Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Soul Food

Today the weather is very English: rain, wind, and temps under 10C (about 47F).

I'm off to Canada on Thursday for a few days, for a big family reunion on the occasion of my eldest cousin's 50th birthday.

So I'd better catch you up before I go...

(Apologies if some of the images are clipped short by the sidebar, which detracts from their impact.)


A couple of weekends ago, I stayed at my cousin Ryan and he drove us up to Westchester for the birthday of cousin Mandy's husband C. I enjoyed all the wonderful homecooked Guyanese food in their lovely cosy warm house, hanging out with their very intelligent kids. The guests were mostly C's relatives. His brother and sister-in-law are dentists - in fact they said if I wanted I could have an assisting job for the asking. I didn't know while I was there that his other brother is a lawyer, but I am considering legal assisting.

Skippy rules the world, and as he'd had a hard day cooking the food and supervising the kids, by the end of the night he was the sleepiest member of the family!


Last Friday I was invited to the Chanel Mobile Art exhibition in Central Park. However, seeing as I live so far outside of Manhattan AND at the end of a train line, there was a significant delay which meant that the time slot on my ticket had expired by the time I got there half an hour late. (Fortunately it was free.)

While I waited for my friend to emerge from the pavilion, I took photos:

The pavilion designed by architect Zaha Hadid

An auxiliary building blends into the landscape.


Afterwards, we walked a few blocks to Alice's Teacup for lunch/afternoon tea on E 81st St. and 5th Ave.(?)

This teacup really is an antique, from Bavaria

We chose the "Mad Hatter Tea for Two" which included 3 scones, 2 sandwiches, and a dessert spread. There were 150 types of tea to choose from! Predictably, I got one that would go with milk and sugar.

Scones: winter berry, oatmeal chocolate chip, buttermilk - with strawberry preserves and cream of course.

Sandwiches: 1) smoked chicken, stilton and granny smith apple and 2) chicken curry with apples and red onions (the flavor is haunting me right now).

Dessert: a hefty slice of mocha chocolate chip and buttercream icing cake, and a variety of crispy cookies.


Then we went to the MET since it was such a lovely day, neither of us wanted to go straight home.

I snapped quite a lot of Greco Roman artefacts and sculptures but most of them didn't turn out so well with my phonecam. These are the best ones:

Roman religion required the woman to be covered during devotions

This rock crystal perfume bottle is the size of a man's thumb, so imagine the fine workmanship on the chain - I have an identical necklace which is only 40 years old, and this is about 1,960 years older than that!

Fine granulation and filigree on a gold Roman brooch

However, on this day the Egyptian images turned out better:

The Cat Goddess (Basta) in her simple Bastet form

A wooden head

Pharaoh whose name is on the tip of my tongue...

She-Pharaoh Hatshepsut, from her tomb

A scarab

These glass bead frogs are about the size of peas!

The Temple of Dendur, rescued from flooding as a result of the building of the Aswan Dam

Papyrus fronds in front of the Temple

The amazing space dedicated to the Temple of Dendur


And on Saturday, I cooked cutlets:

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fall Days

Well, it was blustery today with a mix of clouds and sun, but other than that we are having a sparkling, crisp autumn (sounds like a description of white wine). I am on a two-day headache, possibly thanks to the new vanilla candles in the living room...or the weather change, I haven't figured out which yet.

Speaking of wine, roomie and I finished a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon last night along with our dinner. No, we don't eat together every day. Maybe once a week at the most, but this was the first home cooked meal of the season: chicken breast tenderized in buttermilk for an hour, coated with flour and egg and topped with ground pistachio and cumin; farmer's market fresh French beans sauteed in butter and salt; finally, garlic couscous (the only thing I managed to do while I waited for the Advil to ease the headache).

