Monday, July 25, 2016

Luxury Shopping and Dim Sum Feasting @ Mango Tree, Harrods


My best friend, Udita, moved to London earlier this year after graduating from UCL with a PhD in Neuroscience (she's a smart one) and I love having her nearby. One of our first outings when she arrived was dinner and drinks at Thai restaurant Mango Tree in Belgravia, so we couldn't resist trying its sister restaurant in Harrods Food Hall last week for comparison - complete with a bit of late-night shopping, of course.

Unlike the Belgravia location, which has a predominantly Thai-focused menu, the Harrods outpost of Mango Tree has a distinctive Chinese approach, with dim sum as its main feature. According to its website, all dim sum is freshly prepared each morning by a "Hong Kong dim sum master".  The selection is also decidedly more upscale, with prices ranging from £9.30 for three pieces of prawn and chive dumplings to upwards of £32.00 for a grilled prawn curry. You can also tuck into luxurious dim sum options like steamed lobster and coriander dumplings or prawn dumplings with truffle oil.


The restaurant is located amidst the bustling Harrods Food Hall, with shoppers and tourists whizzing past and pausing occasionally to gawp at the ornate, stain-glass ceilings and otherworldly displays (like Bompas & Parr's jelly palaces, for example). The casual laid-back environment has its advantages, however - no reservations are necessary and you can watch your dim sum prepared for you before it's placed on the "bar" in front of you at eye-level. It's much easier to order a few small dishes to start before adding to your plate as and when you please.

Udita and I were eager to catch up about my upcoming trip to India (where she'll be as well), so we chatted animatedly at a million miles per hour (as we always do) while the staff politely waited for a pause to take our order.


On the restaurant's recommendation, we began with the crispy duck spring rolls, which I don't have very often but are a bit of a naughty treat when I'm eating out with friends. The spring rolls were served piping hot (so much so that I eagerly reached for it with my fingers, rather than my chopsticks which I regretted immediately when I had to drop it!) with a delightfully crispy outer shell. I skipped the sauce it came with and dipped it into the sweet chilli sauce instead, which was perfect.


As a bit of a dim sum addict (you should see my family's dim sum binges when we're in Vancouver), I went straight for the prawn and chive dumplings, plus the siu mai - both favorites of mine. I typically order those as a "test" for any dim sum restaurant I'm trying for the first time. My criteria? The wrapping must be thin and chewy in texture, but not too chewy and the prawns must taste fresh, not re-heated from frozen.

The dumplings at Mango Tree Harrods passed both tests with flying colors, though I really should have asked for some hot chilli oil to dip them in. Traditionally, we also dip dim sum like the prawn and chive dumplings and har gao into hot Chinese yellow mustard, and I think this would have worked really well with the dim sum we ordered that evening.

Between ordering something a little more "substantial" to fill our post-work bellies, I asked for a pot of flowering jasmine tea, as it goes hand-in-hand with dim sum feasting.


We watched the hand-tied bundle of dried petals and tea leaves unfurl in a beautiful glass pot before snapping up delectable pieces of grilled prawn in a spicy, red curry.

Still feeling a little "peckish", as they say on this side of the pond, we opted for the glazed black cod and a bowl of steamed rice, which arrived beautifully presented and wrapped in a banana leaf.




The sticky glaze was a little too sweet for Udita, but I dug into it with enthusiasm (probably since I have a sweet tooth). The meaty chunks fell apart as we cut into the fish and tasted lip-smackingly indulgent.

Finally sated, we enjoyed the remainder of our tea (which had been quietly refilled without us having to ask) and enjoyed the atmosphere as the number of shoppers dwindled down. We made the evening last by perusing some of the designer concessions upstairs before finally parting ways at Knightsbridge tube station.

I'd love to stop in to Mango Tree Harrods again for a treat - it'd make a terrific mid-shopping break.

Udita and I were guests of Mango Tree Harrods. All opinions are my own.
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Friday, July 22, 2016

Our New Home: One Year On



When we were house-hunting in London, the first thing I'd ask myself when I walked into a house was, "How would you feel if you were puking up your guts in this house?" Probably not the same thought that everyone else had when they were viewing the property, but basically, I was asking myself just how much I'd feel at home - and comfortable - within those four walls.

To do that, I had to think of myself at the weakest, lowest, most vulnerable moment - which, for me, happens to be when I'm puking my guts up from, oh, I don't know, one-too-many glasses of Sancerre or a stomach virus or food poisoning.

It's been a year since we moved into our house and it just so happens that I did puke my guts up one evening after an unfortunate food poisoning incident at a blogger event (I won't mention any names, but just the thought of this particular hotel makes me shudder, and I can't eat sushi for at least another full year).

