October 2014 Book Wrap Up

Ok… full disclosure.  I’ve lost steam on the reading front lately.  I gave up on more books than I actually read this month–a complete first for me.  I’ve been reading really slowly, going days without picking up a book and just generally not feeling like reading.

Why?

I suppose it’s a combination of factors.  I’ve not been well for the last six weeks and part of that has manifested itself as severe nausea and dizziness and, I’ll be honest, there were days I couldn’t read because the words were just swimming and it made me feel worse.  Being sick that long also had mental effects and I got a bit down in the dumps there for a while.  There were days where I couldn’t do simple things like bending over to pick something up without wanting to die a little bit.  So when I’ve been on the bus to/from work, my concentration has gone mostly into trying not to vomit or fall over.

Thank goodness for podcasts.

Since I haven’t been reading, I’ve been indulging in some amazing podcasts… they’re works of storytelling art, really… and having that option of a passive activity such as sitting back and listening to something really took my mind off of being sick.  I’ve discovered some great shows and talent–so much so that I’ll be posting about my favorite podcasts next week.

Anyway, to finish off, I’ve finally found out what the problem is with my gut… it’s twofold, really.  I’ve got a bacterial infection caused by food poisoning (and specifically linked to undercooked poultry… I have a strong hunch I know which sandwich chain’s soup caused the illness) and I have a parasite.  When I found out, I couldn’t stop laughing.  I thought I’d be freaked out, but I’m not.  Turns out I have some amoeba sponging off of me.  Yum.  Anyway, I have antibiotics to sort the infection and an anti-parasite drug that will basically nuke anything in my stomach (and probably will make me feel sick as well… because, you know, I’m not already).

Aren’t you glad you asked?

On to this month’s less than stellar book wrap up.October BooksBooks Read:  4 (yeah, I know)

Books Abandoned:  5

Currently Reading: 1

So there you have it.  A slightly pitiful month of reading but it is what it is.  I suspect the rest of the year may be slow going as my current read is just over 500 pages and after another book or two I’ll be tackling the fifth book in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) series as well as Vikram Seth’s mammoth novel A Suitable Boy.  Both are well over 1,000 pages each, so will keep me occupied.

That’s if I can lay off the podcasts long enough.  More about that next week.

steph2If you’re interested in getting in touch, tweet me at @stephanie_khani or @londondiaries1. Alternatively you can email me at emailthelondondiaries [at] gmail.com.

The best sleepover ever…

As you’ll already know, N and I were guests at Friday night’s Waterstones Sleepover event at their flagship branch in Piccadilly… and it was the best sleepover I’ve ever been to!

We got there a few minutes before 9PM, pyjamas in hand, and were greeted by the Waterstones and Airbnb teams.  They had a spread of drinks and nibbles laid out while winners and their guests mingled and got to know each other.

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After a bit of a housekeeping chat (fire exits and the like), the Waterstones crew took us on an extensive tour of the shop, pointing out interesting architectural quirks and giving us a history of the building.  Before Waterstones, the building was a department store called Simpsons which was used as inspiration for the long running British series Are You Being Served? (my grandmother loves that show).  The building is listed, meaning it’s a protected site–and that includes the old Simpsons sign which is on display up in the HQ offices on the upper levels.

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Cool, no?  Also, the light fitting that runs down the main staircase is listed (and amazing), so anytime a lightbulb blows they have to get planning permission to change it.  Crazy!

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We got to briefly check out Waterstones HQ but the highlight was the view–something not a lot of people get to see.  Sorry for the slightly grainy/blurry photos… we only had our camera phones.  But you get the idea.

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As we headed back down, we were stopped by a Poirot lookalike who read us a chapter from the new Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah.  Very intriguing, indeed!

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After Poirot’s departure, another dapper fellow joined us…  P.G. Wodehouse’s much loved character, Jeeves!  Jeeves read us a portion of the newly compiled book of short stories, Jeeves and the Yuletide Spirit and Other Stories.  Very funny!

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We were coming up to midnight and starting to get a bit peckish.  Thankfully Waterstones had us covered with a load of pizza, snacks and drinks waiting for us after our tour and visits from Poirot and Jeeves.  After munching for a bit, there was yet another treat in store for us.  Professor Richard Wiseman chatted with us about sleep disorders, dreaming and how to get a good night’s sleep.  He was so interesting and engaging that N picked up a copy of his newest book, Night School, to take home.  I have a feeling we’ll be fighting over it (and my younger sister D has already called dibs on it when I go home to visit in a few weeks)!