And...this morning before going to work this afternoon, roomie made buttermilk pancakes.
All of which only highlight the fact that I need to get back into cooking!!! I did make a few nice salads to share in the summer, but that was really it. I haven't done anything notable in over a year since my mother started living with me, taking over the kitchen domain while I went to work. My landlord in St John's Wood used to call me a foodie. Ah, the days when I used to cook for myself - and shop at Waitrose ;)

But - there is all manner of wonderful fresh markets and gourmet shops in Brooklyn, so I have no excuse!


Heritage Ships docked at Pier 17


I know you're not seeing all the new US series over in the UK, but here is my favorite viewing list this year:

Faves from previous seasons:

Pushing Daisies - I enjoy the witty dialogue and the Amelie-style narrative, as well as the vivid fairytale settings and the general air of innocence that pervades the show. However, Chuck needs to stop wearing trousers and get back into those sweet dresses. And Ned is adorable.

Ugly Betty - I am now attached to the characters and their stories, but if I hadn't watched it from day one, I probably wouldn't get into it now. Have just surprised myself by admitting this, but it has indeed lost some of its sparkle.

House - performing forensic research on living medical mysteries always holds my attention. Hugh Laurie is so good that the grumpy Dr House has completely dissociated him from the bumbling Bertie Wooster I used to love.

Criminal Minds - performing psychological forensics on current criminal cases always holds my attention. I also enjoy watching the team's camaraderie and hearing the high-minded quotes before and after each show.

Grey's Anatomy - once again, I am attached to the characters, their stories, their relationships, and can honestly say that if I hadn't watched it from day one I probably would still get into it. I envy some of their camaraderie too.

Family Guy - Stewie and Brian make me laugh :)

Popular shows I am now getting into:

Desperate Housewives - excellent dialogue, though I haven't figured everyone's story out yet. Also, the houses and the street are sooooooooo pretty!

New Hits:

Fringe - oh my gosh! Since X-Files reruns now feel dated and I miss Mulder and Scully, I needed something to fill the X-Files-shaped void in my soul ;) Absolutely riveting, it keeps me on the edge of my seat, holding my breath. Agent Olivia Dunham (nice name) is so real and natural, she has none of the "I'm too sexy for my face" vibe that oozes painfully from the women on, say, CSI - Dunham's perplexity over the mystery she is constantly surrounded by balances well with how her abilities as an investigator continually shine through. (Sort of like writing a research paper on a topic you don't understand, and getting an A for it...) And we ALL want her to fall in love with Peter Bishop (and no, I did not watch Dawson's Creek so am not biased). Oh, and Dr Bishop's lines are PRICELESS. I love that poor old brainiac.

True Blood - enjoying the southern setting (two kids in Dallas once thought my chicken, Silky, was actually called Sookie). The characters are quickly appealling so I watch to see how they develop. Plus, Bill Compton is hot and brooding, and yes, the actor is yet another British import to American TV.

The Ex List - I don't like the protagonist because I don't like her face and to me she is still th e deplorable Rebecca who went bonkers in Grey's last month while pretending to carry Karev's child. But I am watching it to see the ex in each episode, what they were like before, what they are now, and how utterly hunky they are. This is set in the sun-drenched surfing city of San Diego, you see.

Eleventh Hour - Rufus Sewell makes good on this side of the Atlantic, I hope. His character is so brainy and absent minded, and his voice is very calming. I saw the British original with Patrick Stewart (who, if not in Shakespeare belongs only on the bridge of the USS Enterprise). His police companion (Christine from Ugly Betty) has no protective skills whatsoever - until she introduced herself as such, I thought she was just some blonde woman who hung around behind him screaming every time someone threatened her! On the other hand, Sewell's FBI bodyguard goes over the top waving her gun around - yet, this show's characters are more clearly developed/defined.

Life on Mars (US) - I did see the UK version and it was well done. The US version is even better. I love the 70s music, and Tyler's frustration with the "old ways" is palpable. Every time he throws up his hands or rolls his eyes, I want to giggle. Plus, he's pretty fit. I like how Annie is not just the token female auxiliary officer who believes his story but here she holds a Psych degree from Fordham and today would have made an excellent partner for Tyler. I like that he tries to highlight how relevant her education is to their cases, to the disdain of the chauvinistic guidos in Homicide.


