Thursday, 29 January 2015

Winter vegetable soup | The Small Desk

If you follow me on Twitter you will already know how incredibly busy I've been at work recently and that my blog has had to take a back seat. However, that said, I have one very loyal reader who has very kindly offered to help me out and provide me with some content. This amazing reader is my Mum! Even though I'm 26, and no longer live at home, I still heavily rely on my parents for moral support. They both are great supporters of The Small Desk too, which I am so pleased about! Is there a time when you stop seeking the approval of your parents?!? Anyway, without any further ramble from me, here is a real treat, a post from my Mum on how to make a winter soup. Let me know if you make this soup or are inspired! She will be reading the comments no doubt! Over to you Mum!

How to make a winter soup
Soup can be daunting to make, if you don't cook much, but if you follow a few simple rules you can't go wrong. It's a great way to be inventive; you can pretty much throw anything in. It's a clever way to use up tired vegetables that have been hanging around for a week, but what's so attractive about soup is that you can make it in advance and it just gets better and better.

This is what I used up the other day:

First pre-soak some pulses for about an hour. A third of a mug each of split peas, red lentils and pearl barley, soaked in twice the amount of water, will speed up the process if you can remember to do it!

Sauté a mix of root vegetables for about 5 minutes, I used this mixture:

1 chopped leek
2 sticks of chopped celery
1 chopped sweet potato
4 chopped carrots
6 small potatoes chopped into quarters

Add a stock mix, mine was this funny mixture:

2 tsps of Marigold Bouillon powder in 1 litre of boiling water
2 tsps of Tamari Soya sauce
Half an inch of freshly grated ginger
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
Black pepper

Add pre-soaked pearl barley, split peas and red lentils.

I also added some 4 leaves of Swiss chard, which looked a bit tough, so I chucked it in the soup and it worked out really well. 

Bring it all to a gentle boil and simmer gently for about 40 minutes.

I think it serves about 6, depending on how hungry you are!


Saturday, 24 January 2015

Elizabeth is Missing: First ever book review on The Small Desk

I don't even have a category on this blog for book reviews, and by making one I feel I am tempting fate, putting the pressure on myself to do another book review, even to read another book, so for now I'm going to put these into the 'articles' category and see how it goes. But yes, a book review! One of my New Year's Resolutions actually happening, this is the SECOND book I've read this year and we haven't even finished January, I never thought I'd say that, quite proud of myself! In part this resolution has been helped by the fact that I've been lucky enough to read two fantastic books. The first was Bill Bryson's Down Under and the second was Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey.

When I finished this book I sat holding the book, looking at the cover and tried to accept that it had finished. I could have read the book for longer, I wanted to know what else happened, I was greedy for more, yet if the book had been any longer it would have become darker and depressing, plus I would not have got anything done. I took every opportunity I got to read it. I am normally the person who looks at those people standing squashed on a train trying to read a book like they are crazy people, but that was me! This book is one of those rare page-turners, one that you read very quickly because you love the characters and want to know what happened to Elizabeth and Sukey.

Let me explain. The book is written in first person through the eyes of Maud, who has Alzheimer's. You see her journey with the disease progress throughout the book as it switches between the present and her recollection of the past. This is done very clearly with paragraph breaks, it is not confusing, and if you are confused, it is probably because Maud is confused. In the present she is looking for Elizabeth, her neighbour, and in the past she is looking for Sukey, her sister. The two stories start to entwine towards the end, bringing the present and the past together in an explosive ending.

Having seen Alzheimer's disease take hold of a relative's partner's father and seen the small day-to-day functions they now struggle with I could predict some of the events that were going to happen to Maud. Healey seems to have such a strong grasp of what Alzheimer's does to people and this is first-hand experience; her thank you in the front of the book goes to her grandmothers for inspiring the book. It makes you realise what an emotionally draining disease it is for the relatives of the person, how confused the person with the disease becomes, but gives you hope in the fact that Maud does still find joy in the small things in life and manages to do some pretty remarkable things, including solving a mystery decades old.

