Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Break From Blogging

I'm going away for a few days to a "surprise" location, John has told me.  It's Bank Holiday weekend (one of the many the UK has), so we've got Monday off and I have no idea where we're going, but I'm pretty darned excited, as I'm sure it'll be good.  More than good.  So if you're a regular reader (i.e. my mother), I'll see you back in a few days!  Besos.

Thursday Morning Tube Rant: Hi, Paris Hilton Called - She Wants Her Sunnies Back

Hi, person at Warwick Avenue tube station.  Love your new gladiator sandals - so this season, plus, gold is totally your color.  Isn't it great that the sun is FINALLY out and we have warm weather, just in time for the Bank Holiday this weekend?  What's that?  Oh yeah, I'm loving it too.  Ooh, nice sunnies.  Are those Tom Fords?  No?  Chanel?  Even better. 

One small problem:  YOU'RE UNDERGROUND.  Why do people like you insist on wearing your sunnies underground?  Do the bright lights of the train coming out of the tunnel provoke a seizure?  Or is it the the lights in the carriage itself that really bother you?  Do you wear them in winter too?  Don't worry, there isn't any paparazzi here, so you're safe from the flashing bulbs.  Oh, what, so you're not, like, a celebrity?  Wait - why do celebrities wear their sunnies indoors?  Oh they don't?  Just Paris?  And maybe the Kardashians?  Yeah, that's what I thought. 

Next time, be glad you weren't on this driver's train.  And mind the gap - that is, if you can see it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cycle To Work? I'd Actually Like To Live, Thanks.

This morning, as I crossed the busy Strand on my way to work, a cyclist furiously cycled past me, keeping pace with a builder's truck, all the while shouting invectives through the truck's window.  I was too far to hear what was being said, but I'm sure, without a doubt, the driver was at fault.

See, in my opinion, one shouldn't cycle in London unless one has a death wish.  And that person certainly isn't me.  I'd estimate about 40% of my colleagues cycle to work - maybe more, maybe less, but I'd say quite a large bunch.  And why wouldn't they?  It saves a LOT of money (travel to and from work costs me approximately £80 a month alone), is a great way to sneak in some exercise and is better for the environment - not to mention, you get to know London roads and routes really well. 

So with all these benefits, you'd think I'd be jumping on the bandwagon.  But not in London.  Not with the narrow roads, crazy drivers, and bendy buses (which measure about 60 feet in length).  No, thank you.  And almost all cyclists I know have been either knocked off their bikes by an errant driver or suffered a fall.  "Ohmygod, what did you do?" I asked my colleague, who had been sent flying through the air that very same morning by a car that rammed into the side of her when the driver failed to look both ways before turning.  "Well, there was one lady who was really nice and offered to call an ambulance because, well, I kind of flew off my bike, and landed on my hip, but I was too embarrassed.  So then she stayed with me and was really nice about it all.  It sucked though 'cause I had a 10 o'clock meeting here, but luckily I made it in time," she explained, shrugging.  She limped off as I stared after in disbelief.  A few weeks later, she was back on her bike and cycling to work again.  Something like that would probably put me off for life.

Of course, drivers are not always in the wrong.  I love it when cyclists speed through pedestrian crosswalks or red lights as if they don't apply to them.  Hello, if you're going to cycle on the ROAD, then maybe obey traffic laws as they apply to YOU?  Or the cyclists who are too trendy or cool to wear helmets.  You know, the ladies who think they're in the middle of the countryside, with their curls blowing in their hair and the Ray-Bans plus a baguette and some celery stalks tucked in their front wicker basket.  I resist sounding like my mother, but it isn't going to look so cool when your head is split open like a ripe summer's melon in the middle of Oxford Street (and before you say, "Who's stupid enough to cycle down Oxford Street?"  Uh, a lot of people). 

And yes, I know, there are "safer" routes where you can avoid busy intersections, etc. but no, the thought of weaving my way through any traffic and avoiding danger i.e. death, gives me sweaty palms.  Ultimately, I think in order to cycle safely, you've got to be experienced, confident and aware of the traffic rules - seeing as how I'm none of the above, I don't think I'll be cycling in the city for a while, unless it's in the confines of a park.  Tru dat. 

