Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Book Report: India Reading List

I'm visiting India for the first time later this year - its somewhere that has been on my travel list since I was a child but despite clocking up a few air miles, having a gap yah and a half and moving to the same continent I've still not visited. My parents and I will be doing the Golden Triangle in November, visiting Dehli, Agra (home of the Taj Mahal) and Jaipur with an add-on to Amritsar near the Pakistan border. I'm already planning more trips as such a vast and varied country can't be distilled into a ten-day trip nor captured in a novel but my reading choices are currently focused on India and this is my non-exhaustive India reading list (so far!):

1. Shantaram - Gregory David Robers


This is a huge novel, coming in at around 900 pages but it's a fast, relatively easy read and I devoured it in less than two weeks. Ignoring the "is it based on real events or not" speculation and some less favourable reviews that I unfortunately read before delving in (lesson learned to not skimread Goodreads until I've finished a book and formed my own view), I loved Shantaram. In short, the book is written in the first person by "Lin" - an Australian escaped convict who finds his way to Bombay (Mumbai) in the 1980s, setting up a medical clinic in a slum and being inducted into the Bombay underworld along the way. The love affair between Lin and Bombay unfolds throughout the book and his love of the city shines through some slightly unrealistic dialogue and a few clunky metaphors. I was less convinced by Lin's love for Karla - a woman who is a Gone Girl "cool girl" if ever there was one. Shantaram would make a great holiday read where it can be consumed in uninterrupted chunks, preferably with a drink in hand and a large pinch of salt as to whether the events in the novel are based on truth or not (I'm pretty sure JK Rowling did not actually attend Hogwarts). We sometimes need a book that entertains, that gives us (mostly) easily likeable characters and that immerses us in another place and for me, Shantaram did just that while imparting a love for an Indian city and Indian culture through the eyes of an outsider. 

2. Sea of Poppies - Amitav Ghosh


A finalist for the 2008 Man Booker prize, Sea of Poppies was the chosen book for my first Dubai book club meet and so, obviously, I immediately worried that I wouldn't grasp or enjoy it but I really needn't have (it was a great one to discuss!). Set in 1838, we are transported to Calcutta under British rule and the scene is set for the start of the opium wars. This being a period of history which I didn't have much previous knowledge of I felt like I learned a lot about colonialism, the opium trade and the Indian caste system but in a way that didn't feel like Ghosh was trying to lecture me or have his critique of colonialism eclipse his narrative. I'm not usually a historical fiction fan but this story isn't weighed down by the time period and although the first few chapters were heavy with "sailor-speak" dialect it soon became immensely readable. The cast of characters provide a microcosm of society during this period, with a ship, the Ibis, serving as the means of allowing their separate narratives to intertwine. This book is the first in a trilogy and the rather sudden ending had me immediately downloading the next two books, River of Smoke and Flood of Fire to find out where the story (and the ship) take the characters.

3. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie


A book that had been on my reading list for too long. It's hard to approach anything by Rushdie without the man himself eclipsing his work (I am half-Iranian and can vividly remember not understanding much of an adult conversation about Mr Rushdie's issues in the early 1990s) but the forword reminded me that he wrote Midnight's Children while still in his twenties - something I can now never achieve - and that it won the Booker Prize of the year of its publication and The Best of The Booker twice. It's a long book that demands your time and commitment, save it for when you can give it both. Some paragraphs are a single sentence, the prose is dense and it sometimes feels like a test of your intellect and memory as the narrative jumps around you and while the main character (Saleem, born on the stroke of midnight as on the day India became an independent nation) recounts his tale in the present day and re-visits his past, addressing the reader directly and going off on lengthy tangents at will. Mostly set in Mumbai, it visits some of the landmarks of Shantaram albeit at an earlier stage of history. It took me a few frustrating hours to get into this book but I'm glad I persevered as it turned out to be an immensely enjoyable read (although I'm glad Murakami had already introduced me to magical realism) and a scathing look at Indian politics and cultural life that still feels relevant in 2017.

4. The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy


Winner of the 1997 Booker Prize and the only female author in my round-up, The God of Small Things is set in Kerala - the tropical climate and "immodest greenery" providing a backdrop for an intense tale of lost childhood innocence. Like my favourite novel, The Secret History, The God of Small Things reveals its hand early, the non-sequential narrative starting with the funeral of a child and forewarning us that the unfolding story will not be a happy one and that no one will come out of it unharmed. The third-person narrative is seen through the eyes of a child, seven year-old Rahel and her fraternal twin brother Estha who in 1969 are growing up amid the growth of communism in southern India, the still rigorous caste system and a dysfunctional family. The novel isn't always an easy read (parts are sad, parts uncomfortable) and I sometimes had to pause as single sentences conveyed so much meaning but that is the charm and the genius of Roy's writing, not a single word feels misplaced or unnecessary. A hard book to review or describe (there's nothing to easily compare it to) but one that will stay with me and remind me that "anything can happen to anyone" and "it is best to be prepared".

Have you read any of these? 

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Thursday, 20 April 2017

Fashion: Insta-Outfits - Workwear

Long, long time no outfit post. I used to share a lot of mirror outfit snaps on Instagram before it became all thematic and editorial. I guess I lost my nerve in sharing something as #basic as what I'm wearing and my love of clothes somewhere along the way. 

I went on a huge shopping trip for new work wear back in London and since moving here I've, for the first time in years, managed to dodge cakes, biscuits and chocolate with (almost) complete ease which has meant that a few dresses which had mercifully buried themselves in the back of my wardrobe have re-gained their place at the front. Also the light in my new bedroom is A+ and I bought this Ikea mirror even though there's an almost full length mirror in my bathroom.

It was a choice between getting my feet and head in these shots and I chose my shoes because my face (and hair) looks the same every day. My office style has not changed a lot since I started work but I'm starting to gravitate away from florals and bright colours and opting for a palette of blues and greys and cleaner lines - banishing bow details, skater dresses and accessories.

ASOS Wiggle Dress (similar) that I bought ages ago and then saw Kate Garaway wearing it on Good Morning Britain (that's unfair, seeing Piers Morgan ruined my morning far more). Shoes from Karen Millan which I wore to my undergrad graduation and then never again.