I don't want to spoil it for you if you are going to read it, so I won't say any more, other than that I would love to hear your thoughts on the book if you have read it and whether or not you want to read it! I'm starting my next book today, The Miniaturist, so you might see another book review very soon.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Time, money and priorities | The Small Desk

Often I find myself feeling the need to choose between buying things that would improve my everyday life and saving for things that would help me achieve major life goals, such as travel or buying a flat.

Realistically it is about getting that balance, but I can't seem to do this – for example by not buying an iron and ironing board for the past three years has this really enabled me to travel more? I seem to have decided that buying an iron is at the bottom of my priority, yet every time I go to get my shirt or shirtdress out I put them back as I don't have an iron, or wish that I had freshly ironed sheets for my bed. Buying an iron would improve my everyday life, but somehow I have got it into my head that if I buy one I am moving further away from saving for life goals. Am I crazy, or do you get it?!

I say this, yet when I get the urge to buy the jumper Zoella was wearing in her latest video and a Mac lipstick just for the hell of it, I can't control myself, I've put in my pin code at the counter without a moment to think, I buy them... and they cost more than an iron! Then the guilt sets in and I decide I must only spend £10 for the rest of the week. Then there is the goal to stay out of my overdraft. Sometimes I save, but then use the savings to get out of my overdraft. It seems like a never-ending circle; get paid, save, spend, overdraft, put savings into current account, stress about budgeting and then dream about life goals.

Maybe the best idea is to spend time writing down life goals and then at least you have an idea of what you are saving for. One of my life goals is pretty boring and standard and that is to get a mortgage, but the idea of saving tens of thousands of pounds (I live in London) is so daunting and seems such an unreachable goal that I often just put it to the back of my mind and think, oh well, the French all rent, don't they?! Isn't that what people say?! Anyway, I don't know quite where I'm going with this post, I think I just needed to get it off my chest that I am awful at saving and love to shop! Any advice?!

Friday, 16 January 2015

Cecil Court: The inspiration for Diagon Alley?

Deceptively named, along an unassuming side street, Cecil Court is somewhere you could easily pass without a second glance. It is often used to get from Covent Garden to Charing Cross road, but it deserves much more recognition than just a short cut. Some believe it was the inspiration for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter and it is easy to see why. With its store fronts bearing goods from yesteryear, bookshops with tarot card readers and crystals for sale, it is like stepping into another world where witchcraft and wizardry would not seem out of place. 

This street was the first London address of Mozart, arguably the most famous composer that ever lived, and the celebrated poet, T. S. Eliot. If ever there was a place to inspire the artist and writer, Cecil Court is it. You could walk up and down the street browsing in every shop and then gazing at every window display for a whole day and still not see everything for sale. There is an unfathomable amount of carefully collected and curated ephemera, books, prints and collectibles in these shops that will eat away your time but will make you drunk on ideas and imagination.

I could tell you all the things that were on sale when I went, but they may not be there when you go there. For example, a 2012 crop circle calendar was on sale for a bargain £2 – more than likely to have sold by now. The wackiest shop on the street is Watkins, a bookstore established in 1894 selling books on mind, body, spirit and magic and the occult. See if you can find the photo where instead of a window display, there is a tarot card reading going on, in the window, with a thin bit of net curtain covering the customer.

I love a bargain, but most of all I like things that are unique, things that are a bit different and things that have a story. Cecil Court is a community all of its own. Every shop on this eccentric street offers you something a bit off the wall. You can't go there looking for something specific, but you can go to be inspired.

There is a great piece on the Cecil Court website detailing its history.

Here are some of the shops you can find on the street:
The Witch Ball

Mark Sullivan, Antiques and Decoratives

David Drummond, Theatrical Bookseller and Ephemerist

The London Medal Company Ltd

St Martins Models

Watkins Books

Alice Through the Looking Glass

Goldsboro Books (First edition Harry Potter books)


Saturday, 10 January 2015

Six ways to cut the crap | The Small Desk

By crap, I mean trash, I couldn't think of something that would sound catchy for trash. For most of my adult life I have had an unhealthy addiction to trash TV and trashy magazines. I stopped reading trashy magazines a while ago, but that was more to do with finding the sidebar of the Daily Mail. I know that watching and reading this stuff can be addictive and is easy to turn to when you want to switch off, but I do find myself constantly having to remind myself that the trash I am consuming should not influence who I am. This is easier said than done. You see Kim Kardashian with her perfect makeup, knowing it is something you will never achieve because a) you don't have a makeup artist and b) you don't have the products or the time! Trash TV and trashy columns on celebrities do affect society's measure of success. I have written about this before, but success is something that is personal and becoming a celebrity should not be portrayed as the highest form of success.