Before I digress into any toilet humour, I'd like to confirm that my house is definitely a place I can comfortably puke in. Part of it is because I own it, so I don't feel like I'm puking in someone else's house.

The other part is because, well, it's a friendly house. It gives off a nice vibe. It feels like home. I remember crawling (literally, on my hands and knees) back into the guest room bed that night and feeling awful, but also being comforted by the morning light that had begun to make its way into the room; comforted by the way the walls seeemed to sigh in sympathy with me as I retched over the toilet (sorry, TMI).

We haven't "done" everything we'd like to yet (the back garden is due to be completed next week - YAY! But the front will take a few more weeks and we have two bathrooms and a kitchen to remodel at some point ...), but the house is bright, airy and cheerful. It carries wonderful memories of friends and families visiting; John and I laughing; our little niece gleefully plodding up and down the stairs.

I also have really nice neighbors, which I've mentioned before on this blog. We had a street party a few weeks ago and I was feeling pretty rotten (and was later diagnosed with tonsillitis after a panicked call to 111 and a visit to the local hospital when I couldn't swallow food). After I came back from my various trips to the doctor and the pharmacy, my concerned neighbors filled my plate with food, offered me drinks, and - more importantly - rushed up to tell me that I had won second place in the street party bake-off competition. Boom (brownies ftw, btw).

But good neighbors matter, and I often go to sleep at night feeling happy that my street is warm, welcoming, and friendly.

I went to buy some roses last night after work because I like having fresh flowers in our house to enjoy over the weekend. But just as I was about to pay, I spotted these purple thistles and eucalyptus instead. They were a bit wild, but full of character and interest.

That's how I feel about our house. When I first saw it, I thought "yuck" (and right now, with all the bags of cement out front and the dustbowl that's currently our living room, I still think "yuck"). Unlike the pretty, charming Victorian houses directly across the street, ours was a beast of a place that needed "doing up". But when I walked in, it gave me a lovely feeling. And we worked hard to make it a home: filling it with beautiful objects and laughter and memories.

I don't know if I'll live there forever. And saying that outloud (or even typing it, in this case) is hard for me to admit. I have an on-going anxiety about committing myself to one place. But it's perfect for the right here and right now and for the foreseeable future.

And it'll always be a place I'm happy to puke my guts up in (I really, really hope that doesn't happen again. Seriously. It sucked.).
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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Interior Inspiration: Copper and Wood


So .... I'm a bargain hunter. Sure, I love luxe details, but I bought my agate bookends from eBay and most of the homeware you see on my Instagram account cost £10 and under (see this post for evidence of my bargain-hunting ways). And when I'm back in the States, I scour stores like Target, Marshall's, and Ross for all the clearance items I can get my hands on. There's no shame in my game.

I particularly like a bargain challenge, so when T.K. Maxx provided me with a £20 gift card to spend in their homeware section, I wandered around my local branch (and even drew unwanted attention to myself when I accidentally toppled a stack of trays balanced precariously on the shelf edge - oops) brainstorming ideas for what to buy.

In the end, I went over budget (I said I was "bargain hutner", I never said I was responsible), but I hope you'll agree that my purchases were worth it!


I'd been searching for a good, wooden tray for a while but hadn't found quite the right one ... until I spied this stunning, floral-etched tray hiding at the back of a shelf. Made in India, it's beautifully rustic and light to carry, which is perfect for breakfast (or lunch) in bed and for serving drinks outside once the work on our garden is completed.

I also like using it as a display in our house and was pleasantly surprised at just how well it fit in with the other items of homeware we already own, like this market basket and risograph print. 


I can't emphasize how useful trays are to have around in your home - both on a practical and decorative level. They're great for grouping objects like candles or fragrances or accessories, but I also love to use them under bowls when serving food on the table.

After finding my tray-treasure, I continued on with the thought of entertaining outside. I spotted some pretty, clear plastic (but convincingly similar to glass) cups that resembled vintage whisky tumblers but - and here's where shopping at T.K. Maxx can get a little tricky - there were only two on the shelf. Glumly, I tracked down a member of staff (who was so helpful and sweet), but even she couldn't help me track down a family of four tumblers.

Then, I noticed the copper mugs on the bottom shelf: they had gold handles. Gold. Perfect for Moscow-mules, smoothies, mimosas, gin and tonics ... and any other summer drink I'd care to throw in there. I grabbed four and made my way to the till.


(Don't worry, that's water in my copper tumbler in the background - not having a Moscow mule with my pancakes.)