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Finally, the moment had arrived. We were going to see our sleeping area, change into our pyjamas and our reign of the store was to begin! Our camp was set up in the children’s section (how appropriate!) and we managed to secure a little alcove to ourselves, which was nice.

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N and I were so delightfully surprised by our gift bags. Waterstones and Airbnb honestly thought of everything we could possibly need–toothbrushes and toothpaste, small towels, soap, mugs, tea, booklights (!!!), bookmarks, Graze boxes, bottled water… and so much more. Firebox sent across some amazing unicorn slippers. I have to say it was hilarious seeing N walk around in those all night!  Of course, my bag had a copy of the book I chose for my competition entry, All the Light We Cannot See.

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How kind! And that was one of the nicest things about the evening–just how nice everyone was. The Waterstones staff were brilliant and attentive, making sure everyone was comfy, offering book recommendations and just chatting and getting to know everyone.

After we changed into our pjs, N and I wandered up to the third floor (cookery section, of course) where I parked myself on a couch and N browsed through various cookbooks.  Though we wandered around a bit more, we kept coming back to this area as it was super comfy with couches and a plug to charge my phone (hey, I was constantly tweeting!).  Glass of wine in hand, I settled in and started reading my book (which is amazing).

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Sending out another tweet, I’m sure.

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I did pick up various other books throughout the night so my book wishlist has grown ridiculously long.

Finally, around 3.30, we hit ‘the wall’ and could barely keep our eyes open… especially knowing that we were babysitting N’s 3 year old sister from 10AM.  We slipped into bed quietly, but there were a few people up with their booklights on.

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I won’t lie–it wasn’t the most restful sleep and part of me wanted to get back up and roam the stacks a bit more!  Eventually I drifted off and woke up a few hours later at 7.30.  Ever the gracious hosts, Waterstones and Airbnb had a nice little spread set out for us for breakfast before we ‘checked out.’

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Super yum!

And that was our night done!  I have to say a big ‘thank you’ to Waterstones (and the folks at the Piccadilly branch) for sharing their amazing store with us.  Airbnb were fabulous with the furnishings and Firebox’s slippers were the bees knees.  A massive ‘well done and muchas gracias’ to Sandra Taylor, Head of PR & Events for Waterstones.  For someone who’s only been in the job a few weeks she did an amazing job throwing the whole thing together within a few days.

What a night! Neither of us will forget the freedom and peace that came with wandering four floors of books in the middle of the night in our fabulous unicorn slippers.

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For more photos, check out my flickr album.  You can check out everyone’s tweets from the night here.  Oh and The Guardian were on hand as well–you can check out their wrap up of the night here.

steph2If you’re interested in getting in touch, tweet me at @stephanie_khani or @londondiaries1. Alternatively you can email me at emailthelondondiaries [at] gmail.com.

Exciting news…

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You’ve probably already heard the hilarious story about American tourist, David Willis, getting trapped in the Trafalgar Square branch of Waterstones (a bookstore).  If you haven’t, here are the basics:  Willis was browsing on the upper level at the end of the day for about 15 minutes.  When he came back downstairs the shutters were down and the lights off and he was living my (and any other book lover’s) fantasy–he was locked in a massive bookstore.  A series of phone calls followed by tweets got him freed a few hours later as well as making him a Twitter sensation.

Waterstones, keen not to miss out on an opportunity, partnered with holiday rental site Airbnb (which we’ve used a few times now) to offer ten lucky booklovers, along with a guest, a sleepover in their massive Piccadilly store with a book of their choice, comfy air mattresses, snacks and breakfast the following morning.

Over 1,200 people entered the contest which simply asked the question:  what book you would read if you were to spend the night in a bookshop, and why?  On a whim, I entered.  My answer was:  ‘If I were to choose any book, it would be Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See because I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to read it the way it deserves to be read—devoured in one sitting.’

I checked Airbnb a few times throughout the day to see if I’d had a response to my entry but by the evening I gave up.  And then, around 10 last night, I got an email saying I was one of the lucky ten!  To say I squealed would be an understatement.

