It’s now four years since the earthquakes that devastated my hometown of Christchurch/Otautahi (its Maori name). It’s still a picture of destruction. What a lot of people don’t understand is that the earthquakes continue. There was one while I was there – a short, sharp jolt that rattled the door knocker and my nerves. The people of Christchurch are a resilient bunch but you get a sense of the post-traumatic stress they must be living with.



This building is still up but nearly every window is broken.

You often hear an earthquake coming before you feel it – hence a warning like this one in the Court Theatre is a wise idea. People can still feel a bit uneasy about being confined to an inside space.

The theatre moved from the neo-Gothic Arts Centre (where Mum was when the February quake hit) to a warehouse in a previously unfashionable part of town. It’s a fantastic space.

The Art Gallery was the Civil Defence command centre in the aftermath of the disaster. It still hasn’t reopened to the public.

Almost all of the shops are gone in the central city so, inspired by Boxpark in Shoreditch, the Re:START mall was born.

Containers are useful for all sorts of things. This one wasn’t open yet so I couldn’t check it out.

Digger mountain. The country shuts down for three weeks over Christmas, so I didn’t see much demo/building action.

The central city only recently reopened fully, but signs like this abound.

There are signs of life in this flattened town.

My brother and sister-in-law used to live in a loft apartment here, when they were first living together. Now it’s a community garden.

You can borrow golf clubs from the library (relocated from its demolished former home) and play six holes of mini golf dotted on demolition sites around the central city.

Construction sheep. There’s some great public art around the place.

I’ve saved my favourite thing for last. C1 Espresso is a Christchurch institution, where all the cool kids used to get their caffeine fix. It used to be under my brother and sister-in-law’s apartment, but has now relocated across the road to the former home of another institution, arthouse video store Alice in Videoland. Alice’s (as it is affectionately known) has moved to the back of the premises and also opened a small cinema. They have left plenty of space for the cafe though.



Inside, lights salvaged from somewhere. The new cafe’s USP though is their “pneumatic sliders”. Remember how department stores used to have pneumatic tubes to whizz orders and cash through the building? Well at C1 they do the same but with food.

The tubes crisscross the room. You choose three sliders from the impressive range on offer, then wait…not too long, because those babies travel at 100km/h.

Before coming to rest at your table.

These were seriously good, my friends.

Other cool things about C1: you get to the loos via a sliding bookcase full of Penguin books.


Once you get there, a Harry Potter audiobook plays in the background.

And the toilets recycle grey water from the sinks!

I just about died from the cool.

I could go into more detail – the upshot is the picture’s not all bleak. All sorts of things are springing up.

I can really recommend a visit to Christchurch to anyone with the slightest bit of curiosity. It’s going to take a long time to rebuild and I don’t know if the people realise quite how long. London still has a gap-toothed grin from the Second World War – and we’ve only just gotten back to the pre-war head count. The London comparison doesn’t stop there. I thought it had a real East London vibe – and not just from the Boxpark connection. But Christchurch is constantly changing and this is a good chance to reinvent itself. It’s going to be an exciting place to be.


Summer Christmas

Happy New Year friends.  It’s a while since I’ve blogged but I have been busy!  I spent Christmas in New Zealand with my family, and started a new job after I got back.

I thought I would share a few pictures of my time in the sun.



I caught up with an old friend of mine who was back from Japan for Christmas. We went to Hanmer Springs, walked to a waterfall and then soaked in the thermal pools.


Ate Kaikoura crayfish (rock lobster).


You buy them in a little shack on the side of the road. Nin’s Bin is the best-known crayfish shack.


Side-of-the-road cherries. Cherries are obligatory at Christmas time.

I always get a vineyard lunch in while I’m there.

We spent a few days at our beach house in the Marlborough Sounds.

Trying out my new oyster knife on the beach. It’s the best way to have oysters – you throw the shells back in so new oysters can grow on them. Lemons grow in abundance in the Sounds – the climate is Mediterranean. The oysters are Pacific oysters and taste incredible. At low tide you can eat your fill.

Local ale – New Zealand has finally developed a craft beer culture.

I love a good Kiwi brunch.

And I drank a lot of long blacks. Thankfully this is catching on in London like the flat white did before it.

A green juice at the farmers’ market. This one was in the countryside, on a Friday, and packed with ladies who lunch.

Another market, this time in the port town of Lyttelton.

My new sanctuary

Seven weeks after moving in, I finished my bedroom.  I did it all myself, except for a friend kept me company while I cut the blind to size and another friend spent Sunday with me putting the furniture together.  I did it in snatches, an hour or two after work in the evening, a day in the weekend, while frantically trying to wrap things up at work ready to start my new job.

So without further ado, let’s look at my bedroom before:


Almost before anyway – I couldn’t resist chipping some of those tiles off.  And it did have some furniture in it but I got Shelter to come and pick it up.  At a time where the housing crisis is on all of the front pages it feels like a good charity to support, when I’ve finally got some security of my own.  Thanks so much to them for collecting, it was a huge help to me too.

Take another look at that photo – tiles on the walls, woodchip wallpaper (oh yes, I scraped some of that off before taking the photo), and inexplicable areas of bare painted wall too.

Time for some PPE:



I borrowed a friend’s wallpaper steamer – brilliant!  Although it made the flat very damp – I opened the window as much as it could, when it wasn’t raining anyway.


The steamer was good at getting the tile adhesive off too, but it still left a big mess.


Walls cleaned up and patched.


Ceiling and walls painted and underlay down.  I used a damp-proof, insulating underlay as I’m above a garage and have a concrete floor.


It took me most of a weekend, but I got the laminate floor in.  I got the highest quality, meaning my floors are now 17mm thick with the wood and underlay.  Turns out I’m pretty handy with a jigsaw.


Finally some furniture.  The bed and wardrobe are from the Ikea Trysil range.  It’s one of their cheaper ranges but it had the clean but comfortable feel I was going for.  The bedhead is angled, which is great for sitting up in bed.  The bedding is the John Lewis Logan set.  The blanket I made myself from leftover wool over the course of four years.  And the light shade is the Vita Silvia mini from Heal’s.

I wouldn’t say it’s finished yet – I have my eye on a couple of designer pieces, and I want some sheer white curtains over the blackout blinds.  But it’s finished enough that I’m ready to turn my attention to other rooms for the time being.  Next up is the bathroom, which I must admit I’m turning over to someone else to take care of entirely!  I know my limits.

From this experience though I’d like to encourage anyone thinking about doing their own decorating to definitely give it a go.  It’s time-consuming and frustrating, but there’s nothing you can’t do armed with some quality tools and a few YouTube videos.

A few things I’ve learned:

  • Buy mid-range tools – not the cheapest, but you don’t need the most expensive either.  Bosch is a good bet.
  • Buy the best quality paintbrushes.  If they have a paint tin opener on the end that’s a bonus.
  • Ikea mean it when they say you need two people
  • Magic paint, which goes on pink and dries white, is brilliant for ceilings. Especially when you’re decorating after dark.  Worth every penny.

What are your best DIY tips?

Day of the Dead at Downhills Park

I don’t really go in for Halloween. This year, instead of cowering inside with the lights off, I was out at a recently refurbished local pub.

On Sunday though there was an event to celebrate the Day of the Dead, put on by Tottenham Ploughman. Tottenham Plougman is the brainchild of local resident and Queen of Markets, Cheryl Cohen  She wanted to bring together locally-produced bread, cheese and ale at community-focussed events.

The Mexican Day of the Dead theme worked really well.




I bought bread from Flourish, ale from Redemption, cheese from Wildes Cheese and chutney from the Harringay and Tottenham WI. A Ploughman’s indeed! Lunch however was a quesadilla from Filling the Gap and was delicious.


A rainy morning had made things muddy, which lent a festival feel to proceedings, along with the various bands playing throughout the afternoon.


Their next event is WinterFest on Sunday 14 December at Bruce Castle Museum.  Unfortunately I’m not able to go but it sounds like a lot of fun!

Pastures new

In my last post, I said it was time for a new project – and that was almost a full month ago!

In that time I have moved from the centre of London to where the action really is – South Tottenham.

150 years ago my area looked like this:
(image from excellent local forum Harringay Online)

Quite literally new pastures! I can assure you that things have changed now though – my new area is urban, bustling, vibrant, diverse and I’ve fallen utterly in love with it.

I’m excited to share all of my new discoveries, though I have now to share my time between blogging and several new hobbies, such as “waiting for the boiler repair man to come and fix what the other boiler repair man did wrong” and “taking inexplicable tiles off my bedroom wall” (seriously – if anyone has any idea why there might have been tiles on my bedroom wall, let me know. Best tradesman’s* guess is “they had some spare tiles and didn’t know what to do with them?”).

And oh yeah – I’ll also have to juggle it all with learning a new job.**

The second weekend I was here, having been stuck inside all day waiting for packages and bathroom men and boiler repair men and the like, I finally escaped at 8pm and went for a walk. First stop: Yasar Halim where I bought the most amazing olives and made a mental note to buy all sorts of other lovely things like fresh black eyed beans and mulberry molasses.


Then on to, Hot Nuts. Best name for a shop, right? And it’s a treasure trove. I could barely restrain myself, so I didn’t. I came away with chilli cashews, honey sesame peanuts, yoghurt covered cranberries, roast chickpeas…


And then I came to the Turkish Delight counter. I’ve never liked Turkish Delight much, being more of a savoury food person. But they all looked so pretty, like jewels sitting there. So I ended up with a selection in my bag. After trying them all (in the name of research) I can declare that they are delicious, and that pomegranate and pistachio is the best flavour.

(seriously, look at them sitting there like orphaned puppies, crying “take me home”! Yes I’m aware that the simile falls flat at the point where I stuff them into my uncaring mouth)

Over the coming weeks/months/years I hope to introduce you to more of my new home as I explore, so stay tuned.

Hot Nuts is there to satisfy all of your cravings from 8am-11pm (I KNOW), 7 days a week.

*apologies for the sexist language, but when they send a boiler repairwoman I’ll be sure to let you know.

**No, not that new job, another one – do keep up! Moving house and then having a job interview when you haven’t figured out where all your clothes are yet? Not necessarily recommended.


I had a big jar full of strong white flour to use up and found some recently expired yeast in the cupboard too. I also had some passata I’d bought for something else but didn’t need.

Whizzed up a pizza sauce, made some dough and presto:


00 flour is best if you have it, but I had the strong flour to use up. I used 300 g of flour, and about 200 ml warm water, a teaspoon of yeast, a big pinch of salt and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. I also added a bit of barley malt that I found in the back of another cupboard. I mixed it all together then put it in the fridge for a very long rise of over a day (I was being organised). It makes a nice soft dough that requires careful handling.

I made three pizzas out of this dough – it’s best if you make three individual balls and let them rest for a bit – this forms a “skin” on the dough that helps you handle it. Then I just hand stretch the dough into a rough circle, as thin as I can get it. I don’t like to use a rolling pin as the dough can stick and make a mess. The oven should be as hot as you can get it.

I’m too lazy to bother with pizza peels and baking stones, so I put my dough circles onto a baking tray scattered with semolina.

I used my favourite Puttanesca toppings (anchovies, olives, capers) from Franco Manca, the presence of which five minutes down the road goes a long way to explaining why I don’t make pizza very often.

This was a pretty good home-made alternative though! I’m still not out of flour, so this didn’t actually use up anything on the list.

However, I’ve used up everything I wanted to use, so I think I’ve come a long way, baby. It’s time to draw a line under this project and start on the next one – stay tuned.

Miso noodle soup

A very simple supper tonight, of miso soup with rice noodles.


I keep finding more things lurking at the back of my cupboards. The miso soup is one of those – I have three sachets left. That’s the noodles used up though!

I have edited the list to add links to show how I’ve used up most things.  It’s nearly time to draw this project to a close – there are still one or two things to come though.


Another firm family favourite. I had some apples left over from a work do. I stewed them with some rhubarb, then made a crumble mix with some wholemeal flour, butter, some sugar and the rest of the ground almonds.


It’s the first time I’ve put ground almonds in crumble – and definitely not the last.

Now it’s time for a confession. My first kitchen failure on this project. I tried to use the rest of the sugar and the condensed milk to make some fudge, but it just didn’t work. In fact the texture was all wrong and it tasted horrible so it went in the bin. This does mean the condensed milk and sugar are all gone now though.


This continues the old favourites theme by delving even deeper into my past. Fishcakes are a firm favourite in my family and probably the only main meal Mum cooks that we used to eat 25+ years ago.

Fishcakes are a great way to use up leftover potato. I mash the potato (skin on is fine), add a small finely chopped onion, and the fish. For fish my mum always uses tinned tuna, but I like smoked mackerel, about a 2:1 ratio of potatoes to fish. For a bit of extra flavour I add a splodge of umami paste if I have any on hand, as well as some chopped parsley.


You’ll need three shallow bowls. In the first, put some flour and season it with salt and pepper. I also add sumac if I have any. Beat up an egg in the second (you may need more than one if you’re feeding a family). And put breadcrumbs in the third. Mum always uses homemade but I cheat and buy breadcrumbs.


To make the fishcakes, roughly shape a handful of mixture into a ball and flatten it slightly. Repeat until the mix is used up. Heat 1-2 cm of oil in a frying pan. Fry the fishcakes until golden brown and drain on kitchen paper.

I found some beetroot chutney in a cupboard so I served it with the fishcakes, as well as some cucumber pickle I’d made earlier and some salad.


I didn’t quite use up the breadcrumbs, but that’s ok – I’ll save them for the next time I make fishcakes!

Although I didn’t finish the breadcrumbs I did finish the plain flour and used up some potatoes.  Check my progress on the list.

Lunu miris

One thing I’ve noticed about my storecupboard project is that I keep returning to recipes from my past: old favourites or food that has some kind of nostalgic value. This is one such meal.

It comes from my friend Marissa, who I lived with for three years back during university and for a while afterwards. Marissa, a Sri Lankan New Zealander, shared the food of her other homeland with me and I loved it – soon developing a tolerance for spicy food as she had a tendency to “slip” with the spoon as she added chilli powder!

One day she cooked a dish of mung beans, accompanied by a simple sambal known as lunu miris (though according to Wikipedia it is more properly known as katta sambal). She chopped some red onion very finely, adding salt and lots of chilli powder, and finally some lemon juice. She served it on top of the mung beans, along with some dessicated coconut. Of course in Sri Lanka fresh coconut would be used.

I had some dessicated coconut and some mung beans to use up, so this recipe was perfect. I cheated and used my mini food processor to grind everything up.


Instead of chilli powder I used minced chilli, and quite a lot of it as I find the stuff in jars very mild. I used lime juice as I think this is more traditional. In Sri Lanka they also often use a dried fish called Maldive fish. I added a few splashes of fish sauce to add a bit of fishyness to it.


Served on top of boiled mung beans with a generous amount of coconut, it brought back some very good memories.


One more category crossed off the list – the beans are all gone now!