Now I'm just chomping at the bit for our garden to be finished (progress was impeded by heavy rain a few weeks ago) so we can sit outside on our floating bench and enjoy drinks served in copper mugs and food carried out on this pretty tray!

What about you? What's the best bargain you've picked up recently? I'd love to know!

This post was written in collaboration with T.K. Maxx. All opinions and shopping triumphs/disasters are my own.
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Monday, July 18, 2016

An "Un-obvious" But Perfect Pairing: Alhambra Reserva 1925 and Coya's Peruvian Cuisine


Unless I'm at the pub or a barbecue, I never think to order beer with my dinner - do you? It seems like a drink that's reserved for laid-back fare: burgers and fries and all that. But my friend, Jodi, is never shy about ordering a beer at dinner - even if we're at a super fancy restaurant. And I love her for it. I thought of Jodi when I recently tried Alhambra's 1925 Reserva hand-crafted, premium lager paired with the exquisite Peruvian cuisine at Coya - an unexpected, but perfect partnership.

The lager itself is smooth-tasting and easy to drink: it has a lovely caramel armoa and a golden, citrus finish - and this is from someone who doesn't indulge in beer very often! Because of this, the lager is perfect when paired with tapas and barbecued meats, so I was curious to see how it would work with Coya's Peruvian menu.


We began the feast with a delicious assortment of ceviche and vegetables: sea bream with amarillo chilli and coriander, salmon nikkei, and yellowfin tuna with ginger and chilli salsa.

I love ceviche, but I don't have the opportunity to enjoy it enough. Of the selection we tried, I loved the tuna the most: the tangy and hot kick of ginger and chilli salsa tasted fantastic when offset with bitterness of the ice-cold Alhambra.


As I scanned the menu, I was most excited for the gambas fritos: crispy tiger prawns cooked with Alhambra and aji rocoto. Like a light tempura, the prawns were served piping hot and we left our silverware on the table, eagerly digging in with our bare hands instead. They were so good that when asked if we wanted seconds, we couldn't help but mumble a feeble, "Yes, please." It's no secret that anything remotely fried tastes fantastic with beer, although the prawns were ever-so-lightly battered and I liked the salsa that accompanied the plate (rather than the heavy mayonaise-based sauces that are typically served with tempura).

As the evening progressed, the dishes that emerged from the kitchen only became increasingly impressive. I couldn't get enough of the langostino tigre: grilled tiger prawns and chilli salsa.


The morsels of prawn we politely scraped from the shell tasted more akin to lobster: sweet and meaty. They proved to be an instant hit when paired with the Alhambra, which seemed to only enhance the flavor rather than detracting from it, as wine can sometimes do.

But the crowning glory, in my opinion, arrived in the form of these beef ribs with aji limo, which had also been prepared using Alhambra in the recipe.


The sweet and sticky ribs made me involuntarily reach for my glass of Alhambra, which had been magically refilled when I turned my head to make conversation with the rest of the table. With a menu that worked so well with the beer however, I found myself continually reaching for my glass, until I noticed my laugh getting a little bit louder than usual!


I love trying new restaurants and cuisines for the surprises on the menu: vegetables I've never tried (purple potatoes, anyone?) or flavor combinations that need explaining (huancaina sauce, for example). I especially appreciated and admired the presentation of the papa fresca, mashed purple potatoes with summer vegetables, tomatoes, and aji limo (a type of pepper, in case you didn't know - I didn't!). The potatoes had been mashed and delicately piped on top of the vegetable and tomato stew - served any other way, they would have disappeared into the mixture in a probably unappetizing mix of colors. It was clear that the continuity of the colorful decor had found its way onto our plates, much to my delight.


I had high hopes for dessert, and I wasn't disappointed. Mousse de Coco consisted of a coconut mousse carefully arranged into a shell of wafer-thin chocolate to mimic a real coconut. Imagine my surprise when I dipped my spoon in, expecting the hard flesh of a coconut only to discover a lightly whipped mousse and a flaky chocolate shell! I'm always partial to a bit of coconut, so it trumped the Caramelo con Chocolate y Sorbete de Frambuesa for me - salted caramel ganache, pisco and raspberry sorbet - but just. Salted caramel always makes me go weak at the knees.

Just when I thought the evening was over and the last, dreamy mouthful of coconut mousse had melted on my tongue, we were presented with something I can only describe as the most epic and exotic fruit bowl I'd ever seen:


Fruit that I spent the rest of my journey home Googling because I'd forgotten the names: rambutan, passion fruit, and pitaya (or dragon fruit), to name a few. The generous slices of pineapple, papaya, and melon nestled on ice transported me back to tropical holidays in Sri Lanka and Vietnam. Washing it down with my last slug of Alhambra, I momentarily felt like I was on vacation - until jostling elbows with tourists at Green Park tube station reminded me that I was very much not. 