Photo source

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sunday Roast - Of Sorts

On Sunday, John and I didn't participate in the London Marathon, but for some reason, we still felt entitled to eating a full roast dinner.  Of sorts.  I say "of sorts" because technically we had a little help from Marks and Spencer and Asda.  Basically, we decided to combine forces of one upscale supermarket and one Walmart equivalent (afterall, Asda is a subsidiary of Wal-Mart) to make a quick and easy no-effort-necessary roast. 

The frozen peas and carrots and potatoes roasted in goose fat (£1, mind you) were the result of a weekend "big shop" at the Asda in Park Royal, about 20 minutes from our flat.  And since we had the car, we went a little crazy, which isn't difficult to do at Asda. 

Standing in the aisles of the major supermarket, I almost cried.  It felt like home.  I was surrounded by frozen pizzas, a chip/crisp aisle, donuts galore and rows and rows of bread - almost just like it is in the States.  "Just ... give me a minute," I said to John, choked with emotion by the fruit juices.  "There's so much ... choice."  "Ok," he said, shrugging, and moved on to the bread.  I felt like dropping to my knees and screaming with joy, "I CAN BUY IN BULK!!!  I CAN BUY IN BUUUULLKKKK!!!" to the horror of the other shoppers.  But I didn't.

In order to grasp my emotional reunion with what I like to call options in my grocery store, I must explain.  There are days when I walk into the Tesco Express or Metro after work and stand in front of the meat shelf for - oh, probably a good 8-10 minutes, staring with my mouth agape at my options which generally consist of: ground beef, lean ground beef, chicken breasts or diced chicken breasts.  I blink, but the four options don't change.  If you're lucky, you just might catch Tesco Express on a good day when pork medallions are available.  If so, then you need to snatch and run, baby, just snatch and run.  Doesn't matter if you don't know what to do with them, just buy them now, or be forever limited to beef, chicken or beef for the rest of the week (vegetarians don't have this problem, they just bypass the meat aisle all together and eat ... well, whatever vegetarians eat).

But I digress. 

Our meal of Marks & Spencer roast pork with crackling and Asda potatoes and veg was splendid.  Plus, there were enough leftovers for lunch next day, which always gains bonus points in my book.  And since we bought enough household supplies and food to feed a small family, it looks like we won't have to go grocery shopping for a while.  So nice.

Monday, April 26, 2010

My Secret Addiction: Muller Rice

I may bitch and moan and complain about the lack of snack foods available in the UK compared to the US, but one thing is for certain - I'm hooked on Muller yogurts.

When I first came over to the UK in 2005, I discovered the addictive Muller corners, which contained fruit compote (or broken up digestive biscuit bits, toffee hoops, or something called "choco balls" if you're feeling a bit more indulgent) in one corner and yogurt in the other.  Bend the little plastic thingy and mix with a spoon.  Et voila, you've officially entered yogurt heaven AKA snack time.

The second time I arrived in the UK was to complete an MA at the University of York and I found myself craving snacks during my afternoons of furiously typing up papers on Milton's monsters or Donne's death shroud (needless to say, it was a cheerful year).  In short, I became a Muller rice addict.  It didn't help that they were almost always on offer at my local Tesco and I filled my basket with the Vanilla Custard, Raspberry, Blueberry, Apple and Cherry flavors.  Rice pudding on top, fruit on the bottom.  Part of the fun is in the stir.  There's something uniquely satisfying about mixing in the fruit with the pudding to make a yummy taste sensation and feeling partly responsible (like, 1%) for the delicious results.

And in inspecting the label just now, I've seen that you can eat them either hot or cold.  Heaven.

Photo source

A Map of London

On my way to meet Bindy and Lauren yesterday at the finish line of the London Marathon, I grabbed my trusty and battered Philip's Street Atlas of London, just to help me a bit with navigation around St James' Park.  Although I tend to use Google maps these days for finding specific locations, my Philip's pocket map used to always accompany me any time I set foot outside my flat. 

