JUST SNAPPED @littleswallowchinadoll

Franco Manca, Clapham Junction

I'm studying again. STUDYING. I don't even know how to study anymore. All because I need to pass a test about life in the UK so I can remain in the country I've called home for the last six years. Blergh.

Somewhere between the stone age and the formation of the coalition government, we managed to squeeze in a little visit to Franco Manca, which opened locally just recently (or maybe not so recently, given that my days and weeks have been rushing by sooner than I can say "do you think we could convert one of our cupboards into a baby room?")

The place was buzzing, although a twenty minute wait on a Saturday night isn't too shabby really.

The kitchen pace is frantic, but the staff still have time to smile. On a related side note - the CG reliably tells me (if it's on TV it must be true) that cycling for ten minutes at the gym burns 49 calories, while 100 laughs burns 150 calories. Henceforth I'm going to attribute his zero fat physique to his excessive (and often inappropriate) laughter.

The soft, chewy, sourdough bases had the boys declaring them the best "restaurant pizza bases" they'd had (a fairly clever distinction for them to make since they clearly intend on consuming my homemade offerings again in future).

Definitely one to add to our regular local rotation - although I might have to finish learning approximately 300 names of important British sportspeople, artists, architects, writers, musicians and film makers first.

Wish me luck!

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The year of the horse

Happy Chinese New Year folks! 'Tis the year of the horse, which I must say I'm most pleased about given our firstborn should be "energetic, bright, warm-hearted, intelligent and able". No pressure.

The longer that I'm away from home, the more I miss the traditions that I used to find so trite. The sweet box that was always on hand for when visitors popped around, mandarins in hand, containing rock hard peanut brittle, round little biscuits with sugary icing drops on top, watermelon seeds you had to crack open with your teeth for the meagre reward of a bland seed to munch on, sugary treats in the shape of lotus roots...

I'm sure I'd have one mouthful and be cured of my nostalgia, but there are some things that I do wish I had more often than once a year. After the dim sum experience we had at Pearl Liang, we decided to head back to try them out for CNY so we could ensure a year of health, wealth, and family.

We kicked off with yee sang - which we "prosperity tossed" together standing around the table. 

The higher the toss, the more prosperity comes your way, so you can imagine the enthusiasm. 

Every dish you eat at Chinese New Year has meaning. 

Rice for fertility, luck and wealth - it symbolises a link between the Gods in heaven and the men on Earth.

Lobster noodles for good marriage and unity (the lobsters) and long life (the noodles).

Whole steamed fish for prosperity, and turbot in particular for treasure.

Prawns just because everybody loves prawns. Especially when they're crispy, salty, and garlic-chilli delicious. Oh, and because the word for prawn in Chinese sounds like the word for laughter - a little sprinkling of happiness for the year. 

Black moss seaweed (nicknamed "hair vegetable") for good luck and wealth, with dried oysters for double the luck.

Abalone for definite good luck, just in case anyone was in doubt that the black moss and oysters would let them down, and shitake mushrooms to ensure you seize those opportunities.

Vegetables wrapped in beancurd, or "monk's parcel" with wood ear mushrooms for family harmony and longevity.

And a whole chicken for more prosperity, and togetherness and completeness of the family (yes, that is the head as well).

Next year we're planning on celebrating with my family for the first time in years. Not just because we'll have a little one to reap the rewards of red packets filled with money from all our married relatives of course. Although that certainly isn't a bad reason either.