Even though I sound like a TV Guide review, I do still watch programming on Discovery, TLC, Science Channel, etc. For instance, on Sunday I watched a good one listing the Top Ten Warplanes. What do you think was on the list? Guess which was number one?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Finely Tuned

Oh, somebody get me out of here. I hate when this happens - it's like when a relationship ends. I have a slump, staying in for days at a time, essentially housebound. I have not left the house since....hm, let me think....probably Friday when I went out with the girls. Oh, no, I did take a walk by the water on Monday evening. Sure, I have a grocery list, but there's stuff in the freezer. I even have to make returns at some stores in the city, but there's time left on the receipts...

At least it's not so bad "slumping" in a city I like. Still, I am officially bored and disgusted with myself. I feel like I need to tell myself off, like a wayward child, or get someone in here to drag me out. I was going to go out today, but maybe I will do it tomorrow. Needless to say, my phone takes a vacation sometimes too. However, on Sunday I put on Handel's Messiah and loosened up my vocal chords for a few hours. It was the first time in about....oh, two years? Felt so good.

Of course, when these stay at home periods end, my first forays out into the real world hit my senses like a wave.

So, to the point. It's going to rain tonight. Today was somewhat overcast, fairly mild, and a breeze started up in the afternoon. As darkness fell the breeze picked up. It's not cold (18C (66F)), but it is refreshing. I stood on the steps with my sleeves rolled up, taking in lungsful of air, and I had one of my life moments...

Leaves rustling on the trees and clattering along the sidewalk.

Cozy yellow lamps and pumpkins on people's porches, and the streetlights casting pinkish hues over houses and cars.

Pale patches of cloud scudding across an indigo sky.

A church bell ringing a few blocks away, carried to my ears on the wind.

After a few minutes the spell was broken, but I had enjoyed the feeling.
Then I thought I would come back and share that moment with you.

A poignant image of St Christopher, bearer of Christ, at St Patrick's Cathedral

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sleep Phases

I saw something on the Discovery Channel the other day about a father and daughter with Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome, which causes them to have a natural sleep cycle starting around 7.30pm and ending around 3.30am. Up with the larks and all that. It got me thinking, there must be an opposite condition!

Though only 1% of the population are known to have ASPS, people with Delayed SPS, also known as night owls, comprise about 15%. I suspect I'm one of them, noticeably since university. Even in high school it was difficult to go to bed before midnight even though I had to wake up every morning at 5.30am. Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome can result in a bedtime anytime after midnight and anytime up to midday.

Here's my reasoning:

1) Bedtime has always been a struggle, although once I am out my sleep is undisturbed.

2) I am often frustrated that no matter what I do, I cannot get to bed before 1am, and I am then surprised that despite having shortened sleep hours the previous night, I can't go to bed any earlier the next night.

3) If left to my own devices, my natural bedtime is between 3 and 4am and my natural waking around midday.

4) Those with DSPS often suffer daytime sleepiness: Indeed, waking up early is a monumental undertaking and mornings are not good. I have mid-morning and mid-afternoon slumps, but only when forced into a normal societal sleep pattern. On my own schedule, I'm perky all day until I am ready to go to bed.

5) I am at my most creative late at night.

* Note I have more credible web sources than Wikipedia, but the wiki articles are a more detailed amalgamation of all the others.


So here's what I am thinking. Get a job with evening hours, like legal word processing. They give you a private car home at 1am...and they pay really well. The sacrifice is that they are very anti-social hours...granted, I don't go out that much so they're hours that normally go to waste, but that's because I'm not currently dating. What if I wanted to start that up again? (And I do.)

If I can get in, it seems a pretty safe bet to tuck myself away there in this economy, until I can find my dream gov job or dream creative role. We shall see. I have stopped beating myself up for expecting that at my age I should be in a managerial role by now. *sigh* Well, if I'd stuck to one thing since college then I probably would have. But never mind, what's done is done.


