Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Rabbit Recipes: Bengali White Chicken Curry (Rezala) - the original korma? And a waffle on Bengali history...

I think this dish might be the origin of the British chicken korma. I can't say for sure, because I've never eaten one - curry snob, me - but the creaminess and gentleness of the flavours (and the fact that it comes from the region most "Indian" chefs in Britain come from - suggests to me that it might be the inspiration.

I'm always intrigued by the dual personality of Bangladeshi cuisine, which I think might be related to the history of Islam in Bengal. One aspect of Bengali cuisine is almost East Asian - having more in common with the flavours of Vietnam and Thailand than the "curries" we know of in Britain. The flavours are hot, sharp, pungent, with thin broths, a lot of vegetables, fish and seafood rather than meat, and pounded chilli and fish pastes. But then, another aspect is very rich, fragrant and reminiscent of Persian cuisine. I think it's a difference between what's been identified as the atraf and the ashraf sections of the Bengali Muslim population, a division that goes back to the early nineteenth century as historian Richard Eaton has written about - the former, the agragrian, rural population, and the latter, the urban, middle class and notably, for a time, Urdu-speaking section of the community. It would make sense, right? The hot thin broths, wholesome and hearty, eking out precious harvested supplies for as long as possible; the Persian inspired foods created for a wealthier population always looking to aspire to the cultural heritage of Persia and Afghanistan. (Still ongoing - both my sister's and my name are Persian in origin). Now, both cuisines are eaten by most sections of the population - though with obvious regional differences. But rezala reminds me a lot of Persian food, and I wonder if it was eaten by the ashraf as they read their ghazals and dreamt of (and up) their Iranian and Peshwari ancestors.

It doesn't look that special, does it? (My amazingly rubbish photography skills aren't helping it, though, to be fair). But trust me - it really is. This is my sister the spice-weener's favourite curry, and also has made it onto Bartimaeus's short list of "Bengali curries that taste nice to a Gujarati palate" (hmph). It's definitely one for the spice-shy - but that doesn't mean it's not full of flavour. It's rich, made with a base of softened grated onions, creamy and sweet from the greek yoghurt and brown sugar, and aromatic, scented with saffron and cardamom. In Bangladesh, it's usually eaten as a special occasion dish with a buttery pilau or to accompany a biryani, but I made it yesterday, just cos.

My recipe is inspired by one on My Saffron Kitchen, but simplified a lot and adapted via how I know my mum makes it. I have to say, in all my attempts to replicate my mother's cooking, this has come closest! Whilst there's a lot of aromatics involved in place of spice, making for a long ingredients list, this is actually a ridiculously simple curry to make, but tastes like a lot of effort has gone into it!

Whilst you can serve it with pilau for a truly indulgent dinner, I served it yesterday with basmati - just simple, clean, pure. Cream on snow white prettiness. (Just to clarify, we then had spinach dal - there's not a meal in the Rabbit-Bartimaeus household that doesn't feature vegetables! But I always eat my dal last, as is customary.) Either way, rezala makes for a comforting, soothing, winter dinner.

This is yet another recipe that requires 24 HOURS marinading if possible (though yesterday I made it on the spur of the moment, and left it for an hour and it tasted fine). I think if you wanted to make this an easy two-pot meal, chucking in some frozen peas or some spinach a few minutes before it's done would be fine.

1 800g pack of chicken thighs and legs (chicken breast if you wish, but it's generally not good in curries I think as the bones impart so much chickeny flavour)
1/2 400ml pot of real full fat greek yoghurt (none of this "greek-style, fat free, full of sugar" malarkey here please)
2tbsp double cream
2tsp fresh ground black peppercorns
1 3cm stick of ginger, grated into 1tbsp of puree (if you freeze the ginger and then let it thaw ever so slightly, it's much easier to grate and keeps for ever)
1 tbsp of crushed/pureed garlic
2 medium onions, grated (I used my mini Kenwood processor for this otherwise tearifying job)
1 tbsp ghee
2 tsp garam masala
4 cloves
2 bay leaves
1 piece of cinnamon bark
1 green chilli, sliced in half, deseeded
4-5 strands of saffron
2 tsp rose water (not essential, couldn't really taste it in the final dish)
5 green cardamom pods
1 tbsp green raisins (gentler in flavour than dark ones, though you could add 1/2 tsp of those if you can't find these prettiest jewels of dried fruits - they're easily found in Asian and Middle Eastern shops though)
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
2 tbsp brown sugar
salt to taste

Mix the cream, yoghurt, ginger paste, garlic paste and ground pepper together into a marinade. Mix the chicken into it thoroughly (slashing the meat if you like) and marinade overnight or for 1 hour at least.