So tomorrow night, I will be spending the night at Waterstones!  N will be coming along as my guest, of course.  Expect a post this weekend with photos galore and lots of exclamation points.  I’ll also be live tweeting tomorrow night.  You can follow me on twitter here.  To keep up with the sleepover, check out #WaterstonesSleepover on Twitter.  It’s sure to be an amazing night!

steph2If you’re interested in getting in touch, tweet me at @stephanie_khani or @londondiaries1. Alternatively you can email me at emailthelondondiaries [at] gmail.com.

Steph’s Super Comforting Tomato Soup

When I was growing up, Fridays always seemed to be ‘soup and sandwich night’ at my Memom and Granddad’s house.  Inevitably I would opt for the Campbell’s Chicken Noodle and a tuna sandwich (no onion!) while my grandparents went for the more adult tomato or veggie soup choice.  Now a grown up myself I’m happy to report that my tastes have evolved to encompass many different flavors, including tomato soup!

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Sorry for the photo of a half eaten bowl of soup. It was so good I forgot to take a photo until halfway through!

I’ve been a bit homesick lately so last night was ‘soup and sandwich night’ in our flat.  I’d found a really basic recipe for a simple tomato soup online and doctored it a bit to give it more body and flavor.  I wasn’t sure whether it was going to be overly fantastic but I have to say that both N and I were greatly surprised by just how damned nice this soup was.  We couldn’t stop exclaiming over how tasty it was–in between scarfing down mouthfuls.  We served ours alongside some scrummy grilled cheese sandwiches.  The meal honestly tasted like a warm, fuzzy hug and was really calming and comforting.  It definitely hit the spot!

I thought I’d share my recipe as it’s getting colder and gloomier out there… feel free to play around with quantities and ingredients.  That’s how I got it to be so tasty–by experimenting!

Steph’s Super Comforting Tomato Soup (serves 2 as main with sandwiches)

  • 1 white onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic (or two small cloves), minced
  • 400 g can cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp sugar (to be honest, I used a smidge less)
  • 100 ml stock (veg or chicken, your choice)
  • 1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon harissa paste (or pinch chili powder)
  • Dash Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsp mascarpone
  • A few torn basil leaves (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  1. Gently fry onion until soft and translucent (about 10 minutes).  Add in garlic and fry for another minute.
  2. Put the tomatoes, sugar, stock, Worcestershire sauce and harissa in with the onions and garlic along with some salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook for as long as you’d like, but for a minimum of 10 mins.  If you don’t have harissa, a pinch of chili powder will do but really harissa is amazing and you can use it in so many dishes to add a bit of spice!
  3. Add basil into blender (if using, and why wouldn’t you?) before soup and then blend until smooth and return to heat until just about ready to serve.  We made our sandwiches while the blended soup sat on a low heat.
  4. Remove from heat for one or two minutes.  Stir in the mascarpone and dish up with your sandwiches!

Let me know if you try it, or if you have any simple soup recipes you’d like to share!  I love a good soup in the winter and this one is definitely going into regular rotation.

steph2If you’re interested in getting in touch, tweet me at @stephanie_khani or @londondiaries1. Alternatively you can email me at emailthelondondiaries [at] gmail.com.

 

‘You’re sayin’ the FBI’s gonna pay me to learn to surf?’

Ahhh, Point Break… so classy, so Keanu.

I’m here… I’ve got my (homemade) hot cocoa and I’m hanging on by a thread… but I’m here.  You don’t want to hear about the wall of fatigue, the dizzy spells that are more constant than not, the stomach problems… so I won’t go there.  Suffice to say I feel like I’ve just been sort of existing.  Hopefully a visit to the GP on Monday will shed some light.

In the meantime, surfing! Waves! Wipeouts! Overuse of exclamation points!!!

H and I (of triathlon fame) had come up with the idea of a long weekend away a while back and somehow, what I envisioned being a nice, relaxing spa weekend turned into six days in Morocco.  Surfing.  And not even in a major city–in a little fishing village outside of Agadir called Taghazout.

If you know me, you know I’m pleasantly plump and (of late) fairly lazy.  I knew surfing was going to be a challenge… much less doing it in a country I’d never been to.  Would there be clean water? Terrorists? Ebola?  Thankfully, my overdriven, panic stricken brain was just that–and very mistaken!