Dress from Joanie (now £20), shoes from Antoine and Lili - the cutest shop on the Canal St Martin in Paris and wearing these makes me want to do some kind of tap dance. Being in a hotter climate doesn't change my office attire much other than not even being able to think about black opaque tights and being able to wear shoes which would be ruined in 5 minutes in London.
My actual favourite dress but the worst to photograph (typical) - from the Oasis Prince's Trust line (similar) and shoes by Rupert Sanderson (a bargain in the Selfridges sale but with fragile leather soles). 

We have a sort of casual Thursday (our Friday) but I'm wary of wearing something too girly or vintage-y to a corporate office (lessons have been learned). Swing dress is from Phase 8 (similar) and Duo sandals.
Another Oasis dress (similar) and my low-heeled Louboutins (do not mention Theresa May). Oasis are one of my favourites for work wear - just on the right side of smart. 
Has your work styled changed? I'm still insanely jealous of all of you who work in more creative / relaxed environments and don't have to worry about weather something is "work appropriate" although I couldn't put it better than my own work dress code: If you are worried as to the appropriateness of attire it is probably not appropriate. 
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Monday, 17 April 2017

Life: Money Diary - Dubai Edition

So, I promised I'd write a Dubai money diary once I was settled and while I'm not yet 100% settled its soon going to get very hot here (like 45 Celsius hot) and I don't think a diary of staying in blasting the air-con will make for a good read. My London spend diaries are here and here if you want a nose at spending habits past. I am still addicted to the Refinery 29 Money Diaries (and NY Magazines "not money" diaries because maybe I'm really nosy all round?).

Before I delve in to the spending, ex-pat life isn't cheap and despite constantly hearing how expensive London is...well, it's pretty expensive here and that may not be exclusive to Dubai. The UAE's currency is pegged to the US Dollar so its taken a fall against the pound post-Brexit (depressing graph here) - I've converted the amounts to pounds to make it more relevant for my (mostly) UK readership and to anyone who might be considering a move out here but day-to-day I'm trying to compare the reasonableness of prices for here rather than converting back and just accept that things are expensive. 


I am paid in local currency and there is no income tax here - something to bear in mind if some of the amounts seem £££. Obviously I haven't included my earnings, rent, savings etc. because the Refinery 29 diarists have the benefit of anonymity. I guess I can never submit an anonymous diary now! 

Sunday (a working day):

9am: Arrive at the office after a half hour walk to work (it will soon be too hot for this). Morning coffee from the cafe in my office building, the barista already knows my usual order of a single shot soy cappuccino and I frequently feel like The Worst Person while ordering this and a fruit pot for breakfast. Today the girl behind me orders an espresso with "a teaspoon of hot water" and I feel like a child ordering a bambinochino. £7.93

1pm: Lunchtime and as I'm not manic with work today I walk to the financial district and go to Starbucks (I know I know but it's my home comfort over here like going to McDonalds in Spain as a kid was) - a veggie wrap, an iced soy latte and a read of my book club book (we are reading Chronicle In Stone by Ismail Kadare). £10.57

4pm: I'm trying to curb my 4pm snack habit. Work provide free fruit so I grab the greenest banana in the fruit bowl and fill up my water bottle.

7pm: Leave work and walk home via Dubai Mall where I try to alleviate the Sunday-as-a-working-day thing with sushi. I go to Yo Sushi which is exactly the same as it is in London - not terrible, not amazing but overpriced for what it is (I only had three plates). £15.11

Monday:

6am: Apartment gym for my morning workout - whatever time of day I visit its always full of sweaty grunting men which I try to ignore by turning up my podcast. I partly chose my apartment because of the huge gym as memberships are (you've guessed it!) expensive. Eat a Quest bar while getting ready for work which I paid far too much for last week. 

9.15am: Soy cappuccino at the office after walking in. £4.41

12.30pm: My office is trialing a new lunch delivery service which has an introductory offer and a different restaurant each day. The vegetarian choices are variable but today it's a veggie quinoa salad which is a bargain with the offer. £4.19

7.15pm: Leave the office and go to the mall (again). I go to Waitrose (again a sweet reminder of home!) and buy a small chopping board, a small sharp knife, a plug extender thing and a salad and pot of hummus for dinner all for £26.63

Tuesday:

9am: Soy cappuccino and fruit pot at desk. £7.93

1pm: walk to financial district for lunch, consider not going to Starbucks. Go to Starbucks and eat same lunch as Monday. Continue book reading. Lunch breaks are not really the norm in my line of work so enjoying the chance to take them while I can and while outside isn't a furnace. £10.57

7.30pm: a "twenty minute task" has taken me three hours and counting. Desk dinner it is. I still don't have a working phone here so can't use Uber Eats / Deliveroo (taking this as a blessing in disguise really) but there are cafes downstairs in my building so I get a veggie salad with slightly sad avocado. £8.81

9.30pm: walk home craving Diet Coke (I literally never drink it anymore) but luckily / unluckily there is no where directly en route to purchase it. 

Wednesday (remembered to take pictures of spending today):


9am: Coffee time! I have a loyalty card so every 6th coffee is free which slightly softens the blow of how pricey they are. Banana from work fruit bowl.

12.30pm: We have a lunchtime training session in the office on so work provide lunch - today the veggie option is a falafel wrap. We have these sessions maybe once a fortnight.

4pm: Sparkling water from vending machine in the office while smugly remembering the days when I drank between 2 and 5 cans of Diet Coke at my desk. 33p 

7.30pm: Dubai Mall again - I need to get a smart blazer in case of serious grown up work meetings but I hate suits with a passion. I end up in Topshop after rejecting all the black blazers and find a grey long-line one. In the sale. In the petite range. In my size. Chain stores are usually massively marked up here but this is a steal for £12.99

8.30pm: I remember my Diet Coke craving from yesterday and head to the mall food court for a large Diet Coke (fountain Diet Coke is the best). £1.10 Also realise that I am starving after enforced shopping and so I get a yaki soba with tofu from a Japanese counter in the food court, I judge myself for getting "mall food" but it's  (relatively) cheap and almost like Wagamamas. £8.91

Thursday:



6am: Gym in my building.