Melt ghee in a large heavy bottomed shallow saucepan on medium-low heat. Add the grated onions and a pinch of salt (to stop onions from browning too fast) and cook slowly until fragrant and a soft paste.

Add the green chilli, garam masala, nutmeg, bay leaves, cinnamon bark, cloves and cardamom pods, and fry on slightly higher heat until spices release their scent.

Add the chicken, being sure to pour in all of the cream-yoghurt marinade. Stir thoroughly.

Salt to taste. Add saffron, rose water, raisins and brown sugar, and 1/2 cup of water.

Cook on medium-high until the chicken is cooked through.

Serve to spice-weeners and spice-champs alike.

Thursday, 22 November 2012


I am writing the odd guest review on the fantastic collaborative book review initiative started by Erin and Ria, The Bloggers' Bookshelf.

My first review got published today, and it's embarassingly light on review, and heavy on the rant - I've totally forgotten how to write reviews! My English teacher would be so disappointed... However, if you would like to read a grumble on a book I was actually embarrassed I read, then here it is!

There's a whole host of fantastic reviews of a wide range of books already - perfect in the run up to Christmas and lining up the holiday reading!

Products I'm loving...

There's a few products that I've really been loving recently, and I wanted to share them with you!

Garnier Skin Naturals Dark Spot Corrector, £9.99

Much has been made of this product in the US and the reviews are excellent. I think it has faded my spot scars considerably but more than that, I think it's an absolutely fantastic serum/primer/multi-use product. I use it as my night cream now and it leaves my skin beautifully smooth and bright when I wake up. I use it under my makeup and it's non oily texture is a lovely light moisturising base. I use it under my moisturiser and it evens my skin tone and leaves it looking bright and fresh. I LOVE this. I recommended it to my sister and she's also converted. Again, with all skincare, I add the caveat that all skin is different and yours might not respond in the same way as mine, but when I don't use it, there's a discernible dulling to mine, and my skin is noticeably less soft and smooth.

MAC Plumful, £14.00

Ah, Plumful. I've been meaning to buy you for years, but only got round to it this summer. But, where have you been all my life? On me (with my deeply berry-pigmented bottom lip) this is a very pretty, almost neutral soft berry shade. Can a berry be a nude? (I suppose it can, if that's your original lipcolour). It goes beautifully with smokier heavier eye looks, but gives enough definition and colour so I don't look dead (or make my full lips look ENORMOUS, which beigey-peachy colours like Jubilee do). It is totally non-drying and a joy to wear.

Lanolips 101, £11.22

I have the driest, flakiest lips in summer as well as winter and I've complained before about my dry skin (over and over again!) But I've really sorted it with Lanolips 101 - it's very thick and I use it at night on my lips and any sore/dry patches I have and in the morning, they're invariably gone. Plus it's the best balm I've found for preventing those awful nose-flakes that accompany a cold. I've had 4-5 serious colds over the last six months (way to go, immune system!) and my nose has survived all of them without awful peeling! These balms are pricey, but a little goes a very long way, and I bought mine in one of those magical Boots 3 for 2 offers.

Lanolips Lemonaid, £9.18

Lemonaid is my day-on-the-go version. I love the zingy, zesty scent - it is such a pick me up to use (and if you suffer from travel sickness like I do, having something lemony around is very useful!), and the softer texture is much easier to use for day. I'm rather fickle when it comes to lipbalms but I wouldn't be without these two now. I only wish the packaging was a bit less dated looking.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Treat wishlist

I have a good few gift vouchers and Boots Advantage points racked up at the moment. I absolutely refuse to use them on anything practical, and have a few things on my wishlist at the moment I would like to spend them on instead!

Tom Ford Black Orchid, £45

I'm patiently waiting to clock up enough Boots points to buy this, it's a very me-with-a- grown up twist scent. But I'm sad to see that it's gone up by £5 since I first started saving my points towards it :( I was almost there but it's going to take just that little bit longer for it to be in (and on) my rabbit paws!