Well… apart from the flight to Agadir.  That was slightly hellish, particularly for a nervous (though frequent) flier.  Full disclosure, H took most of the photos as I was a lazy bum and only brought my iPhone and no camera.

Fog over Agadir

Those aren’t clouds… that’s the fog.

So there was this monster fog over Agadir.  It was so thick and so widespread that, after circling the area for around 45 minutes, the pilot decided he didn’t feel that the situation was safe enough to attempt a landing and he didn’t ‘trust the airport enough’ to go in with limited/no visibility.  Fine.  So we flew to Marrakech (about 3 hours away by coach).  We circled Marrakech for a bit.  Again, the pilot comes on.  There was an emergency situation in Marrakech and a plane had been evacuated on the runway, so the airport was closed.  Hm.  After a few minutes the pilot comes back and said we were going to try and land in Casablanca (“of all the gin joints…”).  We get to Casablanca and (after some turbulence over the Atlas Mountains) land safely, despite it being pretty foggy there as well.  I guess maybe they trusted this airport more?  After sitting off to the side of the airfield for a bit the pilot said we were being bussed to Agadir.  And people went crazy.  Mental.  It was pretty intense… considering it’s a 12 hour coach ride.  Passengers were getting very aggressive and confrontational with flight staff and it was all really ugly–almost made me sad to be a human, really.  One guy who was, without embellishing, drunker than anyone has any right to ever be, was shouting in various languages and tried to run up to the front of the plane.  He threatened staff and, from what I understand, used the word “bomb” a few times.  Obviously a no-no.  Cue the Moroccan police who quickly boarded the plane and arrested Mr Drunk-man and his bags were offloaded.  After all of that carryon, the pilot  came back on and apologised and, in a stroke of luck, said that the fog in Agadir had cleared somewhat and despite it not being normal procedure, they were going to re-fuel and take us on to Agadir.  Hurrah!

Crazy flight plan

Our screwy flight path (thanks, N)

I think (without tooting my own horn) I handled the flight debacle quite well.  I didn’t cry/scream/pass out/go into hysterics.  Other than a really strong rash of turbulence during which I latched on to H for dear life, I was fine.  What could I do?

So our holiday got off to a weird start.  We landed in Agadir, went through passport control where my passport was very much scrutinised and collected our bags virtually hassle free.  I nearly got cheated out of half of my spending money by a slightly forgetful (or dodgy) bureau de change employee–thankfully I was switched on enough to notice or else I would have been out over 1,600 dirhams (£120).

We passed into arrivals and it was like a hallelujah seeing a guy holding a sign for our hotel/surf camp.  The ride from the airport was fairly uneventful.. I say that like driving in Morocco in general is uneventful.  It’s not.  They’re all manaic speed demons and seat belts are a luxury, not a law.

Regardless, we made it to Taghazout unscathed and were dropped off at the top of a series of stone steps leading down an alley to our hostel, l’Auberge–owned and run by the brilliant Surf Maroc crew.  H and I had sprung for the triple bed room with ensuite (one of the only ensuite rooms) and paid extra to keep the third bed empty.  Right choice.  It was great not having to worry about strangers in the room and having our own bathroom/shower was a plus as well.

Advice from the ocean

Chill kitty

There was a house kitty!!! He was everywhere all the time.

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The view from our window

It was so nice falling asleep each night (and for our afternoon siesta) to the sound of the waves crashing on the beach below.

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On to the most important bit! The surfing!

Boards

Steph and board

Steph catching wave

I have to say, Surf Maroc’s surfing instructors were brilliant.  We’d booked four lessons and my only goal was to stand up once by the end of the last lesson.  H took to surfing really quickly and looked like a pro by the end of the first day.  Me on the other hand?  Less so–again, I’m not really athletic and my balance is shocking on a good day.  Negativity aside, I like to think that I challenged our lovely instructors.

Each day ran virtually the same.  Breakfast at 8, pickup by instructors at around 9 (hey, we’re on surf time) and on the beach no later than 10:30.  Our instructors made sure that we had the right beach/waves for our skill level (all beginners) so occasionally we’d get to one beach only to move to another straightaway.  It was fun squishing up in the sand filled vans, music blaring and wind in our hair.  There was a sense of freedom which was very appealing!