I could go on. I have been really trying to make an effort to 'cut the crap' recently and have found six easy ways to do so. Most of them actually revert to forms of media that existed before the Internet! Usually watching or consuming trash is done in down time, therefore I wanted to think of things that would replace it but would still involve you sitting still and relaxing. 

No. 1
Listen to the radio. If you work in an office this is a really good way to give your eyes a break from a screen. Recently I have been listening to BBC World Service, which, depending on what news story they are reporting on, isn't always what you might call relaxing. However they have some really interesting stories on there, for example one of their documentaries talks to people all over the world about their love for onions! It helps you to connect to the real world, bringing you news from a wider range of countries than most TV news channels.

No. 2
Read about the world. Even if you're not planning on going to your dream destination for a while, pick up a guidebook and daydream about what it might be like. Sometimes I also like browsing an atlas, is that weird?!

No. 3
Read more blogs. I am completely in love with the Bloglovin' app. I follow quite a few blogs and can read through all the new posts on my iPhone using the app. Once you've read the new post it disappears from your feed. There is so much new and good writing out there in the blogging world, plus a lot of people share their stories of REAL life. The Small Desk is also on Bloglovin'.

No. 4
Read well written magazines. My two favourite magazines at the moment are Frankie and Cereal. I found Frankie magazine whilst in Australia. It is an Australian magazine but I have seen issues in Paperchase before. You can also subscribe to it. The writing and photography is in a sort of blog format. My favourite article was about hitchhiking. They spoke to lots of people about their different experiences of hitchhiking: one guy accidentally gave a lift to a murderer on the run! 

I'd heard of Cereal magazine through Instagram and various bloggers. I was lucky enough to get a copy for Christmas from the boyf and I am so pleased with it! It is a travel and lifestyle magazine. They have the most gorgeous photography and inspiring writing. The Editor and Founder, Rosa Park is one to follow on Instagram. With this magazine, of course it is not ordinary reality, but it is not trashy and is incredibly creative.

No. 5
Write a journal. This was one of my New Year's resolutions. I am not encouraging you to write in it every day, like I am doing, but just once a week or even just when you feel the need. I find writing a diary a great way to reflect on the day and allow myself some thinking time.

No. 6
Read a book. Again, one of my New Year's resolutions was to read more but it is also helping me to read less trash. If I'm at a loss as to how to spend my evening or my commute I am now turning to a book rather than celebrity gossip. Obviously I'm not some sort of saint and if I forget my book or I'm super tired I will still turn to the trash! To get myself reading I've bought three bestsellers and prize-winning books: Elizabeth is Missing, The Miniaturist and Mrs Hemingway. I've not started any yet as I'm still trying to finish Bill Bryson's Australia book. Have you read any of these? Also, do you have any more tips on how I can cut the crap for good?!
Other posts you might like:

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Dishoom: a review | The Small Desk

I’ve heard rumours of two and a half hour waits, the best Indian in London, together with a tale of a tumultuous tryst over vegan requests. It frequently gets four or five star ratings and is probably one of the trendiest places to eat in Covent Garden, but I had yet to visit it.

On a bitterly cold Tuesday evening I met up with my old school friends and we decided to risk trying to get a table in this elusive Bombay Café. They have adopted this new annoying trend of not allowing anyone to book a table in advance. We reluctantly got to the back of a line of about a dozen or so people and agreed how pleased we were at all having our bobble hats on. Not long after waiting we were offered a cup of something hot and milky. I’m not entirely sure what it was but it was a welcome gesture nonetheless. About five minutes later a lady with what looked like an electronic clipboard added us to the list and warned us that the waiting time was just under an hour. We looked at each other and decided it might be worth the wait, plus we had been promised a seat at the bar in 20 minutes time.