Laura Mercier Petite Baked Shadow Palette, Golden Metallics, £20

I swatched this in John Lewis the other day, and it's absolutely stunning and such an adorable mini palette. The shades are so sparkly and complex, with numerous different coloured sparkles. Perfect for festive makeup looks!

Estee Lauder Chaos polish, £14.50

A smokey taupe shimmer with pretty blue-green sparkles. Mesmerising when I swatched it.

OPI Every Month is Oktoberfest, £11

I don't have that many shimmery vamps in my collection, and this has got some shadeshifting magic to it which I can never resist.

Chanel Illusion d'Ombre in Illusoire, £23

This smokey, sparkly, plummy taupe is so very pretty!

Do you save up gift vouchers and reward card points? What's on your wishlist?

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Silencing my inner critic

It might be fair to say that my mind is my own worst enemy. I constantly think that I'm not good enough, not a good enough friend, not smart enough, not a good enough writer, a bit of a failure at life in general. When things go well, I'm always first to ascribe responsibility to others or minimise my own role in things. When things go badly, it's no one's fault but my own and I chastise and chastise myself.

I live - perhaps have always lived - under the rule that being hard on myself will make me better. Perhaps it was inculcated into me in a school that focused intensely on academic achievement (my favourite teacher never giving me a full A in English, for example, until the very last essay I handed in - despite me coming first in the year pretty much every term). Who knows - I'm not psychoanalysing myself here. Whatever the reason, it's how I operate. With cooking - with work - with friends - with family. In every area of my life, I measure myself. I measure myself - and I never quite measure up.

In my mind, there's always a litany of "you shoulds", "you musts" and "why did/didn't yous" going on. My therapist put it interestingly last week - that I never actually live in - let alone enjoy - the present. I'm flitting between the past (assessing what I did wrong) and the future (what I should do differently next time),

Ironically, writing so extensively and quite critically about my own brain means I'm still doing that. I'm trying to fix my mind in order to be better. So how on earth do I silence this critical voice that's always haunting me?

One CBT technique that has been helping me a lot has been to try to think of myself, and address myself, with an affectionate, kind voice, rather than the cold, self-accusatory tone I usually think in. They suggest to use a nickname - a name that's only been used about you affectionately. It sounds bizarre and rather American doesn't it? But switching mental registers in this way made me realise that we are always engaged in an unspoken conversation with ourselves, but that it's not always necessarily the kindest, most helpful conversation we could be having. Surely to be healthy and happy, we have to be good to ourselves? It seems self-evident and should come easily but it really does not, at least for me, at least not yet.

Another technique that I adopted on my own has been to keep a diary of things I do every day I should be proud of. When I first started CBT, my therapist asked me to list all the good things about me. I was at a low point, but even now I do struggle to list them. Even the positive attributes I can recognise - being a caring friend, being wise, writing articulately, building connections - I always feel could be improved. Sometimes days and days will go by without me feeling like I've accomplished anything of any worth. So I started logging the tiniest things I could be proud of - talking to an elderly neighbour, texting a friend I hadn't spoke to for a while, sorting out a cupboard - so that after a while I could see how every day I live is good in some way.

But it is an ongoing battle. My inner critic is so embedded in my thinking - facilitated by the peer-review culture of academia, no doubt - that I rarely even realise I'm doing it. I suppose that's the "cognitive" bit of the CBT I ought to be working on (again - "ought to be", argh!)

Why am I writing this? I suppose in part, in this ongoing process of "coming clean" with myself and with others - that I am a bit more complicated and struggle a bit more with life than I sometimes am able to admit. But also to ask whether this is something peculiar to me, or whether you struggle with it too. Do you have techniques that help? Have you found a way to silence that voice?

Supermarket Sweep Saturday

There's some lovely festive and wintery things in the supermarket ranges recently, especially Asda:

Asda, £20
Just how pretty and 1950s is this dress? I think with a pair of mid heels and a slick of ruby lipstick, it'd be perfect for fancier Christmas parties - and it certainly looks a lot more expensive than its £20 price tag.

Asda, £14

I love the rich purple shade of this dress - and it'd be great for work with some patent black may janes and pearl accessories.

Tesco, £14

This has got to be one of the cutest takes on the Crimbo jumper trend I've seen. The chunky jumper trend isn't one that suits me and I don't tend  to wear separates, but at £16 this would be a perfect snuggly jumper to wear with my PJs especially on Christmas Day!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Rabbit Recipes: Lunch Ideas

Not so much a collection of recipes, but some of the most popular lunches in the Rabbit-Bartimaeus household. I always love reading about people's lunch ideas because if you get in a rut, packed lunches can be so boring and miserable! A lot of these are self-evident, but if you would like a recipe for any of these, do say in the comments and I will happily oblige.