9am: Coffee at desk. £4.41

12pm: I have a dentist appointment at lunchtime which unlike in London is not a five minute walk from the office. I take a taxi there and the traffic is a nightmare so despite thinking I left myself loads of time I arrive at exactly the time of my appointment. As a type-A Virgo this is stressful. My new dentist here is super lovely though and hopefully this is my penultimate dentist trip before I get my "invisible braces" off (I wrote about them here) and can bite into crunchy food without fear. £4.41 for taxi (and £225 for dentist but as I've already budgeted for my appointments this doesn't count towards my weekly total).

1.30pm: The dentist's office is opposite Boxpark so I dash across the road for a zaa'tar wrap and mint lemonade before jumping in a taxi back to work. £3.31 for taxi and £8.73 for lunch.

5pm: Thursday afternoon life admin. I check that my electricity and water bill payment has gone through. Browse ASOS but feel glad that I don't know how to return items here.

6.45pm: Post-work drinks with a small group of female colleagues. We go to a bar in the financial district with outdoor seating and share some nibbles. I have three vodka sodas and decline (!) a fourth because I've barely drank since moving here and suddenly worry about stumbling through the door of my still not-familiar apartment. With no friends (yet!) drinking is not a regular occurrence (yet!). £48.46 

10pm: Share a taxi home with a colleague who lives opposite me. £1.10

Friday: 


9am: Every Friday I seek out a new brunch spot, preferably one serving avocado on toast, on the pretense of "finding somewhere nice for when visitors stay" but really I just love solo brunch (maybe being a sociopath is a pre-requisite to moving to a country where you don't know anyone). I take a taxi to the delightful Comptoir 102. There's not a huge tipping culture here but it's polite to round taxi fares to the nearest note which is why a lot of the amounts are the same. £4.41

11am: Pay for my avocado on toast and almond milk matcha latte. £24.23

12pm: Dubai Zoo is down the road so I pop in - it's not a huge zoo but there are peacocks and some monkeys which are fun to watch and entry was only 66p

12.30pm: Bottle of water from zoo shop - restaurants don't do tap water here and I refuse to pay the equivalent of £5 for bottled water in a restaurant. 44p

2pm: It's so so hot and I can't be in the sun for more than twenty seconds. Walk to the public beach, despair at lack of shade so walk to Mercato Mall instead and find a spot in Starbucks (again!) and flop in a comfy chair with an iced soya latte and my Kindle - I am getting through a lot of books here. £4.41

5pm: Living somewhere new is a steep, sometimes exhausting learning curve. Today's lesson: there are no taxis anywhere on a Friday afternoon. One finally appears (at the moment I start to call an Uber) and I head to Urban Yoga and learn that taxi drivers change shift between 4pm and 5pm. £7.70

6.15pm: Pay for my yoga class. Increasing my zen and flexibility doesn't come cheap but the class is 90 minutes and much more challenging than my home practice (pretentious alert!). £19.92

7.45pm: Walk home from yoga. Netflix (Sherlock and Tokyo Stories: Midnight Diner), blogging and a bowl of cereal for dinner (cereal and almond milk purchased in last week's shop).

Saturday:



11am: I head to a barre class at Physique 57 - the first class is free! The class is really fun in an I'll-ache-for-days sort of way (usual price £28.63).

12.15pm: Head to The Coffee Club opposite for brunch - avocado on toast with poached eggs and a soy cappuccino. I start to read Midnight's Children but the first few chapters are a struggle. Order a second cappuccino. Go on Instagram where a friend is drinking Bloody Marys. Decide that I hate this friend. Back to book. £26.43

3pm: Wander in and and out of Sephora.

4pm: Taxi to Dubai Mall. £3.30

5pm: Waxing appointment - grooming is cheaper here as a consolation prize for constantly feeling like a sweaty mess maybe. I politely decline eyebrow threading, top lip waxing and eye-lash extensions. £49.56 (including tip to my waxer because she's great)

7pm: Dinner from Waitrose (constantly going in to Waitrose and only buying food for the next meal was something I did in London too) is a salad bar salad (too much time spent considering the order of veggies to cram as much into the bowl as possible), Vitamin Water Zero and a copy of Time Out Dubai which promises Dubai's best free activities. £10.57

8pm: I do an online order for some groceries to be delivered during the week - I never did online grocery shopping in the UK so simple delight in being able to schedule a delivery for 9pm on a weeknight. I order bottled water (a must when de-salinated tap water comes out unappealingly lukewarm but is technically drinkable), a bulk pack of light soya milk (which turns out to be tiny child-sized cartons with straws), what I think is a large quantity of apples (five tiny child-sized apples), bananas to make vegan ice cream with, honey in a bear-shaped container, lemon juice in a lemon-shaped container, laundry powder and 20 toilet rolls. £27.22

Total damage: £364.65

Ok, so most of my spending was on food - that hasn't changed from London at least! I should maybe go to Starbucks less often but Raj the barista is practically my friend. The exchange rate definitely makes my spending look "worse" than it is - maybe the hotter days and getting settled into my job more (I don't think the above really represents what my typical working schedule will be somehow...) will result in a little less spending... That said I didn't move to a new city to stay inside and would like more G&Ts back in my life. I'll do another one of these once the "cooler" weather is back to check-in with how my spending habits change once I'm less new.
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Thursday, 13 April 2017

Shopping: 4 Pairs of ASOS Sandals To Buy This Weekend

Minimalism. Cost-per-wear analysis. Work suitable attire. Saved for later. Sometimes you just need something silly, frivolous and impractical. The impulse buy. The item for the life you want to lead and not the one you do. The possibilities of a new purchase and the girl you will be with that item in your possession. The promise that you'll break to "definitely send it back"

Here are four shoes to make you smile, all available on ASOS, all of which I would be impulsively adding to my basket if I could work out how to get things delivered to my apartment. 






* Not sponsored by ASOS, just some shoes that made me smile because it's been a long week (but a long weekend is coming!). 
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Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Food: Four More Plates of Avocado on Toast

Other brunch dishes are available.

Four more avocado on toast reviews today, either to bookmark for future visits to Dubai or just for your viewing pleasure if you're reading this on packed public transport to or from the office. If you're wanting a break from that, you know where I am. 