Lessons consisted of a warm up followed by board work on the sand, each of us demonstrating our technique and taking on pointers from the instructors.  Finally, they’d let us loose in the water, working one on one with each of us.  I think I might have gotten a bit more attention on days three and four, purely because I hadn’t stood up on my board yet.  Finally, on the last day, my instructor told me to get over my fear of falling, put my mind to it and just stand up.  And I did!  A few times!  Not for long, but long enough to be noticed and to get cheers from a few of my fellow surfers.  Everyone was so lovely and supportive.

After a couple of hours in the water, we sat down to packed lunches and then had the choice to go back out or to chill on the beach and sunbathe.  I’ll be honest, I mostly took the second option.  There was no way I was coming back from Morocco with a wetsuit tan!!

Beyond all of that, there wasn’t much of note that happened… other than the goat men.

The weekend we were there was Eid-al-Adha, a big Muslim holiday.  There are two Eids each year and this particular one is known as the Festival of the Sacrifice–commemorating Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son to God.  Families purchase goats (we saw loads of them being dragged down the street), have them blessed and then slaughter them, giving 1/3 of the meat to neighbours or friends, 1/3 to the needy and keep 1/3 for themselves for the feast.  It’s all very interesting and on the Friday night the mosque in Taghazout blared the prayers over the loudspeaker at dinnertime (the call to prayer was also played daily).  As I listened, I honestly felt like I was in a whole different world.

So in Taghazout, after the feast, young men use the skin of the goats and dress up in scary masks and roam the streets.  If you give them change, they give you a blessing.  If you don’t, they wish a curse upon you and (as some of my fellow hostel mates found out) they’ll smack you with a bit of rope.  Luckily we only got caught once by them and I had change.  They insisted we pose for a photo.

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Gareth (out walking with us) got pulled in for the photo as well.

I can’t even tell you how bad my shirt smelled after. Let’s just say you could tell those goat skins were relatively fresh and untreated.

On the day we flew out, we did venture into Agadir on our own to go to the souk.  I came home with so many amazing spices, a lantern, a gorgeous throw for our bed and a few gifts for other people.  While there, I did have the pleasure of having a chameleon placed on my head by a very friendly vendor.

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There’s a slight look of madness on my face…

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Beautiful lanterns

I think that’s the bulk of the trip!

I would wholeheartedly recommend Surf Maroc‘s accommodation, their yoga classes and their surf coaching.  The staff were brilliant and made us feel so welcome.  I’m so glad that I got stuck in and went with H on this trip… I had an absolute blast and definitely am thankful for such a diverse and out-of-the-norm experience.

For the full set of photos, click here.

steph2If you’re interested in getting in touch, tweet me at @stephanie_khani or @londondiaries1. Alternatively you can email me at emailthelondondiaries [at] gmail.com.

 

Coming soon…

I promise I’ll have a lovely little wrap up post about my surf trip to Morocco soon… I just got back late (late, late) on Tuesday night and went straight back to work the next morning.  I’ve had very little sleep since, so to say I’m knackered is an understatement… plus I’m a brand new auntie again!

There’ll be a post soon.  I swear.  After I’ve had a good, long sleep.

steph2

September 2014 Book Wrap Up

Right now I’m in Morocco… How exciting is that??  Thank goodness for being able to auto-schedule posts on WordPress!

I enjoyed reading whatever I wanted at my own pace in August so much that I made a very big decision.  I’ve got one or two review books left in the queue.  Beyond those, I won’t be taking on any further books for review for the rest of this year.  I forgot how much I missed just picking books up, putting them down, and, shockingly, not reading for days at a time.  I’ve also started going back to the library which has been missed greatly as well.  I’ve got a couple of long books I want to tackle like A Dance with Dragons (book 5 in the Game of Thrones series) and Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy which is finally out on Kindle.

Anyhow, let’s get on to the list for this month.

Sept books

Books Read:  7

Books Abandoned:  1

And I’ve taken a few books for while I’m in Morocco…

steph2If you’re interested in getting in touch, tweet me at @stephanie_khani or @londondiaries1. Alternatively you can email me at emailthelondondiaries [at] gmail.com.