I returned home feeling a little giddy (probably because of the bottomless Alhambra) and a lot like Cinderella. I think I just might request a glass (or bottle!) of Alhambra for my next meal out.

I was a guest of Coya and Alhambra, both of which I loved! All opinions are my own.
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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Adulting: 10 Thoughts I Have When I'm Home Alone


Sometimes, John travels for work. A day trip to Berlin or Paris, or four whirlwind days in the US which take him to places on opposite coasts, like Boston, New York, followed by Chicago, LA and San Francisco. (No, I'm not sure how he does it either.)

It's not like he's gone for weeks at a time, but sometimes, he'll be away for a week and I'll find myself at home. Alone. Which is what a lot of adults do on a regular basis but is something I still haven't quite gotten the hang of yet. My 80-year-old neighbor knows I'm nervous on my own, so will come over to check on me (last time, we went on a fish and chip date when we both found ourselves home alone - it was adorable and fun) and joke about bumps in the night, to which I shoot evil dagger eyes in response. What can I say? I'm easily scared.

Left to my own devices, these are 10 thoughts that run through my head:

Stuff that mysteriously moves:
That shower gel was definitely not there when I last used it. I definitely put it down here. Logical conclusion: someone's broken in and moved the shower gel. Wait a minute - they still might be here! Hiding in the bathroom cupboard, obviously.

Talking to inanimate objects:
Speaking of acceptable things to do when you're alone, it's perfectly acceptable to talk to an egg you accidentally cracked on the freshly-cleaned stove, right? As in, "WHY did you have to do that? WHY? So unfair. SO. UNFAIR!"

Talking to insects:
Speaking of talking to things, it's also acceptable to talk to a bumblebee when taking out a bunch of dead flowers and get caught by someone walking past, right? As in, "Hey you! No, I don't think you'll like these: they're WAY past their sell by date." (Yes, this actually happened.)

TV consumption:
Don't find that reminder that pops up on Netflix every so often a little ... judgemental? You know, the one that says, "Are you still watching Gilmore Girls?" YES I AM, DAMMIT! I AM STILL WATCHING GILMORE GIRLS, AND YES, I AM ON EPISODE 20 AND IT'S STILL SUNDAY. LEAVE ME ALONE.

Out-of-control-Googling
Examples: "How can you tell an egg is bad?" "Meningitis symptoms" "Gilmore Girls IMDB" "How can you tell frozen tortellini is bad?" "Allergic reaction rash" "When to call 999"

Etiquette:
It's perfectly acceptable to use a cotton wool pad as a napkin if a proper napkin isn't available, right? Right? (By "available", I mean, within an arm's reach from my position on the sofa.)

Bedtime:
I have no concept of how late it is when John's not home. Mostly, it's because I'm afraid of the dark (but then I can't sleep when the lights are on, so I have to wear an eye-shade and ... it's complicated), so while our normal bedtime on the weekdays when John's in is 10:00 (he gets up for work at a crazy hour), if I'm sleeping solo, I'll only reluctantly drop off at 12:00 or 1:00 a.m.

Shapes in the dark:
That shape by the door: bathrobe? Or girl from The Ring? Probably the bathrobe. But ...

Noises in the dark:
Someone is definitely in the house. They've somehow managed to not trigger the alarm that I accidentally trigger almost every day and are on their way up the stairs. Quick! Plan your escape route, Jaime. Maybe through that open window you're sleeping next to ... the same one letting noise from the street in.

Possible weapons to defend myself against said imaginary intruders:

In no particular order: fly spray, hairspray, dry shampoo, a spiky cocktail ring I bought at Accessorize 8 years ago that could definitely gouge an eye out, if necessary. Ooh! Also: a vintage glass decanter. That would hurt if thrown over the head.

I mean, is it just me? Please tell me it's not just me.
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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Instagram Changed Its Algorithm and Everyone Hates Me

 
So, Instagram recently rolled out its new algorithm, which happened to coincide with my decision to turn off the notifications on my phone because they were stressing me out and causing me to hyperventilate. Every time an Instagram notification popped up on my phone's lock screen, I'd automatically pick up my phone, open the app, and respond to comments/see who had liked my post. It was usually a comment like, "Great work! Follow 4 follow?" but still, somehow I cared, and for some reason, I still checked.
 