1. Baker and Spice


Baker and Spice has previously won the title of Time Out's "Best Cafe" and Deliciously Ella visited for breakfast on her trip to Dubai. Located in Souk Al Bahar the outside seating area by Dubai Fountain is really lovely and for a moment I felt like I was in Venice (or maybe I was remembering the Venetian in Vegas as I've never actually been to Venice) and not somewhere that didn't even exist on my first visit to Dubai. The avocado on toast here is touted as being organic and locally produced. The plate which arrived almost looked to perfect to eat with its swirl of balsamic and a sprinkling of seeds and spices. The bread was so delicious here, maybe there's something to this organic business after all. The coffee was very good too despite not having chocolate sprinkles on top of the cappuccino which is maybe passe now anyway (but I like it).

2. By Parker's


Those of you who knew me back in 2012 (collect your medal from me next time you see me) when the world was a nicer and simpler place know that I love a treasure hunt. When I heard about By Parker's hiding keys to their restaurant I actually did stop what I was doing (I had a day off so no one objected) and headed to Dubai Mall to hunt down a key using the restaurant's Instastories to help. A metaphor that describes how happy I was doing this features an animal beginning with "P" that can't be mentioned in the Middle East. Key in hand I headed to the second floor of the mall and made it just in time for the brunch menu. The avocado on toast at By Parker's comes with an egg cooked to your liking (the brunch menu is very egg-centric). Staff are super-friendly and the vibe is very chilled, orders are placed and paid for at the serving counter and the interior of the restaurant really could be a park-side cafe rather than a corner of the world's largest mall. At the time of my visit there were no barista-style coffees on offer but there now is which means I must go back - once you've found a key it's yours for the keeping! 

3. Circle Cafe

Tucked away next to the Waterfall in Dubai Mall, Circle Cafe wouldn't look out of place in Paris with it's white decor and understated chic. The outside seating by the Waterfall is bright and airy despite giving me a disconcerting feeling in the way that loud rushing water is prone to do. The avocado on toast here is served with rocket and chilli making for a very green plate. It comes on either sourdough or a toasted bagel. I wanted the bagel but part of being an adult is choosing what you think will be the better for you option while wondering whether all bread is evil regardless. The sourdough was very nice actually and I liked the large chunks of avocado which I'm sure tastes nicer here than it did back home. I will definitely be back to Circle for a chilled out lunch as it's a little oasis away from the crowds of Dubai Fountain and the busyness of the mall and the backstory of two friends founding the cafe gives a nice personal touch amid the (mostly American) chains in the mall.  

4. Comptoir 102


Another Dubai cafe featured on Deliciously Ella's Instagram, Comptoir 102 is located on Beach Road so it's a short taxi hop away. A five minute walk from the beach, Comptoir 102 has such a lovely chilled out vibe - there's a store selling all those things that you don't need but suddenly want when you see them and a healthy cafe. The whole venue is beautiful and my brunch here was the start to the first day when I actually felt like I was fully enjoying Dubai life and managed to switch my brain off from the whirring of "new job, new apartment, new city" thoughts. Comptoir 102's avocado toast is from the lunch menu but it's available for order all day, I can totally eat salad at 10am after finally shaking off my sweet tooth but I'm already planning a return visit for the actual breakfast dishes. The macadamia sauce hiding underneath the avocado makes this dish so delicious and unique, despite already eating seven other plates of avocado on toast they have all felt like totally different meals. I paired it with a matcha latte made with almond milk for the necessary morning caffeine as I can't get on board with almond milk in coffee. I didn't feel at all rushed to leave or pressured to order more to justify my spot and when you're solo in a new country that is exactly what you want from a cafe.

What's your brunch dish of choice? 


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Thursday, 6 April 2017

Working It: Yoga in Dubai

For the first time in my adult life, I do not have gym membership. There's a gym in my apartment building which I scrabble out of bed at 6am to use (due to putting my phone to charge out of reach of my bed) and I do some Yoga With Adriene almost daily but I was always a classes person and my routine used to be shaped around Tuesday morning yoga and Wednesday morning spinning and my beloved Fierce Grace hot yoga.

Dubai is not a cheap city to live in and the inflated prices hit hard when it comes to pursuits aimed at ex-pats. A yoga class is typically around £20 so I mostly stick to doing Yoga With Adriene, my own home practice (I did train as a yoga teacher after all) and "treating myself" to a studio class once a fortnight or so. These are the classes and studios I've tried so far:

1. Urban Yoga


Located in Business Bay, Urban Yoga's studio is on the 37th floor of an office tower. Once I'd found my way in it had definite ~New York loft~ vibes and the studio is spacious and high-ceilinged with great views over the bay. I did a 90 minute Ashtanga class which was quite fast paced and definitely required some previous yoga experience as the instructor didn't demonstrate all of the poses and the transitions were fast and flowing. I don't usually do Ashtanga and a new class at a new studio can be daunting as its easy to get used to your favourite teacher's style but once I'd silenced the negative voices I loved this class, it definitely highlighted which poses I omit from my own practice *cough cough all arm balances* and the next day I could feel that my muscles had been pushed out of their comfort zone. The studio has showers, towels are provided, there are hairbands and toiletries for post-class and a chill out area with snacks which can be purchased - I really love little touches like this at a studio.

2. Zoga Yoga Cafe


Also in Business Bay, Zoga Yoga Cafe is literally a cafe offering coffees, juices and healthy food and two yoga studios. Located at street level the studio is very easy to find and feels really inviting with a delicious looking spread of healthy treats and yoga wear to purchase. There's a full range of yoga classes and also hot yoga (although I'm earmarking this for the return of the cooler months). I did a workshop session at Zoga - a two-hour session which focused on explorations of the heart through yin and yoga nidra. Yin yoga is a very slow, controlled form of yoga which is restorative (this does not necessarily mean "easy") making use of props like bolsters, blocks and blankets and yoga nidra is a form of guided meditation.

This wasn't a "typical" yoga class that you'd find at a gym but its sometimes nice to take a step back from forcing our heels do the ground in a downward dog and view yoga as a form of self care and a way to bring ourselves back to our true selves. I absolutely loved this session, it was so relaxing and while I tried to remember snippets of teacher Jess's wisdom I left feeling like it had all been a dream but also that the heart opening focus had helped me to work through some things and that my head felt calmer and clearer than it had for a while. I'm still very much a beginner in all things meditation but I feel like its one of those things that if you can open your heat and mind to it it will work wonders whereas if you dismiss it as hippie twaddle then yeah, it probably won't work for you.