I love this map not only because of its battered state, but also for its simplicity and the little annotations I've made in it along the way.  I love how its cover is discreet, rather than announcing to the world, "LONDON A-Z" (though I will admit the maps in London A-Z are superior to the ones in mine - they're a bit more ... thorough).  The London A-Z is bigger, spiral bound, and doesn't fit as easily into a handbag (which is always useful for us girls).  Nor does it have two lovely ribbons for you to mark your place.  Nor does it have a complete "notes section" where you can jot down important information, as I have below:

Flipping through the "notes" section of my map yesterday evoked some serious nostalgia.  On the left page, I had, for some reason, found it entirely necessary to write out by hand the appropriate bus schedules in Oxford when I took my dad there for a day trip, ensuring our travels ran smoothly and highlighting my control/anxiety issues (I like my completely useless, shaky, and random line map - of what exactly?  I still have no clue). 

On the top right of the right page is the address of Fresh Start, an organization that Udita had an interview at during a flying visit to London and which she had forgotten to jot down the address for.  It brought back memories of an overpriced cab trip through central London during rush hour and making it just in time for her interview there. 

The blue scrawl immediately below reminds me of the time I wrote, both tearfully and hastily, the bus information for the hospital Sophia had been admitted to in Hackney, during a brief illness last year.  Although it was difficult to locate, my Philip's map helped me every step of the way. 

And thus, something so insignificant and well, so brown, has helped me get around London, get to know the city I've been living in, and in a way, helped me get to know myself in this new and strange place.

If you're new to London (or even if you've been here for a while), I highly recommend buying one here for £5.91.  They come in a variety of colors and patiently wait for you to make them your own.

The London Marathon

I've managed to catch a glimpse of the London Marathon for every year I've lived in London (this is my third) and I've never ceased to be amazed at the sight of 35,000 runners pounding their way through some of London's most scenic routes.  But this was the first time I knew someone actually runnning in the race, which made it extra special.  Lauren finished in an amazing time of 3 hours, 51 minutes, 47 seconds - a mind-blowing achievement.  Although I have no plans on running next year's event (I'm having enough trouble preparing for the Asics British London 10k I'm doing in July), Udita sent me an email yesterday saying she was thinking of entering the ballot for the 2011 London Marathon, so I just might be there again next year cheering her on.  Think my next goal after the 10k will be a half marathon and then possibly a full marathon in a couple of years.  Baby steps, people, baby steps. 

In the meantime, congratulations, Lauren!

Photo courtesy of Bindya Solanki

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Compagnie XY: Le Grand C

I was lucky enough to score two tickets to Compagnie XY's performance of Le Grand C at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm tonight.  And since Natalie (who is one tough critic) attended the show last week and gave it a glowing review, I knew I wouldn't be disappointed.

Previously, my only contact with "circus arts" was Cirque du Soleil at the Royal Albert Hall (courtesy of Udita), which was a breathtaking, awe-inspiring and jaw-dropping performance.

Let me put it this way: if Cirque du Soleil is a Krispy Kreme donut, then Compagnie XY is homemade granola made with steel cut oats and honey you cultivated yourself.  If Cirque du Soleil is Celine Dion (which is fitting actually, since she's French Canadian) in Vegas, then Compagnie XY is your favorite, local, feminist folk artist, playing the college circuit.

The only two things these groups have in common is that they're both French (sort of, depends on what your definition of French is) and their shows involve acrobatic elements.  The similarities end there. 

If you're looking for polished performances, theatrics, flamboyant costumes, and contortionists with agile bodies resembling those of underdeveloped rhythmic gymnasts, then Cirque is the way to go.  If you, on the other hand, prefer a performance that is raw, emotional, sweaty, trembling, with no-special-effects-just-pure-human-strength, then Le Grand C is for you. 

Both have their merits, but the realness of Compagnie XY and, perhaps our proximity to the stage, left me with my heart in my mouth: the danger and risk of what the performers were achieving was live, pulsating and literally, in my face.  They had no fear.  And there were a couple of slips and at least one near fall, but these hiccups simply made the show better, in a way I cannot explain.

I won't give too much away (though I'm posting a clip below) in case you ever have a chance to see the show, but it's quite intense while simultaneously fun and flirtatious - much like stumbling into a Yann Tiersen dream, I'd think.  The show opens in semi-darkness, with only a low hum of dissonant music.  Large sections are performed without music and there, the performers' vulnerability is laid bare - naked and exposed.  On a superficial level, I loved the costume design and the sensuality of bodies climbing barefoot over each other.  When skirts rode up, they were discreetly but purposefully pushed down. The women (one who could have passed as an athletic Marion Cotillard) held their own against the men by demonstrating their supreme strength through handstands held for excruciating lengths of time - sans wobbles. 