We both work from home a fair bit so some of these lunches aren't as portable as some. I find having a huge range of (mostly spicy) condiments really useful when I'm making lunches with 7 minutes notice. Things I wouldn't be without:

sweet chilli sauce/chilli jam - great with cheese, but also spicy noodles
aubergine pickle - a delightful Gujarati chutney you can pick up in Asian supermarkets, it's sweet and spicy and is great in sandwiches
mango chutney
mustards - I have wholegrain and Dijon always at hand
salad dressings -in an ideal world, we'd always make our own, but I like to have a couple of variants in the fridge to add flavour to salads
nuts - great to add protein and nutrients to salads, noodles and to have as a snack (I love cashews)
chilli mayonnaise - I hate normal mayonnaise but chilli flavoured versions are very useful - makes for a brilliant, perky tuna melt!

So here are some Rabbit lunches:

- Indian spiced noodles with frozen vegetables and prawns/chicken breast, topped with a drizzle of sweet chilli sauce and a heap of peanuts and cashews

- Ciabatta rolls with breaded camembert and sweet chilli sauce, red onion and lettuce

- Indian spiced scrambled eggs on frozen potato and spinach stuffed paratha

- Non-pork "ploughmans" with smoked salmon/sliced turkey, cheeses, a boiled egg, foccaccia, avocado and carrot sticks and cherry tomatoes (Rabbit favourite)

- Scrambled eggs and smoked salmon on toasted croissants (lovely brunch too)

- Couscous with chickpea masala and feta cheese, pine nuts and rocket

- Chilli tuna mayonnaise and cheese melts

- Spiked minestrone (just tinned soup with some chilli flakes warmed up in it) with cheese on toast

- Mexican egg tortilla wraps - a fried egg, topped with salsa and greek yoghurt, with cheese, salad and coriander, wrapped in a garlic tortilla

What did you have for lunch today?

Thursday, 15 November 2012

SLS free reviews - update and wishlist

I've been trying a couple of SLS free products recently that I thought I ought to review for my fellow senstive of skin readers.

 Naked Ooh La La Body Wash, £3.79, 250ml

This brand is one of the most readily available SLS free ranges out there, stocked in most Boots. It's the first one I tried, and I've gone through most of the fragrances. The Rose is quite lovely and sweet, but a bit one-dimensional for use everyday, and it's not half as moisturising as Ooh La La. This one isn't foodie-scented, but it does have a deep, sweet and very soothing fragrance that is a joy to use. The lather is creamy, and it doesn't leave skin feeling stripped or tight. It's a lovely little everyday indulgence.

Liz Earle Botanical Shine Shampoo, £8.50, 200ml

Oh my days. This is THE best SLS-free shampoo I've ever used, hands down. (And I've tried many, including Daniel Galvin Junior, Naked, Body Shop and more). This lathers ok (much better when I repeat, which I tend to do because I wash my hair twice a week), but cleans so very effectively without at all drying or stripping the hair. And I have very dry hair. It has never irritated my dry, sensitive scalp, and the scent is pleasantly soapy-herbal and doesn't leave a trace when hair is dry. Most importantly, it leaves your hair so shiny and swishy and soft. I've never had that from an SLS-free shampoo, particularly the shine. An £8.50 tube lasts me months and months, so I view it as excellent value. Really, a godsend in shampoo form if you have a temperamental scalp. Or if you like your hair.

Faith in Nature Chocolate Shower Gel/Bath Foam, £5.45, 400ml

My hunt for foodie SLS free bath and shower products is neverending. Is vanilla an irritant? Because it seems that all SLS free products are scented with either geranium (the poor man's rose in my opinion) or lavender, or both. It's. So. Boring.

So I was quite excited when I discovered this product online over the summer. Chocolatey? SLS-free? Yes please. Reviews led me to believe this had a wonderful, soothing scent.

And it does smell faintly chocolately and rich when you open the bottle and take a good sniff. But that's about it. It is barely detectable on lathering. Furthermore, I was really cross to find that this brand that markets itself as "natural" and SLES-free in fact uses ammonium laureth sulfate, which is just as bad as SLS (and I've had terrible reactions to some ALS shampoos). I'm usually very careful about reading ingredient listings, so I'm not sure how this passed me by, but I was really disappointed. The massive bottle for £5.45 is ok value in theory, but I can't actually wait to finish it and move on. I haven't tried it in the bath because I very much doubt there'd be any scent at all, but it might be a good way to finish it!