3. Talise Spa Sunset Yoga



I love "experiential" yoga classes as it's great to get out of the yoga studio but they can be variable when it comes to the actual yoga. At AED90, the sunset yoga at Talise Spa at the beautiful Al Qasr hotel is at the lower end of the price spectrum here, mats and water are provided and it includes use of the spa changing rooms. Doing yoga on the beach was amazing, the sounds of the waves and the views out to sea made it feel like a really special experience even if you do have to block out the noise from the hotel beach and the occasional tourist who thinks its cool to walk right through a yoga class talking loudly...annnnnd breathe! Most participants at the class are hotel guests, some of whom may never have done yoga before so the teaching has to accommodate this and holiday-makers looking for something to fill the pre-dinner time slot probably don't want a crazily challenging class but on the day I took part everyone clearly had some yoga experience and the instructor was able to make it a little more challenging. Having been out and about in the heat all day my muscles felt so flexible and poses which feel cranky in the morning feel so easy with already warm muscles. I'd definitely do this class again as the setting was so lovely - a taste of the luxury Dubai life after getting to grips with bills and flatpack furniture. If I have a yoga loving visiter then I'm taking you here.

How often do you do classes? Are there any Dubai studios I need to visit?

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Sunday, 2 April 2017

Life: March Round-Up

My blogging output has been slower of late but a week waiting for the internet to be connected and the never-ending to do list that life in a new city, a new country and a new job creates are to blame. I've been taking time away from the screen (some twelve hour days in the office have meant that my MacBook has been literally gathering sandy dust as I learn not to open the windows in my apartment) and I'm all too aware that the early days in a new city, at a new job and within any new experience are the ones that get lodged into long-term memory.

Almost ten years later my first term at university feels like it only happened a few months ago and I hope that I'm viewing my new city with some of the same sense of optimism and opportunity as I did back then. A little older, a little wiser and on the other side of the intrusion of social media in our lives I've become (I hope) a better self-editor, thinking more carefully what opinions, snippets of my life and pieces of who I am I share in the virtual world and in the real one.

Every day I am learning new things: tweezers are not a substitute for screwdrivers when tackling flat-pack furniture and the Metro doesn't start running until 10.30am on Fridays (our Saturday). Aside from a deluge of rain onto streets which don't have gutters, the temperature has been rising a little everyday and I'm appreciating every moment of being able to run, walk and spend time in the great outdoors before it becomes too hot for my still-pale complexion. I still want to share a bit more about my move and offer a bit more of an insight into my new city beyond where to eat avocado on toast but for now, this was March:



1. Finding a key to Parker's - there's no shortage of restaurants here so Parker's daily key hunts are a fun novelty and once you have a key, it's yours to keep. Food review coming soon.

2. The view from the roof of the Dusit Thani hotel, the constant traffic along the Sheikh Zayed Road sounds more soothing to me than the silence of the countryside. 

3. A perfect cappuccino at Baker and Spice. Soy milk may now be the devil to some of the #eatclean brigade, but it makes a much better cappuccino than almond milk ever has or will. 

4. Sephora hauling as my London skincare regime is absolutely no use here. I also picked up some candles from Bath and Body Works as despite living opposite the world's largest shopping mall it took over a month for me to purchase anything beyond essentials.

5. Yoga on the 37th floor at Urban Yoga. As much as I'm happy to do my own daily practice, there's nothing like a class to make you realise which poses you accidentally-on-purpose skip over (that'll be any and every arm balance).

6. One of my favourite restaurants in the world has a branch at Mall of the Emirates - I can't not visit a Din Tai Fung if there's one in the country and a long-standing rumour says that there may be a London opening soon.

7. A nightly spectacle, I can't help but stop and watch the Dubai Fountain when walking home and the view from the back row is even better as its seen multiple times through the screens of smart phones, tablets and on the ends of selfie-sticks. 

8. Dubai Marina was always a favourite spot on family holidays, we watched the twisty building being built over the years and its still as impressive.

9. I walked past Walter's in Dubai Mall twice before realising that it's a Breaking Bad themed coffee shop. The irony is not lost given that the UAE has some of the world's strictest drug laws but all novelty aside (the baristas wear bright yellow hazard suits) the coffee is very good. 

Plans for April include finally going to the beach (I'm not really a beach person but maybe I can become one), a sunset yoga class and going to my first Dubai book club meet so I'd better get a few chapters of Sea of Poppies read now I've finished this post.

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Thursday, 30 March 2017

Life: Podcasts I'm Enjoying

I've been very late to the game with podcasts (if my mother is reading its like radio that you listen to on your phone) but a new daily routine here in Dubai has made plenty of time for all things audio. My commute to work is a half-hour walk each way, I've finally rediscovered my love of running as a way to explore my new neighbourhood and my apartment has a shared gym which has all the equipment you could want but lacks the soundtrack of my beloved Boom Cycle (there goes my last remaining connection to new music).

These are the podcasts that have brightened up my walk to work (not literally as its really sunny here), made me laugh or made me learn something new. The current limbo period of ex-pat life where I've furnished a flat and discerned the difference between a 10 and 100 Dirham note, where I don't quite have a settled daily routine and where evenings are not spent going for "one drink" and returning home at 1am mean that some days I feel the novelty of having a bit of free time to fill. Listening to one of these while running, pouring over a book in a coffee shop  - after my London existence it feels quite indulgent to have this time to cram my brain with new information (otherwise I just listen to Conor Oberst's new album on repeat).



1. Intrigue: Murder in the Lucky Holiday Hotel

This BBC Radio 4 podcast definitely has strains of Serial (the one podcast I had previously listed to). Narrated by Carrie Gracie it tells the story of a British businessman who died in mysterious circumstances in the city of Chongqing. I had to continually remind myself that these events happened in 2011 and not in the 1960s - it's a truly surreal chain of events encompassing politics, power, sex and money and, the surviving protagonists aside, no one will ever really know what happened. The six episode series is served up in 20 minute bites so it's perfect for the commute and the slick production combined with Carrie's experience as the BBC's China Editor makes it a compelling listen.