Just thought I'd throw this in there.
Greenwich Street between Downtown and the Financial District.


Anyway, I have a List.

The main thing on this List is:

1-- furniture for my little room such as a bedside table, a chest of drawers, and either a vanity or a desk (because other than my little closet, everything is still in suitcases or flowing therefrom).

It's taking a while for various reasons: cashflow is irregular when you have to depend on your father, and the fact that furniture that's not too wide or deep is hard to find - I have very exact spaces to fill. Antiques are often dainty enough and the right size as well as being as affordable from private sellers as new mass produced furniture. However, taking pieces home from private homes is tricky in this non-pickup-truck-driving state and using a delivery service often negates the Craigslist bargain. Plus, some antiques can smell pretty pungent. I'd prefer antique style new pieces for now. Target has some sweet handpainted furniture and I like their Mission line, however those pieces may be too large. Frustrating.

When I have my own independent, secure, established, and more than sufficient cashflow, I would like:

1 -- a bird. Either a canary or a society finch. I miss coming home to a little living thing that depends on me, responds to my voice and sings occasionally. There is a pet shop on the corner two blocks away by the subway, so I pass it every day. I always want to go in and ask, "May I hug the rabbits?" I went in last week and there was a very attractive canary in a cage by itself. (The cage was too small.)

2 -- an iPod Touch! (When they've worked the bugs out.) I like the idea of accessing music, video, games, and the internet without requiring phone service. This may be my first frivolous gadget in years...

Friday, October 10, 2008

Me Free

Wow, it's past 1am and I am still awake, i.e. not waking up on the sofa from the first sleeping phase of the night. But tomorrow is Saturday and I am not going to work tomorrow, which is as it should be.

Indeed, I could feel it coming this week, and Thursday was my last day. By then (their second week) I had trained the two new assistants as much as I could - the rest they have to learn on their own with the doc - they now know more than I did when I was working alone and had to pick everything up by trial and error.
By my last day they had finally eased up on the: "Olivia, Olivia, Olivia...where do I put this, what do I do with this, how do I do this, help me?" So I got to sit in the office and watch them take their first independent steps as dental assistants.

And so I was basically babysitting them - putting on band aids, tying up their hair, doing with clean hands what they could not do with dirty gloves, reminding them of little things they'd forgotten before the dentist noticed the omission (thus preventing another lengthy lecture). I was also refilling supplies, distributing deliveries, keeping a check on things, and holding it together in the background. I kind of liked that autonomy without the constant directions and the confusion of figuring out setups and materials that have been changed and modified for the nth time.

At the beginning of last week the dentist had asked me to write notes and guidance for them to learn from, as part of my "cleansing process" (his words). This week we put them into PowerPoint, and finally I printed them out under the title Training Manual 2008.

One of the last things I did was help the hygienist (who doesn't usually need help) by holding an elderly patient's weak jaw open with one hand, performing suction with the other, dodged a big insect running between my feet, wearing the mask and fogging up my protective goggles - while standing up (no assistant chair in hygienist's room). It was a fulfilling challenge, but like any other aspect of assisting, not something I could do all day every day.

In fact, I worked hard until the very last minute, directing a third new assistant in sterilizing the last batch of instruments, checking power switches, and turning off lights. The doc and I shook hands and agreed there were no hard feelings. He's a nice guy when he's not working, really.

Today I went to lunch with the receptionist (C) and the assistant who left two weeks ago. (She and I had been the "intelligent team" he was so excited about but has now lost, as people like us don't stay in places like that). We enjoyed dim sum together in Chinatown, feasting on little dishes for over two hours. And I had sunflower tea for the first time. It tastes like sunshine in a cup.

We really didn't talk about work that much, but we had fun and will do this again. Afterwards, C and I walked into SoHo, browsed a few shops, chatted about fashion; went into the Whole Foods on Bowery (much quieter and more organized than the one on Union Square) and analyzed the goodies on offer.