And what will I be moving on to? I'm very curious about the following:

Korres Vanilla, Freesia and Lychee Shower Gel, £9, 250ml

I've heard great things about this in shower gel and fragrance form, and the combination of floral/fruit/vanilla sounds both sophisticated and delicious. In fact it provides SLS free folks with a rare opportunity to layer scented products because so many regular fragrance sets use the cheapest foaming agents available.

Soap and Glory Whipped Clean Shower Butter, £8, 250ml

Ooh, "shower butter." That sounds lovely doesn't it? When I was at uni, and only had access to a shower, and was stressed out of my brain trying to finish my PhD, I searched and searched for products that could give a bath-like experience (soothing, comforting) in the shower. Lush's now discontinued Almond Coconut Shower Smoothie was as close as I got (and it was lovely, sniff). But this sounds pretty on the money too!

I've tried to find out what Sodium Trideceth Sulfate is, and from some googling it seems it is much milder than SLS and its variants, so the scent of this and the promise that it is moisturising makes me very keen to try it. From a quick try in Boots, it smells INCREDIBLE.

Greenscape Organic Cocoa Butter Shower Gel, £7.15, 500ml

Ah John Lewis/Waitrose. How I love thee, and thy stocking of diverse SLS-free ranges. I happened upon this range in my local JL, and had a bit of a sniff, and it smelt sweet and promising. Before I encountered the Soap and Glory, this was highest on the list, but I'm a fickle rabbit and the massive size of this is putting me off!

S&G will be the next I purchase once I've finished the Faith in Nature one.

Have you come across any delectable SLS free ranges? 

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Winter Wedding

Winter Wedding

Teardrop earrings
Hair accessory
Darling Edie Frame Bag

I am absolutely thrilled and excited about a few events coming up over the next few months - including a cocktail party themed birthday bash and most wonderfully, the wedding of two of dear, dear friends.

I love weddings, and haven't been to enough! Although it's a good few months away, I have already put my outfit together because I'm nerdy like that. I suppose most people wouldn't wear this much colour to a winter wedding - but I think British gloom makes it all the more important to break out sunny, happy colours.

I've had this dress in my wardrobe unworn for a while, and it is perfect for such an occasion - structured enough and made of a love heavy cotton stretch that will be warm but also comfortable. And it has pockets! Usually I go a bit mad on buying new stuff for a wedding outfit but for this one I'm almost totally sorted already. The glitter shoes are an amazing pair I picked up on Office's website for £12, whilst the bag is a lovely textured leather one from Darling via Brandalley for £22. I do love a bargain, me. The only two pieces I do not own here are the headband and the earrings! I love the hairband which is dramatic enough to give the dress a bit of edge and quirk and be appropriately hat-like for the occasion without at all veering into yucky fascinator-ville.

I've sometimes gone too crazy with the colour palette and my makeup at weddings, so this time I am trying to unite everything by keeping the main two accessories (head/toe) purple, with two hints of colours in the print in the jewels and the bag (how pretty and vintage looking are the earrings!). I will opt for a simple and pretty makeup look with a soft taupe eye, black flick and defined red lips and matching nails. The hair will be down to keep things a bit more relaxed, I think.

To winterise it, there will be thick black tights, and I plan to wear as a cover up an old but lovely and very 50s olive green cropped jacket I have from Topshop, with some long elbow length wool gloves in pale grey.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Magpie-Rabbit: Accessorize

I love jewellery. It's an inherited, quite culturally specific thing in some respects - when we were children, my mother used to drag us around all the jewellery shops looking for just the right pair of earrings to match a necklace or vice versa. It was drilled into me through these searches that it is important to accessorize an outfit with jewels - but always tastefully, always appropriately. My mother's great love is pearls, which I've also inherited.

But as any child is wont to do, I've taken those lessons, and I've taken them in directions my mother doesn't always approve of. I love costume jewellery as much as fine pieces and over the years I have amassed quite a collection. My jewellery tends to be like my clothes - girly, quirky but not too "out there." Being small, I prefer smaller, delicate pieces - I love little charm necklaces (teacups, rabbits, cupcakes, time-turners, snowflakes, I own them all), stud earrings or 1cm drop earrings that just frame the face, though for evenings and so on I do also like a good pair of chandelier earrings.