Check it out for yourself here:

Photo source

Friday, April 23, 2010

Mastering The Art of The Kraft Frittata

The basis of Julie & Julia by Julie Powell rests on the events of one night, when the main character and author Julie, fed up and on her way home from work, picks up a few things from her local Korean grocery store and realizes that, miraculously, the ingredients she held in her hand were perfect for Julia Child's Potage Parmentier recipe. 

So last night, I had my own Julie/Julia moment in my local Bengali-owned cornershop. 

Except, instead of holding items that were the key to a recipe from Mastering The Art of French Cooking, I had the ingredients to a perfect recipe from ... Kraft Kitchen's Food & Family newsletter.  A Oscar Meyer boiled ham and Miracle Whip frittata recipe, to be exact.  Yeah, no pork shoulder or gammon here, the recipe specifically calls for packaged lunch meat.

Now, these are not recipes meant for dinner parties.  These are recipes for soccer moms.  And I know that because the comments and reviews under each recipe say things like, "THANK YOU for this QUICK and EASY recipe, KRAFT!!!  My SIX kids LOVED it and my husband, who's usually a picky eater, dontcha know, ASKED for LEFTOVERS to take to the OFFICE next day!!!  EVEN THE GERBIL WANTED SOME!!! You've made my job as a FULL TIME MOM so much EASIER!!!"

I'm not dissing full time moms.  Nor am I dissing soccer moms.  Or moms with six kids and a gerbil and a non-communicative husband who grunts, caveman like, except to utter the words, "Where's my dinner?" when returning home from the office.  (And for the record, I don't hold any prejudice towards moms who use the phrase, 'dontcha know' either). 

No, I'm just dissing myself, because my mother (bless her, the one who used to loudly proclaim in public that she could "play connect the dots" with the pimples on my pre-teen face) thought I could use some "help" in the kitchen and signed me up to the Kraft newsletter.  Except, she somehow signed herself up instead and now forwards each email to me when she receives them.

The recipes are geared toward people who a) didn't pass 6th grade reading (or can't read at all since there's a video accompanying the recipe) b) either can't or don't have time to cook or c) are lazy.  I think my mom was primarily thinking of b) and c) when she signed me up to this newsletter.  The instructions are basically chop, stir, dump in, put in the oven.  Leave to blowdry your hair (which is what I did). 

As I mentioned before, the recipe called for Miracle Whip, which is not exactly abundant in the UK (actually, it doesn't exist), so I substituted it with mayo.  Bad idea.  It clumped up in the egg mixture like lipids.  Okayyyyy ... so I did what I thought Julie would have done.  I Googled, "What's in Miracle Whip?" and came up with a plethora of answers, one (which I can no longer find, sadly, otherwise I'd link to it) listed the ingredients in Miracle Whip along with the comment, "and other human made nasty stuff!!!"  Okayyyyy ... so I searched my pantry.  Paprika, check.  Garlic powder, check.  A bit of mustard, check.  Human made nasty stuff ... hmm ... not so much (at least, not yet.  Sorry, was that TMI?).  In the end, I sprinkled some paprika in my gloopy mixture and called it done. 

Above is a photo of the result.  The middle is still a bit ... undone, but it's ok, I popped it back in the oven for a few more minutes and it turned out fine.  This particular frittata tasted wonderful (probably because I was starving by 9:15 p.m. when the damn thing finally decided to set) and most importantly, comforting.  There's a reason these Kraft recipes are a good idea, because not only do they save me time, they remind me of real, proper, American food - comfort food.  Brits would sneer at such ideas, but we just keep on keeping on.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Invisibles

It's funny how your perspective changes when you're people watching.  You might feel at liberty to be slightly more judgmental than usual since the only conversation going on is internal -with yourself - or on the flip side, you might gain a deeper understanding of why people behave or react in a certain way.

For three whole months, I took the wrong bus to work from my flat in East London.  Yes, that's right, I managed to get on a bus, every day, for three months straight that took approximately 50 minutes to get me to my job in the West End, when there was a bus that could have taken me there in 20 (the difference was that the first dropped me off directly in front of the office and the second would require a 2 minute walk - in my first-time-in-London-naivete, I thought the first one was obviously the correct bus to take since it dropped me in front of the office door).  And I didn't realize this until I had to get on a new bus to my new job a few months later.  Boy, did I feel stupid.

