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 -

Dorothy perkin
£49 -

Floral print dress
£47 -


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:

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Rabbit Recipes: Arancini (Or: Why I Always Make Too Much Risotto)

I have, until very recently, had a deep phobia of deep fat frying. I am a scaredy cat and I'm clumsy, and the two together + boiling oil has never seemed like the best idea to me. Marrying into a Gujarati family has meant I've had to face this fear as perhaps 50% of Gujarati snacks and breads are deep fried. I in no way aim to emulate this ratio in my diet but every now and again I do like a freshly cooked samosa or a puffed puri.

This is an Italian recipe that I first came into contact with in Carluccio's (I love Carluccio's!) The taste of these delicious, crispy risotto balls filled with melting cheese, remained there in my subconscious until I was faced one day with a massive batch of leftover risotto and couldn't face eating it for the third day in a row. And then, DING! I remembered.

This is ridiculously easy if you have leftover risotto to hand. I would actually also like to try making an Indian version using leftover khichuri, a type of lentil risotto - possibly filled with mincemeat or paneer.

All you need is leftover risotto (fresh isn't gluey enough to make the balls from so you'll just have to make a bit extra!), breadcrumbs, a relatively hard cheese (I used Edam here but cheddar is excellent too), and a beaten egg to use as egg wash. And one of these (I'm not sure what they're called but available from any good Indian hardware/cookware shop!), which has considerably lessened my fear of deep frying. I can stand half a metre away and gingerly poke the cauldron of oil!

Cube your cheese into 0.5cm ish pieces. Mould the cold risotto around the cubed cheese into balls.

Then get a conveyor belt type thing going (preferably photograph yours in the right order) with risotto balls, egg wash, breadcrumbs and empty plate at the end, with forks in each to stop things getting too messy.

Get your oil nice and hot (drop a grain of risotto in it and if it sizzles and rises to the top, it's ready, if it sinks, it needs to be hotter. If the oil is smoking, it's too hot and you need to - carefully - take it off the heat for a bit).

Drop 4-5 of the breaded arancini into the oil (you can use the spoon to do this ) and fry for 5-6 min until golden brown.

Remove with the sieve-spoon/similar implement and place on a plate with sheets of kitchen roll. Repeat with batches of arancini.

I like to serve them with a crisp salad to cut the fried-ness, and two or three dips (sweet chilli-mango, chilli mayonnaise and ketchup, usually!)

p.s. burning a candle is THE best way of getting rid of frying smells. That's your Diptyque/Yankee/Jo Malone addiction justified, isn't it?

Monday, 8 October 2012

Arm Candy, that ole blogger cliche

When I was at uni, I used to take great pride in my stacks and stacks of bangles, bracelets, cuffs and beads which I used to meticulously match to my outfit every day and which used to go from wrist to close to my elbow on both arms, Indian bride style. (In fact I made one of my best friends in the world through our matching sets - that and Goodness Gracious Me). Alas, I no longer have the time to do that (make the most of it, students) and I spend far too much time in silent whispery archives and libraries to jangle and clatter quite so much. That said, I do always jingle a bit, as these I never take off - my dozen hand carved silver bangles which were given to me by my beloved uncles:

The polish I'm wearing here was actually given to me from the beloved friend mentioned above, and is OPI's Jade is the New Black
Close up of the Bangladeshi floral hand carving <3 br="br">

But I do keep seeing people on Instagram proudly displaying wrists full of jewels (if you wish to follow my endless pictures of other people's cats and my lunches, I am nazneen372), and I have a hankering to reload. Perhaps not quite as gaudily as before - now I am thinking of delicate pieces, semi precious stones, and whimsical charms that might nestle and peek from under my bangles. Should I stick to silver? Should I mix metals? I don't rightly know!

But these are some of the pieces that have caught my eye of late:

I've always loved the more delicate pieces Lola Rose does:

QVC, £18.36
 Also rather pretty but a bit chunkier to make more of an impact (and would co-ordinate with my engagement ring :) )
QVC, £18.36

 I love seed pearls so this delicate bracelet with the tiniest tiniest pearls does sing to me:

Oliver Bonas, £18

And really rather gorgeous, this, like a garland of tiny flowers:

Oliver Bonas, £18
Finally I couldn't not have a rabbit charm, could I? (I'd have NNA as the initials, to stand for me, my sister and my bro):

Etsy, £18

What's on your wrists? Do you like to keep it simple with a single piece, or do you go to town on mixing it up?

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Supermarket Sweep Saturdays

I love supermarket clothing ranges. They're great value, usually good quality and you can sneak dresses in with your weekly shop. I really rate Tesco and Asda for good quality basics like thick cotton tights, T shirts and socks but they also come up with some lovely alternatives to Peacocks and Primark (both of which seem to be getting more and more expensive, whilst quality declines). So I thought I'd do a weekly rundown of things I like that come from supermarket ranges. Due to its price bracket (and the fact that my local branch is directly opposite Asda) I'm going to include Matalan in with Asda and Tesco. I wish Sainburys would bring their clothing range online because it's very nice too!

So this week, the following have caught my eye.

Just how snuggly is this? 

Matalan, £20   

I love the scalloped detailing of this coat which makes it look a lot more expensive than £40:

Tesco, £40
Not sure what the leather on these might be like but I'm impressed that are even ARE leather, at £38:

Asda, £38

Do you buy from supermarket clothing ranges? Which is your favourite?

Friday, 5 October 2012

Friday Frock returns!

And what a frock to return with. This is, I think, could be close to being the favourite of my THREE rabbit print dresses. (Yes, three!) Monsoon really knock it out of the park with this - I love the tulip shape, the pinky-cream colour, and the lovely, elegant elbow length sleeves. (The print's not too bad, either...)

I wore this outfit to see some of my oldest, dearest friends for what was a beautiful afternoon of food, drink and laughter - and giraffes. There's little in the world that's better, for me. I only wish all my favourite people weren't scattered all over the place. Hmmph. Personally, I think they all need to move to Southampton.

Dress, Monsoon; shoes, Poetic Licence; cardigan, Topshop; embellished headband, Primark; bee earrings, Dorothy Perkins; flower and pearl necklace, Accessorize.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Gothic Red Riding Hood

My one buy for the forseeable future is one I'm just so excited about. It's my Gothic Red Riding Hood coat!

I can't tell you how long I've been searching for a coat like this (since I was 8 I guess when I last had one?)

Last year I got completely fixated by this coat and ordered it when a discount put it just about into my price range:

But the flared skirt swamped me and the bright red just didn't work with my skintone.

This one, however, is just so perfect (this is me trying it on in an 8 in Topshop, but I've now got a properly fitting 10 (these babies are huge!) in my rabbit paws. It's a great colour and although quite swingy and widening, it's an easy silhouette that works nicely with dresses and doesn't swamp me at all. Plus it feels a bit like a cape without all the tricky armhole stuff.

I tend to go all out with themed outfits as some of you may gather. So eventually I'd like to put some whimsical fairytale brooches together on this coat. I've compiled a few of my favourites here:

Whimsical Brooches