it and my German-born husband finally cracked and said, ‘It wasn’t a military coup. He didn’t kill anyone. Get over it.’

To which I replied, ‘German versus Italy, 2006. How long has it taken you to get over it?’

‘That was far more serious.’

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A great cooking blog for a gloomy day

It’s funny how the minute the clouds come in – like this morning – I automatically feel like turning on the oven and baking something. So I thought I’d recommend one of my favourite cooking blogs: Coco & Me (the pic to the left is taken from the blog).

Tamami is a Japanese mother-of-two who has a stand at Broadway Market. Her former career as a graphic designer is evident in the stencil-work on her chocolate tarts and the general gorgeousness of her stall, and her love of food is apparent in the size and deliciousness of her brownies.

Unlike a lot of food bloggers, she also writes her own recipes, and a few of these are to be found on her blog. I’ve made her lemon drizzle cake and her brownies quite a few times: the recipes are very detailed, with captioned photographs  accompanying each step, and most importantly, they work. Even if you can’t make it to her stall, you can try her food. And there are now whispers of a cookbook, too…

PS Tamami, if you read this, can I ‘borrow’ a photo from your blog to illustrate?

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