I really relished my long bus rides, however.  And despite bringing a book on board with me, I always ended up putting my iPod in and staring out the window, entertaining the little thoughts that drifted in and out of my mind.  And most of all, I loved to people watch, especially on the top deck of the 15.  Here, I could see almost everyone and everything from virtually a birds' eye view.  It was in this way that I memorized peoples' rituals and made up stories about what they did for a living and what kind of clothes they wore when they weren't in suits.  I began to recognize the man who bought his porridge from Apostrophe every morning near St Paul's Cathedral or the woman who carried her heels in a separate bag to her purse while she sped walked in her Asics near Tower Gateway. 

I also saw the people I termed, "the Invisibles".  These were the workers who handed out free papers (when they still existed), such as the Metro, the London Lite, or the London Paper, among other free publications for morning commuters.  I called them the Invisibles, because as they handed out papers with outstretched hands, some calling out the name of their assigned publication, they were usually brushed past, ignored, or sometimes pushed.  I watched all of these going-ons through my plastic window atop the 15 and knew that I was also guilty of this.  I vowed to say at least, "No thanks," if I passed and didn't want one - and I did, for a while, but inevitably reverted to my old ways and walked straight past again.

I was fascinated by the Invisibles.  They stood in the rain and heat every day, handing out these papers.  I wondered if it wore on their psyches after a while, to be continuously ignored, save the random every other person who grabbed a paper without a word.  I used to get annoyed by those who shoved a paper in my face and when I politely refused, continued to stab it at my chest.  That's when I'd go through a period of ignoring them again.

Now, when I walk past an Invisible, even with my iPod in, I make sure to acknowledge them and say "No, thanks," even if I'm annoyed or don't want their paper.  Because no matter what - at least, if it were me -feeling invisible is never a good thing.

Photo source

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Curry: Britain's National Dish

Continuing on the theme of overindulgence (which I'm suffering from now - remind me to never try and eat a double stuffed burrito in one go and wash it down with more Corona than I can handle), I now draw your attention to Indian curry.  Ok, so it's not Britain's national dish, but former foreign secretary Robin Cooke once caused controversy by deeming Chicken Tikka Masala (which, apparently, is as "authentic" as Chicken Chow Mein in your local Panda Express is) so.

The other night, while polishing off a Sainsbury's 2 for £5 chicken jalfrezi microwave meal, John said happily, "I could happily eat a curry once a week."  He chewed thoughtfully for about a second.  "Yes, that's right, once a week."  So could I.  In fact, when I lived in East London, I did.  Every Monday, after my extremely non-strenuous yoga class in the meeting rooms at my office, I'd order a Butter Chicken with Plain Rice from my favorite takeaway, East Is East, on Commercial Road (they've recently acquired new management, so I can't vouch for what the food is like now) on my way home, while John favored Tayyabs' tandoori specialties (which we used to smell 24/7 as John lived directly by the restaurant's extractor fan, but that's another story for another post at another time) on Fieldgate Street.

Due to the waves of Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian immigrants arriving and settling in Britain (especially London), curry houses in the UK are the equivalent of tex-mex joints in the US - i.e. ubiquitous.  The East End is full of Bengali restaurants, namely on Brick Lane (though John and I had a disastrous experience at one once and vowed to stick to Tayyabs/East Is East from then on), where you can guarantee to be harrassed invited in by men standing outside, ready to make you a deal (if it sounds sketchy, it isn't, really ...).  A curry deal, that is. 

Moving away from my beloved East Is East was difficult; when I first arrived in Maida Vale, I remember anxiously asking my new housemates if there was a curry house nearby (thank goodness Meghna Grill was just a two minute stroll away).  But it's really nothing a jar of Patak's curry paste and some good chicken drumsticks can't solve, as John has evidenced with his superb cooking skills.  Failing that, there's always the "Indian" aisle in our local supermarket ... with curry, options are never scarce.

Photo source

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


I just finished reading Julie Powell's Julie & Julia - the book that reached fanatical proportions after being turned into a screenplay last year by Nora Ephron. 

And to think it all started with a blog.  Heh heh.