2. My Dad Wrote A

You've definitely heard of this and don't need me to explain it. I held off downloading this one as I was convinced that I wouldn't find it funny but when a friend mentioned that she was listening, I tentatively downloaded episode one and ended up snorting water out of my nose while on the Stairmaster. Elegant. Serendipitously, Elijah Wood (the subject of my first foray into internet life with a fansite) is a huge fan and has a spin-off "footnotes" episode (there's also a great one with Bake Off's Tamal Ray). I met co-presenter Alice Levine at a food blogging event a couple of years ago - she hosts supper clubs, has an excellent vintage-inspired wardrobe and is hilariously scathing about basic masculinity, I like to kid myself that I'm cool enough that we could be friends.

3. Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History

I read "Outlier's" a few years ago and Malcolm Gladwell's podcast, while covering a totally different subject matter takes a similar approach in turning familiar thinking on its head and looking at events which have been misunderstood or wrongly interpreted. Each episode takes on a free standing event, I started with "Saigon, 1965" after visiting Vietnam last year and trying ever since to fill in the gaps in my knowledge of the all too recent history of this country. It feels like everyday at the moment an event is referred to as "historical" but this podcast affirms that history isn't something that just happened but how we are made to perceive and understand past events. Definitely one for making those brain cells work.

4. Sword and Scale

I studied law and I can still remember the first time I read a murder case report. It felt truly awful, like I'd read something I shouldn't have, a detailed account of a complete stranger's last moments - had I really signed up for three years of this? An hour later, a chat with a friend and with half the case list ticked off I felt completely fine. It's hard to describe but true crime feels similar - it's horrifying but we quickly become desensitized to it. This podcast delves deep into the very of humanity but it's sensitively and slickly produced making it as compelling as it is dark and deeply disturbing. Florida-based host, Mike Boudet, is a great presenter,the work that he puts into each show is insane and his very American enthusiasm prevents it all getting a bit too dark. The round-ups of bizarre American news stories are a nice interlude and (aside from a few two-part-ers) each episode is a free standing story.

What else would I enjoy? Do you listen to any of these?


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Monday, 20 March 2017

Food: Recipe - Spring Smoothie Bowl

Long time, no recipes but Florette have recently brought out a range of smoothie mixes to make mornings a little easier. All you need is a blender and some fruit, fruit juice or milk of your choice and five minutes to throw everything together for a nutrient-packed breakfast that you can take with you - much better for you and your wallet than a coffee grabbed on the way into the office.

The packs contain a mix of salad leaves and a sachet of seeds so rather than just adding in a handful of baby spinach you're getting a whole mix of nutrients and no chopping, washing or fuss first thing in the morning. The smoothie mixes are high in Vitamin A and Folic Acid and using just half a pack will have you on your way to however-many-a-day we are meant to be getting and that's before you've added the fruits and toppings. 

On the weekend, making a smoothie bowl is just as easy but ultimately more Instagram-worthy and the toppings are definitely the best bit - I find adding a bit of crunch and different textures makes a smoothie so much more satisfying and its a great way of sneaking in even more nutrients. With spring coming it's maybe time to take a break from avocado on toast and go for a cool, creamy smoothie eaten with a spoon from a cafe au lait bowl.

florette salad smoothie mix recipe
Bowl: West Elm
For my pink smoothie just blend together:

Half a pack of Florette Superfood Smoothie Mix
Half a frozen banana (makes the end smoothie so much creamier)
A handful each of frozen strawberries and raspberries
One cup of non-dairy milk (almond is my favourite for smoothies)

Once blended, swirl in your bowl with some non-dairy yogurt and add your toppings. I added baby figs, a superfood nut and fruit mix and a swirl of chocolate sauce (cacao powder blended with melted coconut oil).

florette salad smoothie mix recipe

What are your favourite smoothie creations?

In need of dinner inspiration? Check out last's month's vegan salad recipes.

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Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Food: 4 Places To Eat Avocado Toast In Dubai

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. 

With a new country, a new climate, a new job and a new apartment to settle into now is not the time to change my brunch of choice. Avocado on toast is alive and well in Dubai and my weekends have been spent ordering it in various eateries to be savoured with a coffee and my Kindle which no longer connects to the wifi. A re-read of Bright Lights Big City seems in some way appropriate anyway.

A note on brunch in Dubai - if you hear anyone bragging about the awesome (i.e. they drank three bottles of "sparkling grape" and don't remember that they had the same conversation five times) brunch they had then it's not the avocado and poached egg sort. Brunch here is a pretty much all day affair involving a spend of anything from £20 to £200, multiple courses, tables laden with all manner of food, entire rooms of cheese, whole roasted pigs, live entertainment, chocolate fountains... there are "night brunches" (AKA dinner) too, but Dubai brunching is for another day because it doesn't involve avocado or coffee and those are my current requirements. 

1. The Healthy One

avocado on toast dubai

Le Pain Quotidien means "the daily bread" in French and you really could consume bread here on a daily basis and nothing bad would happen. Because it would be delicious, obviously. LPQ's avocado on toast is called a "tartine" because they are French. The portion size is not too big or not too small, the bread is delicious as you would expect and the sprinkling of seeds adds to this being the healthiest looking avocado toast I've ever seen. LPQ's menu is vegan and veggie friendly and their coffee is great too - they do both soy and almond milk and it comes in a bowl (despite almond milk being more fashionable for me coffee will always better with soy milk). Despite there being LPQs in London I felt very much not in London while eating this as the girl on the next table struck up conversation with me about how great this looked. FYI, I'm reading my favourite chapter from American Psycho which goes great with avocado on toast. 

Locations here 

2. The One With The View

avocado on toast dubai

It is frustratingly hard to find restaurant websites in Dubai but finding Social House is easy as it is opposite the Dubai Fountain on the lower ground floor of Dubai Mall. Social House's avocado toast is piled high with feta and is served with roasted tomatoes, beetroot and a hard boiled egg (which I ate before taking the picture). Grab an outside table to enjoy the half hourly Dubai Fountain displays and feel smug about all the people standing as close as possible to take photos who will inevitably get wet. The brunch menu is served all day at weekends so there's no need to get up early to enjoy avocado toast and this feels more like a lunchtime avocado toast anyway due to the salad-y accompaniments. The coffee here is also good and comes with a tiny biscuit which made me think of the "pink" episode of Black Mirror. I am still (re-)reading American Psycho. 