"You've got to turn those off," John observed one day as he noticed my phone repeatedly lighting up as we were trying to enjoy lunch outside in our not-even-close-to-being-finished-garden. Goodness knows why I even felt the need to have my phone outside with me - I'm not an on-call surgeon. I stared into space, munching on my sandwich as my phone repeatedly lit up. "It's really stressing me out!" he pressed. Tired of his wheedling, I turned off the notifications and checked my phone every other hour or so, but noticed that the number of likes on my photos had dramatically decreased.
 
Of course, I had no idea that this new algorithm was the reason for the sudden drop because (you know, unlike the widespread panic a few months ago when everyone was like, "MAKE SURE YOU TURN ON YOUR NOTIFICATIONS SO YOU DON'T MISS A SINGLE POST!" and I was like, nawwwww) Instagram didn't make some grand announcement about it. 
 
So, I blamed it on turning off the notifications. I relayed this to John, who tried to explain to me with the tone and patience he uses to explain something to our 2-year-old niece why the two had no correlation whatsoever. I only half-believed him, then became convinced that everyone became suddenly and completely uninterested in my photos. Or that they found them annoying/irrelevant. Totally logical conclusion, right?
But what the actual eff ew cee kay (I can't swear here, because my mom's friends read this blog), you guys. Why did it even matter? When did I start measuring my self-worth by the number of likes or page views I get in six minutes or an hour or a day or a month or a year?

Maybe when a PR started referring to the words I thought up in the shower and the photos I so painstakingly edited as "content" (which I prefer to think of as "stories", instead). Maybe when someone said to me, "If I were you, I'd really start paying attention to your DA score." Maybe when I went to bed feeling close to tears because I chose to watch Grand Budapest Hotel on Netflix with my husband after dinner instead of working on my backlog of blog posts. Because ... wasn't this whole blogging thing supposed to be, you know, fun?
 
Anway, I'm keeping those notifications firmly off - if my photo of a single monstera leaf basking in the warm glow of the morning sun doesn't garner 100 likes, it doesn't matter (although, I was pretty proud of that pic). If my DA drops to an all-time low ... it doesn't matter. I've decided to (figuratively) step off that social media scale and stop obsessively checking how much I "weigh" in terms of social influence.
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Monday, July 4, 2016

An Interior Design and Screen Printing Workshop @ Heal's With Occipinti and MK Design


A few weeks ago, I arrived to Heal's sweaty and breathless, having literally run from Taste of London in Regent's Park to Tottenham Court Road. Well, okay, not literally, but I did sprint up a few escalators and brisk-walked my way to the second floor of Heal's, where I was greeted by this impeccably chic and trendy pair: Ashley McDow, founder of Occipinti (a beautiful interior design house specializing in luxury wallpaper and textiles), and interior design extraordinaire, Mathilde Kubsiak of MK Design.


Flustered didn't even begin to describe how I felt, but Ashley and Mathilde were warm and chatty, as were the other participants in the workshop. I'd never been on any sort of interior design course before, so I was super interested to hear all of Mathilde's tips, given her incredible experience in the interior design industry.

Before getting our hands dirty mixing paint for the screenprints, we learned about different paints and color palettes from Mathilde, which was so helpful and interesting! I usually leave painting to the professionals, but after hearing about Mathilde's favorite colors and her penchant for statement walls, I felt inspired to be a little more adventurous in undertaking our next house project.

Feeling ambitious and yet slightly spaced out from my earlier rushing around, I somehow thought it would be a good idea to design and cut my own pattern. Right. Luckily, Ashley was kind enough to lend me her iPad for tracing, and - inspired by the monstera plants neglected growing in our house - I proceeded to make my own leafy pattern.


Mixing the paint was another story: I accidentally dropped in too much yellow and was left with a rather ... for lack of better words ... baby-food looking green. "You don't like it," Mathilde declared, at my elbow. "I can see it in your eyes!" She patiently helped me add more blue and white to my mixing cup until it became a more acceptable avocado green.

Here's Ashley's deft and expert hand demonstrating the color mixing process:



Summoning my courage, I eventually made my way to Ashley's position at the front of the table, where she talked me through each step. Of course, she had made everything look incredibly easy and I kind of froze when it came to committing to making the actual screenprint.



But with Ashley's guidance, I tentatively scraped the paint over the screen and my pattern, before walking away with this cushion cover and tea towel, which I'm pretty darn proud of:


Do you have any experience in screenprinting? Would you ever like to learn? Let me know in the comments below!

My attendance at the workshop with Ashley and Mathilde was complimentary (thank you!). All opinions and monstera-inspired screenprinted cushion covers my own. Find more information about similar workshops here.
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