Accessorize (and this is not a sponsored post in any way!) for many years has been one of my favourite shops on the high street (especially during their 70% sales!)  I can browse in there for hours! They're having a particularly good season this winter so I thought I would pick out some of my favourites that I'll be watching out for in the next sale.

A pair of bow pearl studs is a staple in my jewellery wardrobe - bows are a very flattering shape and the tiny seed style pearls are so pretty and antique-looking. They go with almost everything so I always take them on my travels:

I've played with these a lot in store - they're so glowy and beautiful! 

 These are also quite high on my wishlist, to wear with my emerald lace skater dress. I love how Indian they are in style, they would go equally as well with a sari or salwaar kameez:


This is utterly gorgeous and very expensive looking I think. There's a beautiful matching cuff and earrings (though wearing all 3 together would be crazy). I think with a navy dress, this would be so bewitching and glamorous.


And finally, a little gothic beauty just to show how they have a bit of everything!


What are your favourite costume jewellery pieces? Did you have a jewel-mad mum like me?

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Rabbit Recipes: Persian Chicken Pilaf

This is a recipe that divides the Bartimaeus-Rabbit household. I love it. Bartimaeus doesn't. I think it's as a result of our differing South Asian backgrounds - Muslim Bengali cuisine always nods towards its Mughal connections to Afghanistan and Persia, with aromatics like cardamom, cinnamon, and bay used liberally in biryanis and lamb and chicken dishes. Gujarati food is plainer, simpler, flavoured more with asofoetida (I am just beginning to see its point) and mustard seeds. It's, in my opinion, Bartimaeus' loss as this is delicious, indulgent and rich. And really very easy.

The magic of this dish is that as the chicken roasts on the bed of rice and vegetables, it creates its own stock and that the sticky, caramel-coloured rice will be some of the most chickeny, savoury. flavourful rice you'll ever have.

To be honest this was a result of visualising something in my mind, having various things in my fridge, and bunging it all together - so while there looks like an awful lot of ingredients (suggesting muchos effort) it's really not the case. I roasted the rice under the spiced chicken pieces, but as it took hours for the rice to cook and some it still remained crispy (some people like it, but crunchy rice sets my teeth on edge) in the recipe here I'm recommend boiling the rice first. I do hate it when a recipe only tells you halfway in that it needs 24 hours' marinading time so let me tell you from the off: THIS RECIPE DEFINITELY TASTES BETTER WITH AFTER 24 HOURS' MARINADING TIME.

2 cups of basmati rice (I used a mix of brown and white for texture and fibre)
half a butternut squash cut into 0.5 cm cubes
1 aubergine cut into 0.5 cm cubes
1 red onion, chopped
1 bulb of garlic (keep half unpeeled)
1 lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp pine nuts
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
garam masala
ground coriander
3 tbsp frozen peas
1 tsp green sultanas (or regular sultanas if you can't find them)
6-8 prunes
1/2 tsp of saffron
3 tbsp greek yoghurt
6 chicken thighs
1 cup good chicken stock

1. Soak saffron in 1 tsp of hot water and crush 4-5 garlic cloves into a pulp.
2. Mix the saffron and the water into the greek yoghurt with salt and pepper and add the pulped garlic. Add one lemon's juice to the mix.
3. Mix the chicken thighs into the yoghurt marinade (score the pieces to get the flavours into the chicken).
4. Leave for at least two hours, or if possible, overnight.
5. Preheat the oven to 200C.
6. Boil the rice until just cooked (but not soft).
7. In a large roasting dish, combine the rice with all the remaining ingredients (fruit, spices, peas, squash, aubergine, onion, unpeeled garlic cloves). Drizzle some olive oil over (not much as the chicken fat will also soak into the rice). Flatten it down with a spoon to create an even surface.
8. Place chicken pieces on top of the rice/vegetable bed. Pour over remaining marinade over the chicken and the rice. I place the chicken skin side down first and then halfway through cooking, I turn them over to crisp up.
9. Bung in the oven!
10. Check on it intermittently. If the rice looks dry, splash over a bit of the chicken stock.
11. Remove when the chicken is cooked and nicely browned (45minutes ish?)
12 Serve to guests with refined (i.e. non-Gujarati) palates.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

The Velveteen Rabbit

Irresistible title, that, for a post by me on velvet dresses. Hard to believe, but I've never read that book. I really should, shouldn't I?