Not the restaurant's own website here.

3. The Indulgent One

avocado on toast dubai

Tub of Butter is located just off of Sheikh Zayed Road, somewhere between Mall of the Emirates and Dubai Mall (my two main landmarks here for figuring out where everything is). I went for the Barack Obama topped coffee and stayed for the avocado toast. This had to be the biggest avocado toast portion I've ever seen - definitely no scrimping on the (chia seed and chilli-topped) avocado here as it spills out from a brioche bun. This was so filling that I didn't even order a second coffee despite wanting one with the Sheikh's face in honour of my new home. The cafe lacks a view but more than makes up for this with it's free wifi, huge magazine shelf and a great selection of products to take home. I happily sat here for a couple of hours people watching locals and ex-pats (the French toast and brunch burger both looked incredible) and reaoding all the magazines, never feeling rushed to give up my table.


4. The Hipster One 


avocado on toast dubai

Tom & Serg are friends and business partners by way of Melbourne and Madrid who have built up a small empire of lovely cafes in Dubai, serving Aussie-approved coffee and fresh, delicious food.  I'd already visited two of their cafes, Common Grounds and Wild & The Moon, for coffee so I had high hopes for their eponymous original offering located in Al Quoz near to Alsekeral Avenue. The menu is so amazing that I almost didn't order avocado toast but I did for the sake of this blog post and my need to feel like I'm reporting on my own life. I'll go back for the rest of the menu another time, it's ok. Tom & Serg's avocado on toast is a very different take, featuring cottage cheese, spring onion, chilli and cucumber ribbons. I loved this as it wasn't all about the avocado but it was so tasty and the servers and cafe itself are lovely. 

Website (yay!) here.

I might eat something else next weekend... 

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Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Dubai: Art at Alserkal Avenue

Dubai may be best known for its seven-star hotels, skyscrapers and giant shopping malls but to those who claim that my new city has no culture - not so fast. It's there, you just need to know where to look. And by "where to look" I mean use Uber and direct your driver to Alserkal Avenue in Al Quoz.  
In an industrial area of the city, a network of streets have seen independent galleries and cafes which could be more than at home in Hackney pop up and nestle themselves in amongst mechanics and wholesalers. The area reminded me, in a way, of the 798 District in Beijing - the perfect spot for a solo wander, a rare moment of quiet away from the bright lights of the big city and somewhere I can't wait to take visitors to to show them another side to this city.

Art


Leila Heller gallery is one of the larger galleries in the area. With a New York sister gallery boosting its credentials, this gallery is sure to become a favourite with its frequently changing exhibitions.


The Third Line showcases work from Middle Eastern artists and the current exhibition by Sophia Al Maria titled Everything Must Go draws on the region's love of consumerism and the conflict of growing up between eastern and western cultures.



The surroundings are as Instagrammable and intriguing as the exhibitions inside the galleries. Look in every door way you walk past.

Eat



There are a few cafes within Alserkal Avenue but Wild & The Moon was on my to-eat list in its own right after some frantic Googling for vegan cafes in Dubai. The cafe is an absolute delight - a high-ceiling, bright space with the type of menu that I thought I wouldn't find out here (meat is very much the flavour of the month). The staff are super friendly and there's free wifi (essential when you still have a UK phone). I spent a happy hour sipping an almond milk cold brew out of a mason jar and feeling very much at home.

 Shop and Do


Mirzam Chocolate Factory is a small-scale factory producing bean-to-bar chocolate in Dubai. The packaging is beautiful and the chocolate has a Middle Eastern twist - white chocolate with saffron is a must try, as is dark chocolate with fig. There's a small cafe and staff on hand to explain the chocolate-making process and bars of all sizes to purchase as (self) gifts.


The chilled A4 Space boasts a cafe, a shop, a cinema screening room and a community library. There's a co-working space upstairs and free wifi - whether you need to catch-up on work, Instagram your surroundings or flick through a book. The atmosphere hits that sweet spot between a coffee shop and a library, so basically my ideal place to spend time in.

Notes:

- check opening times before visiting, galleries are closed on Friday and possibly on public holidays
- there's an ATM next to A4 Space but gallery entry is free and cafes take cards
- you'll probably need to call an Uber to pick you up unless you can hop in a taxi that has just dropped someone off (or walk the 15 minutes to Noor Bank metro stop as I did)
- leave your sandals for the beach as the area is still a functioning industrial estate


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Thursday, 2 March 2017

Life: February Round-Up

A month of two halves, if ever there was one. The first half spent reminding myself why I love London - and how much easier it is to when you don't have to go into work. Throw in the best of friends, favourite haunts and ticking off a list of new openings and you have the perfect combination for not wanting to be anywhere else. 

The second half of the month? Add twenty celsius to the thermometer and the start of life in a city that's only ever been a holiday destination. Dubai is now home and where I need to find my favourite spots for coffee, G&Ts, yoga classes etc. to really make it feel like one. Add in the start of a new job, the ever-present internal reminder that "first impressions count" and the slightly annoying way that the Monopoly money of my last visit has now become cold hard cash that disappears all too quickly... Oh, and the need to maybe make some friends as what is city life without a squad to take it with and maybe it could be overwhelming but we all know I'm at my happiest when I have five-thousand-and-one things on my to do list. One of which is writing a proper post on my move but for today, this was February...


1. Eliza and I attended our second Morning Gloryville and it was a total joy. If you're ever feeling jaded of London life then, really, a morning rave with restore your faith in the city and the coffee is great.

2. The opening day of Do Ho Suh at Victoria Miro, an exhibition that is as thought-provoking as it is meticulously crafted. Closes 18 March. 

3.  Seeing my favourite musician, Conor Oberst, play at the Palladium. Seventh time's a charm and his on-stage banter was as on point as the songs from his latest album.

4. Working my cat lady librarian look in Fitzrovia outside of someone's charming green door.

5. Visiting Honey and Co. for brunch with the best blogging girls.

6. The new(ish) Design Museum in Holland Park - it's new home is perfectly fitting for the exhibits inside. 

7. Sir John Soanes Museum in Lincoln's Inn. It's only taken me nine years to pop in to this complete treasure trove of a house and it was worth the wait. If you haven't been, you are in for a treat. 