Once we managed to get through the glass doors we were welcomed inside by a very tall, well-groomed man; who so sincerely apologised for the wait that I immediately forgave him for my numb toes! We were given one of those buzzers that freaks out when your table is ready and were directed downstairs to the bar. What really surprised me was how many people welcomed us and guided us through the restaurant. There were waiters and waitresses at every corner and doorway; there was no way you would get lost here. We sat at the bar for what seemed like only a few seconds before our buzzer went crazy and a waitress appeared immediately to take us to our table. The wait time had only ended up being half an hour, which compared to the rumours of two and a half hours, was very impressive.

When we arrived at our table, guided all the way, we were only a matter of minutes into reading the menu before our waiter arrived. The whole thing felt like you were in some sort of scripted immersive theatre, everyone was so polite and was there at exactly the right moment. Our waiter had the best ponytail I have ever seen. It was so glossy and he flicked it, not arrogantly, but dramatically, every time he walked away from us. This was the most theatrical restaurant I had ever been to.

I had a Nimbu Pani to drink, which is a lemon drink with salt. I’m not sure what came over me thinking it was a good idea to order a drink that has salt in it. Normal people order a drink to help them soak up salt! I won’t be ordering it again. Food wise I had: gunpowder potatoes, okra fries, black house daal, garlic naan and dishoom slaw. It was all totally delicious, although having a plate of potatoes for a main course was a little stodgy.

The interior of the place is beautiful, the staff are practically perfect in every way but I’m not sure it is the food that has been attracting people to this ‘Café’. Don’t get me wrong, the food is good, but I’m not sure it would be worth a two and a half wait, or is the best Indian in town. I would take someone who you want to impress and who wants to be seen at the trendiest Indian in town.

Dishoom can be found in Shoreditch and King’s Cross as well as Covent Garden. I can’t remember the last time I did a food post, so please do comment and let me know if you would like more food posts.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

How to make your life sound epic | The Small Desk

Often I compare my life to other people’s lives, thinking ‘wow, I’ve done nothing with my life’. Although, yes, there are people who have a lot more money, who have travelled more than me, there are a lot of people who have done or achieved less but just present their life in an epic way.

There are many ways to curate your life, through social media, blogging, vlogging etc. But the main one I want to concentrate is through the written word. Whether this is for the bio on your blog or a covering letter for a job.

Here are ten ways you can make your life sound more epic:

1. Note the struggles: was it a difficult year to find a job and you found one?
2. Point out any rankings or awards that your company or University has.
3. Speak about yourself in the third person.*
4. Say what things mean to you, did you achieve a life goal?
5. Remember how long it has taken to get to where you are.
6. Get statistics, how many people applied for the job that you got?
7. Define your successes in relation to you and no one else.
8. Think about the circumstances you started from.
9. Name-drop and note who the person/people are.
10. Use epic language, for example: ‘dream’, ‘fight’, ‘win’, ‘success’.

Now let's put some of these into practice: 

Basic: I graduated from the University of Manchester in 2009 and gained an internship at a photography gallery in September of that year.

Epic: Alice graduated during the Great Recession from the fifth best University in the UK: the University of Manchester. Despite not undertaking a degree in the arts, Alice was offered an internship at Europe’s most popular photography gallery.

Basic: I travelled to Australia for 3 weeks and swam in the Great Barrier Reef.

Epic: After saving for two years, Alice achieved her life dream of travelling across the world to Australia to swim in the world’s largest coral reef system; the Great Barrier Reef.

Basic: I got a job working for an arts charity.

Epic: After two interviews and a test, Alice won the contract to work for the arts charity after fighting off 400 other applicants. 

Basic: I have worked on books that cover lifestyle, history and fashion.

Epic: Alice’s editorial experience includes working for an independent publisher who publishes the work of authors such as Brian May, guitarist for Queen.

You might not want to write your life in an ‘epic’ way anywhere other than in a private diary. I think it helps to write your life in an epic way to remind yourself of what you have overcome and how successful you have been in your own way.

*This may make you sound too arrogant in a covering letter, but in a company bio I think it is fine! It definitely sounds more epic!
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