Anyway, when I was a child I had some beautiful velvet dresses and skirts. There's something so luxurious and yet comforting about a good quality velvet fabric. 

With the return of the gothic this autumn-winter, a few velvet dresses have been making an appearance of late (including this galaxy number I'm STILL obsessed with). Velvet, like last season's lace, is really versatile for winter - you can add a chunky cardigan and boots for day, and you can add jewels and pretty shoes for evening. I've accessorised my favourite dressy and casual velvet frocks (really, doesn't Polyvore remind you of those cardboard dolls with all the cut out tabbed clothing and accessories?).

Friday, 26 October 2012

Resuming regular transmission

I just wanted to say thanks to you all for all your emails, comments and kind, kind words on my last post. Frivolity (heartily encouraged by my therapist no less) will return to the blog shortly. But I couldn't not acknowledge the kindness of my readers and friends. I'm a lucky rabbit indeed, and I will get there.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

No Worries: for Depression Awareness Month

I had an odd experience today. A somewhat muted version of a “eureka” moment.

I was on the tube, reading my Kindle.  There was a woman on my left, writing things on her copy of the Evening Standard. Suddenly I became aware of the fact that she could – and was – able to see what I was reading. My stomach lurched and I immediately shut my Kindle up. (No, I wasn’t reading that ridiculous book, but much less excitingly, Overcoming Perfectionism, as recommended by my therapist).

In doing so, I glanced over in her direction, at her copy of the Standard. On it she had written words including (I tried not to read-read as it would have been rude, but these jumped out) “I resent myself at work,” “self-esteem,” “OCD” and “not safe.”

For a moment, I felt the world stop. And then I decided finally to write and publish this post, one which I’ve been thinking about for a few days.

What happened when the world stopped? I realised three things:

1. I am incredibly self-conscious about admitting I have mental health issues, I find it very difficult to talk about them and I fear people discovering I have them. I possibly even feel ashamed I have them.

2. My instinctive assumption is that people will judge/criticise/pity me and see me as pathetic/weak/a failure if I do “own up” to the said mental health issues (I now have The Saturdays’ ghastly “Issues” song in my head).

BUT, here’s the thing:
3.  I’m actually far less alone in battling mental health issues than I have ever possibly conceived.

At the beginning of this year I was signed off work for “low mood” for three weeks. I had been having difficulty sleeping, I was crying all the time, and I had started to think some dark thoughts. I avoided going outside because loud noises and cars were terrifying me. I was jumpy. My thoughts were just a chain of worries, peppered with thoughts of how useless I am.

I have been depressed before, which is why I was a bit more able to talk about it with my loved ones, who were able to recognise signs and suggest I go to the GP. I was also very, very lucky to have had an appointment with the only decent GP at my surgery of 5, who gave me 45 minutes (35 of which should have been her lunch hour) in order to talk and be listened to.

I was prescribed anti-anxiety medication and referred to my local Mental Health services. Since then I have had a course of telephone therapy (a half an hour a week call) which I found both nerve-wracking and frustrating, but a step in the right direction. Indeed, for a while, I thought I had sorted things.

But I think my mind is actually in a series of complicated knots, and I’d only begun to untie them. It was quite easy, in the month in which my telephone therapy ended, and whilst I waited for a referral to face-to-face cognitive behavioural therapy, for those knots to knit themselves back together again and things quickly got fairly dark again.

My therapist says I’m a perfectionist. I’ve found this very hard to process – because I don’t think I’m good enough to be one. She thinks this is hilariously typical of a perfectionist. I’m coming around to seeing that my thought patterns are overwhelmingly governed by achievement, striving, and their dark Others, failure and inertia. I basically worry about failing and letting people down, all of the time. It doesn’t make sense, does it? But it rules my life at the moment.