8. Trying out an aerial class at Flying Fantastic as a reminder that my upper body strength is pitiful. I've crossed out 'running away to join the circus' as a life option.

9. Where The Pancakes Are in Flatiron Square - I rarely pick sweet brunches but these vegan berry pancakes were perfection. 


1. Dipping my feet in the pool at the Dusit Thani - Dubai is not short of hotels and this one is perfectly located if (like me) you're more keen on city than beach life.

2. The world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, still doesn't quite seem real despite seeing it every single day (it's hard not to).

3. A familiar sight in a new town - Boxpark Dubai comes with a backdrop of the Burj.

4. Snails by Cracking Art in Burj Plaza, an evening of finding Dubai-based Instagrams to follow led me to discover these despite the internet seemingly having no information on them.

5. I'm still new so I'm always looking up as I walk home from work (no one else walks here so there's no danger of me bumping in to anyone). The architecture here seems to mix that from every city I've ever visited, and some that I have yet to.

6. Our friend the Burj again while talking a weekend walk around Downtown Dubai while its cool enough for me to get in my 10,000 steps outside of a shopping mall.

7. Yes, there is culture here. A full post on the Al Quoz gallery district is to come soon, it's on my list.

8. The Dusit Thani from the outside while musing that window cleaners must never be short of work in this city.

9. Time Out Dubai is my weekly go-to for adding destinations to my starred Google map of the city. Tub of Butter's coffees dusted with faces of the great and the good could not wait, a full write up of their brunch is, you guessed it, on my list but for now a coffee dusted with Obama's face can't not be shared.

So...how was your month? 


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Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Food: Four Vegan Lunches To Try This Month

Veganuary might be over but vegan food isn't just for January. Whether you're vegan, thinking of becoming vegan or just interested in how varied and creative vegan food can be then you're in luck. The vegan food scene in London has never been better - whether its a quick desk lunch from Pret, street food or a vegan junk food fix. Here are my top picks from this year so far - vegan lunches definitely do not mean going hungry picking at a sad salad:

1. Indonesian Street Food from Makatcha Eats - £8

vegan street food london

A regular at Kerb, Makatcha Eats serves up Indonesian rendang curries and offers a vegan option (alongside two meat options). The mushroom and chickpea curry served on rice with peanut sauce and pickles was the perfect winter warmer on a freezing winter day and my first taste of Indonesian cooking. For the time I was eating this I definitely felt like I was somewhere warmer and less grey and vegetables can definitely pack a huge flavour punch.

2. Vegan Doner from What The Pitta - £8.50-£9

vegan street food london

What The Pitta specialise in vegan doner kebabs - either in a wrap or a box. They operate from a stall on Shoreditch High Street but I discovered them via Ubereats on a rainy day when browsing vegan options and was intrigued at how a food with a dubious reputation could both be made vegan and be appealing to sober people during daylight hours - turns out these kebabs are much more inspired by traditional Turkish ones than end-of-drunken-night-out offerings. The box comes packed with vegan "meat", cous cous, salad and loads of sriracha-drizzled hummus - the perfect antidote to a rainy day.

3. Vegan Nachos from Club Mexicana - from £6

vegan street food london

Club Mexicana has been on my list for a long time - the street food stall (which is now in residence at Pamela) makes fully vegan Mexican food and has received glowing reviews from vegans and omnivores alike. I visited the Kerb Camden stall at lunchtime and opted for the nachos which were the best I've ever had - the portion is probably meant to be shared alongside other foods but the joy of being a grown-up is giving yourself permission to eat crips for lunch sometimes.

4. Temple of Seitan (/Temple of Hackney) - from £6

vegan street food london

The street food favourite now has a permanent residence on Morning Lane, opposite the big Tesco, in Hackney. I arrived at 12pm on a rainy Wednesday and ended up sixth in the queue - keep up with their Twitter if you're planning a visit as some days they sell out. I tried the seitan strip sub and the mac & cheese - definitely not my usual food choices but the buzz, ingenuity and queue had me intrigued. The food is super tasty, salty, indulgent and everything you want from a fast food fix - the mac & cheese was the winner for me, super creamy but totally dairy free. Temple of Seitan are still relative newbies and I can't wait to see where they go in defying perceptions of what "vegan food" is.





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Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Art: Anna Laurini - "Profiles"

Last year, I sat eating ramen alone (the only way to ever eat ramen) opposite a piece of graffiti painted on a boarded-up shop opposite the restaurant. I snapped a quick picture, the abstract faces and the quote getting stuck in my head without me realising at the time.

anna laurini street art

The little ramen restaurant is no more but over the next few months I spotted more of the faces in different levels of detail and colour around London and then, on the Lower East Side in New York on a hot afternoon while I forced myself to keep walking through the streets to capture every last bit of the city.

anna laurini street art

anna laurini street art

anna laurini street art

anna laurini street art

Instagram's geo-tagging helped me track down the artist as Anna Laurini, born in Milan she has studied art in her home city, in London and in NYC. Anna even re-grammed a few of my pictures of her works and I kept an eye out for more across London, the faces standing out despite East London not lacking in colourful street art.

Anna Laurini's work is currently being exhibited at Lights of Soho - the Brewer Street gallery is small and friendly and I always pop in when I'm close by (they do great coffee). The exhibition features larger works which are bright, beautiful and don't lose any of their character in the transition from shutters and hoardings to a traditional canvas. Anna has also produced a number of original works in smaller sizes with prices starting at £50 - art is often seen as something out of reach but for the price of a new pair of shoes you can take home an original piece and support an artist whose work you've enjoyed for free.

anna laurini lights of soho

After a lot of time flicking through the folders, I was drawn to a brightly coloured face painted onto a menu from nearby Damson and Co. Other artworks have used pages of the New Yorker as their canvas, covering the words of our times with red lips and broad brushstrokes. Art is so personal but this piece was the one I needed - partly because I love reading restaurant menus and because maybe it will be nice in twenty, thirty, fifty years time to look back on what we were eating during these crazy times. If I survive any impending apocalypse I'll be sure to take this with me of a reminder of life, art, city streets and oven-roasted cod with bok choy, coriander and lime.

anna laurini lights of soho

anna laurini lights of soho

Lights of Soho, 35 Brewer Street, Soho, W1F 0RX
Exhibition runs until 11th March 2017 

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