We had also had dinner together before my hair appointment (also in SoHo) on Wednesday, and found we had much in common regarding travelling, photography, and food. It's interesting to find the human side of people outside of the workplace. We had fish n chips and Chicago fried zucchini sticks, simple but happy food.

SoHo Spot, a quirky little place with a friendly, relaxing, airy vibe and delicious, hearty food. Yes, the ceiling is 95% skylight.


Last Friday I met up with Chris for dinner at a Mexican place (Chevy's) we had all enjoyed when the crowd from Houston came up in August. I NEVER order beef and rarely even eat it because I find it hard to digest, but that was all I craved, so my body must have needed it. I ordered a great sizzling tender beef fajita. Never touched the tortillas, rice or beans, just ate the beef and the chile relleno on top, and the lettuce, guacamole, sour cream, and pico de gallo on the side. Oh, and enjoyed a mango margarita.

I digested it just fine despite having a nap when I got home - though I have to say, the next day I needed extra fruits and some prunes...


And so I am free! But at the same time, am now let loose into
this economy during the latest financial downturn, or - dare I say it - recession. I'm not too worried. Despite all the fearmongering over bankrupt financial institutions (Lehman Bros, et al) and even whole countries (Iceland!), I think we're more resilient than we were during the previous recession in the 90s. I don't think we'll get to the point where there the job listings cease and everyone's lining up at soup kitchens.

Well, that's all for now folks.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Autumn arrived

Autumn is here! Last night I used my new duvet for the first time, and tomorrow I will need to wear a jacket in the day - it was like July in London ;-)

Last weekend after work I stayed with my cousin. It felt like I was going home for the weekend, and indeed I had reached a point last Thursday where I needed family. He cooked a good homemade Guyanese dinner and took me shopping in Westchester county in his car. I bought three coats ( the angora and wool one by Calvin Klein will be returned as I don't like the straight cut, though I like the velvety angora/wool blend). I do love the CK quilted waterproof jacket and the Cole Haan raincoat with detachable herringbone wool liner. The duvet is CK also. I didn't try, it's just that they were the things I was attracted to this time. (Sorry Ralph Lauren!) One reason I put off buying winter bedding and coats is that I couldn't carry everything on the subway.

My duvet cover is a lovely Raymond Waites. Again, didn't even see the (exclusive) name when I picked up the pattern, but it looks like cotton sateen and the label recommends dry cleaning. Does that mean the sheen will be lost if I send it to the laundry? Any advice? I already wash a number of things that insist on dry cleaning, with no ill effects but I have noticed that sometimes the shinier materials look dull.

Yesterday as I was coming home from work a cold front blew in, so today the landlady put the heating on. Ah, the smell of hot dust as the radiators burn off summer accumulation. The days are now around 18C (65F) and nights in the 10s (50s). Tis rather pleasant, bu the leaves still haven't turned.

Guess how long I slept last night? 15 hours! It goes up an hour each week I think! 11.30pm-2am in my homeclothes, followed by a shower and a potter around my room, then 3am-2.15pm in bed. I used to love sleeping but now I dread it. Oh, I'm so good at sleeping standing up now that one day last week on the subway I woke up with a smile thinking, "Oh my gosh, I fell asleep standing up and had a dream." I can't wait to return to my exactly-eight-hours-on-weekends routine.

Some of you have been asking how the notice-giving went last Saturday. All is well. Of course the doc was disappointed as he felt we got along and communicated well. I like to work, and I work hard, just ask the folks back in London at JLT or Makinson Cowell. Some consultants used to jump the queue to ask me to do their work. But I can't work at this frenetic pace, on my feet for nearly 9 hours, with no real breaks, and as you all know from the past year, my nervous system rests on a light trigger. So I guess it's back to the office for me, no more complaints about being stuck at a desk...

A couple of new girls have come and gone, which means he had to beg me to stay a few days more. This week I've been training one who looks like she will stay, and another starts on Monday who has relevant experience, so the doc says my job will be done sometime next week.

I miss blogging and visiting you all. Not long to go, but in my spare time I am looking for a "normal" job.