To illustrate, here’s a rundown of a few hours of this week that show what it’s like to have an anxiety disorder combined with perfectionism (at least for me):


1. Think about packing to leave for London trip and speaking event.
2. Feel dizzy at the prospect of doing everything before leaving (washing up, tidying, packing exactly    the right things, not forgetting important things).
3. Put head in sand for a bit.
4. Take head out of sand, look at time, freak out.
5. Pack in a mad dash and leave with just about enough time (10 minutes) to get to the station and arrive eventually at event in time.
6. Undercurrent of nerves buzzing because I don’t feel prepared enough to speak.
7. Make notes on train, which are ok, but then realise as London approaches, that I will only just about make my event on time.
7. Freak out (internally, silently, but also quite intensely).
8. Arrive in London and madly try to update Oyster card and work out fastest route even though I’ve done journey hundreds of times. 
9. Actually end up standing like a rabbit in the headlights for 7 minutes as I can’t decide what to do.
10. Keep looking at different clocks all of which have different times and panic madly.
11. Get on tube, eventually.
12. Try to think that I’m on the tube, I can’t get there faster.
13. Doesn’t work, instead I chastise myself for not being more organised, at the same time freaking out about being late. Visualise the organisers calling me repeatedly, audience assembled, all waiting for me.
14. Get off tube, walk mega-fast to event building, getting sweaty and breathless.
15. Am THREE minutes late, and am told that event won’t actually start until 7.15 (which, deep down, I also suspected would happen).
16. Try to calm down, but then start freaking out about my speech/the possible questions/how I’ll match up (I will not) to other speakers.
17. Event goes well but I think I could have structured speech better. I don’t feel proud but annoyed with myself instead.
18. Adrenaline stops rushing around as everyone goes for post-event meal.
19. KNACKERED. Want to sleep FOR EVER.
20. Morning after – just want to sleep/hide/sleep.

Looking over that, it’s not a wonder now that I’ve been rundown and ill all summer, and that a massive chunk of my hair has fallen out.

Why have I decided to write this? So many people, when I’ve told them I have an anxiety disorder (heck, even some depressives) have asked me “but you’re so happy?” or, “what have YOU got to be worried about?” I know I can come across as a bright, sunny, extrovert of a person. I’ve lived through stuff that’s made me resilient (if not tough), and my instinct is to nurture and look after rather than be looked after. I don’t anymore, wear pain on my sleeve. And because I don’t want to fail, seem weak, or impose on people, it’s almost impossible for me to come back from such responses. I want to say to them: look, it’s not that my life is filled with worries – it’s that my life is all about the worrying. But I don’t. I just clam up. I say I’m doing ok.

But if it was someone else telling me about GAD (how’s that for an ironic acronym for General Anxiety Disorder), depression, bipolar disorder, OCD or something else troubling them, I’d want to tell them it’s ok not to be ok. That’s what seeing the woman on the Tube brought home to me. Lots of people are not ok. My therapist says I’ve put myself on a treadmill, trying to achieve, succeed, be perfect, exhausting myself, getting nowhere. I see now that lots of us are on parallel treadmills, all battling our particular demons, and all thinking we’re the only one on one.

This is a long post, and if you’ve made it thus far I really do salute you. But the point I wished to make is that I’m struggling – struggling to allow myself to just be happy, even to just be. It’s actually far harder than I thought – than it sounds. But I’m not the only one. And that makes it a bit easier. So I just wanted to put this out there for anyone else who’s on a difficult emotional journey:  we are all co-travellers.

A Gem of a Trend

Ha! I just had to use that title.

But there's a few gem prints cropping up on the high street of late - I'm not sure which designer they're referencing, but there's always an original source for these things (tapestry and D&G?)

I think they're a mixed bag, really, as done badly they are quite cheap looking (nice effort, Red Herring, but no cigar), unless they're intentionally brash (very 80s, Paparazzi!). My favourite is the Zara dress - the print is photo-real and really, really beautiful. I'd keep it very simple with a pair of small diamond studs, and silver shoes, for a lovely, elegant take on bling.

Trend: Jewel Prints

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Rabbit Trend Forecast: Tapestry

I'm still on my grungey 90s kick - but wow, there's a lot of tapestry style prints about on the high street at the moment (influenced very directly by Dolce & Gabbana, methinks). I like the dark, moody take on pretty florals, and the fact they remind me of big carpet bags of the ilk carried by Mr Fogg of Eighty Days Around the World.

Tapestry prints

Dolce Gabbana floral dress

Nishe mini dress
£71 - asos.com

Dorothy perkin
£49 - dorothyperkins.com

Floral print dress
£47 - topshop.com


They've caught my eye, but I'm not sure if they'd look like you're actually wearing your grandmother's carpet. What do you think?

I could leave you with a literary extract from Eight Days Around the World and said carpet bag. Instead, I'll leave you with this: