Life in the big smoke

I might not remember you, but I will remember the meal

So here is the thing. I’ve realised what hooks anything memorable in the vast and messy attic that is my brain is food. If I think back to any travelling I’ve done in my life, the first thing that pops into my head is what I ate.

I went on a holiday to Cyprus with my family when I was eleven or twelve (more than twenty years ago!) and I still have a really clear memory of sitting in a small neighbourhood restaurant with plastic garden furniture tables on a shaded patio, the tables had a white and red checked waxy table cloth, trying dolmades for the first time. I can even recall the taste of the slightly sour and salty vine leaf wrapped around a chewy rich filling. I remember the bread, white, sweet and fluffy, soft and dense at the same time.

What set me down on this particular path was realising that Gerry and I are travelling abroad fairly soon. And thinking about travelling made me think of the food we’ve eaten on our travels.

There was Murray’s Cheese in Greenwich Village. We lived in an Airbnb nearby and walked over almost every day to pick up a salad, cheese and a few beers. There was this one blue cheese, so salty and tangy that it tasted almost like salty liquorice. OMG. If I lived nearby I would probably spend all my money on cheese.

There was also Tensuke, a tiny tempura place in Koenji in Tokyo. Every lunchtime there was a queue outside. The restaurant was just a bar disk, big enough for about half a dozen people. The chefs stood in front of a vat of boiling oil. The head chef chopped various vegetables at lightning speed, dipped them in batter and threw them into the oil. We were presented with piping hot, crispy and freshly fried dish after dish. The best one was the starter. A quickly deep fried egg, melting over some sticky rice and served up with an almost chocolatey and salty broth.

Then there is the Oyster Shed on Skye, this cold barn on the hill above Talisker Distillery where you can purchase all the shellfish of your dreams. I remember ordering some scallops, struggling to get my freezing fingers to pierce them with a miniature wooden fork. They were hot, sweet and tender, served with scalding chips and a sweet chilli sauce. Just perfect.

So there we are. I pretty much use nice meals as bookmarks in my life. They help me remember where I’ve been and what I’ve done and these memories are so vivid. If I think about a good meal I’m transported back to that place, to the smells and sounds, I can even recall the taste. It’s an odd skill, considering I make a living as a reporter I’m incredibly bad at remembering names and faces. But I do remember food.

*I also seem to get so engrossed in actually eating that I hardly ever take photographs of food. And that’s why I’m sharing this lovely photo of some beaujolais on a messy table in the cute, but tiny apartment we stayed in in Tokyo. You’re welcome.

Finnish forests and London forests

I grew up in a small town in Finland, there was a woodland a couple of blocks from my house. Forests surround the city on all sides, except for in the west, where the land meets the Gulf of Bothnia.

When I was little my family spent a couple of weeks at the summer house in June and July. This is nothing special in Finland where most people have a summer house or a summer cottage . It’s a big country with not that many people, there is a lot of space and 75 percent of the land is covered in forest.

The woods around the summer house were great for playing in. My brother, my cousin and I used to go on make believe adventures, finding trails among the blueberry bushes and the moss, scrambling up big granite boulders and finding the courage to jump down again.

We trekked through what to us seemed like jungles of reeds and fire weed to find new ways to the road on the far side of the forest. We walked around the old swamp that had been filled in with ballast from the ships that once docked in town. According to my grandmother the soil had come all the way from Africa.

In the old swamp we found and collected rocks that were red and brown and sometimes inky blue, some had been hollowed out by foreign waves revealing a milky colour underneath a darker surface, some had holes in them, some were smooth and polished. My grandmother called them moonstones. There are still several of them sitting in a bowl on the veranda at the summer house.

When my grandad was still alive he made my brother a bows from the juniper bushes and arrows out of sticks. In the autumns when the forests turned soggy and soft my granny took us mushroom hunting in the forests.

She taught us to look out for grönkremlor and smörsoppar, the yellow-orange mushroom which according to her had to be fried in lots of butter. Often the mushrooms were slug eaten and hosting at least a couple of worms. The worm infested parts were cut away and returned to the forest. Sometimes my grandmother sliced a sliver of a gilled mushroom with a brick red hat. She tasted it, making sure it was a tegelkremla and not the one that would burn your tongue.

It’s more than fifteen years since I went out into a forest to forage for mushrooms, but I can still recall the smell of wet soil. I didn’t realise how precious and special this was until I moved away. I miss the forests now and I seek them out whenever I can and wherever I can found them.

I feel very lucky to have landed in a place in London surrounded by two forests – Oxleas Wood and Bostall wood. Some parts are over 8000 years old, there are oaks, hornbeams and hazel. The forests are split by the A2 and other roads. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, but to me it seems like the constant hum of traffic is dampened by all that green.

When I walk to the forest it feels like the crinkles in my soul have been smoothed out. I promise myself I should go more often, but the first time I made it there this year was a few weeks ago.

There are several bits I still want to explore, but Gerry and I have already established “our” regular forest walk up to Bostall Wood. Apparently (according to the internet) the word bostall means “a secure place” in Old English. It couldn’t be more fitting.


The shipwreck at the studio

When Gerry and I moved to Thames Side Studios we often had to pinch ourselves. It had everything we had been looking for. It’s right next to the Thames, there’s a great community of artists and makers, a print-studio, an on-site sauna and the site has its very own shipwreck.

I remember walking around the place on a sweltering day in July several months before we knew we’d suddenly get kicked out of Hoxton, looking at the river and the shipwreck thinking, “wow, imagine working at a place like this”.

And now we’ve been here for two years. When it’s not too cold outside we take mugs of tea and stand on the sea wall, looking at the planes taking off from City Airport, the cormorants fishing in the river, the dredgers humming along and the occasional seal swimming by.

The shipwreck is still there, hosting an impressive colony of pigeons. When we moved in she used to float, now she sits on the riverbed at high tide like a stubborn old lady, the water lapping over her deck.

The man who owns her occasionally cycles in and uses an improvised drawbridge to get on board. Two years ago we still heard a generator whirring somewhere at the back. A year ago I spotted a group of people in camo-gear playing paintball on the ferry. Now there just seems to be more and more pigeons.

Once the Royal Iris hosted the Queen and the Beatles on trips across the Mersey. People at the studio have told me visitors from Liverpool have stood on the sea wall crying over the state of her now.

The Royal Iris sailed on the Mersey for 40 years and was decommissioned in the 90s. She came to London in 2002. The new owner found a spot for her in Woolwich and had planned on turning her into a floating nightclub.  It appears not much has happened since.

Although I’m told she once managed to escape, floating out with the tide. After that they cut out her engines and left a hole in her hull. Perhaps she too sits there watching the planes.

New podcast: The crazy tale of teenage mediums in Victorian London

Hi everyone. There’s a new podcast. This episode looks at the life of Florence Cook, a famous teenage medium in Victorian London.

I’ve been reading a lot about the girls who became mediums in the 19th century, why quite a few women suddenly chose this path, why there was a public hunger for séances and how mediumship gave women a voice at the time when they often weren’t allowed to speak in public. The episode is also about sex (and so were the séances according to some writers)

Hope you enjoy this month’s episode.

New year, new podcast

Hi everyone. Happy new year! Sorry it’s been a while. I’m going to try out a new thing this year. I’m launching a podcasting.

There are several stories, myths and legends that have fascinated me for a long time. I’ve been trying to find ways to re-tell them, but have struggled to find a medium that works until I started thinking about podcasts.

So here we go, today I’m launching Feeding the Fire, a podcast about myths and legends from London and beyond.

When I came up with the name everything started falling into place. These stories inspire me and they make me think. My wish for this podcast is for it to inspire others. Perhaps there might be something in these episodes that will feed your creative fire.

I’ve never done anything like this before and I’m both excited and nervous about releasing this into the ether. When I listen to this episode I only hear things to improve on, but perhaps that’s a good place to start.

The first episode looks at the life of Elisabeth Gustafsdotter or Elizabeth Stride, a Swedish immigrant in Victorian London who ended up becoming Jack the Ripper’s third victim.

Hope you enjoy it! Let me know if you have any feedback.

Image by Toa Heftiba.