I'm not setting off to be the next Julie Powell - I have no purpose in writing these posts except for self-fulfillment, for starters.  She, on the other hand, had a goal, an idea, a project and followed it through to the end (she also kind of sort of destroyed what seemed like a great marriage, but that's for her next book, Cleaving, which is also on my list of to-reads). 

Basically, Julie was stuck in a situation a lot of us in our early-mid-late-20s/30s can relate to: bored and complacent with her job as a temp/secretary for a goverment agency, bored and complacent with her fabulous New York City life, bored and complacent with her wonderful husband ... you get the picture ... when she suddenly had an idea to make her life a little less boring.  She decided to cook every single recipe in Julia Child's Mastering The Art Of French Cooking in a year, feeding her friends and family, tottering on the edge of insanity, and walking down the path of self-discovery and all that blah blah blah in the process. 

As a project, I was really impressed by Julie's determination and guts.  As a person and a book?  Not so much.  I liked to think I'd instantly bond with her "voice" throughout - which is not dissimilar to my own personality, that is, witty, bitchy, and unkind.  But instead of LOL-ing at her invectives and wit, I chuckled nervously, thinking that if I ever met her, I'd be on the receiving end of a sneer or sarcastic remark.  I felt uncomforable about the way she interacted with and treated her husband (though I'm not sure if this was the truth or down to plain self-deprecation).  As a story, it's not as well told as some of the other blog-cum-books I've read, such as Jen Lancaster's Bright Lights, Big Ass: A Self-Indulgent, Surly Ex-Sorority Girl's Guide to Why It Often Sucks in the City, or Who Are These Idiots and Why Do They All Live Next Door to Me? (yeah, I know, the title totally speaks for itself, isn't that, like, amazing?). 

The impression that I got of Julie in this book was that she's one of those girls who elbows everyone out of the way to get in front and once there, she looks around satisfactorily, surveying her possessions then discarding as quickly as she gained.  Which is fine, as it's just my impression and doesn't mean anything.  For all I know, the real Julie's nothing like that.  Too bad that impression overshadowed the entire premise of the book, however - to work one's way through Mastering The Art of French Cooking in 365 days.

Photo source

Monday, April 19, 2010

Monday Morning Tube Rant: Pick Up After Your Damn Self, You Lazy Swine

Nothing pisses me off more on the tube - not even people who sneeze directly into my face, open their paper half-way across my lap, or don't give up their seats for people who need them - than people who leave their crap behind when getting off the train.

Specifically, I mean people who drink their Venti Starbucks lattes and leave the empty cups behind their heads or feet, free to roll around after they depart until some poor soul comes through the train and picks them up. 

I get so angry that every single time this happens, I consider one of two options:  Option A - chasing after the person and exclaiming, "Oh my gosh, excuse me, I think you left this VERY IMPORTANT THING BEHIND!" whilst beaning the cup at their head or Option B - simply beaning the cup at their head.  I don't know why it riles me up so much, but the total lack of manners and self-righteousness really gets my goat. 

This morning, I watched a woman with a bad perm (who looked of American origin - I don't know for sure, but you know how sometimes you can just tell?) get on with her Venti whatever from that sickening capital of chain coffee shops and place the empty cup by her pink Converse-d feet.  'Oh NO, she didn't,' I thought to myself.  Oh yes, she so did.  When the train pulled into Piccadilly Circus, I watched her snap her ugly fake leather bag together, pull down her pink ugly shirt (which was riding up her flabby, nasty stomach), and flounce off the train, kicking me ever so slightly by accident as she left. 

I cannot tell you. How. Much. I. Wanted. To. Throw. That. Cup. AT. HER. HEAD.  To be fair, her bad perm would have shielded her from any kind of actual contact.  I guess that's the silver lining of bad, frizzy perms.  While I couldn't be bothered to do anything about her selfish actions, I settled for hoping that her morning coffee of a gazillion calories made her fatter and quietly seethed at the empty cup until my stop. 

The man across from me finished drinking his Costa coffee and placed the cup by his feet.  When we got to Embankment, he gathered his belongings, including the cup, and left the train.  Yes.  Good man.

Tex-Mex Time

If I woke up this morning with indigestion, a slightly puffy face, and ever-so-slightly hung over, I only had myself to blame. 

Last night, when John and I were weighing our dinner options of pizza or ... pizza ... since neither of us could be bothered to cook, I suddenly had a craving for tex-mex - not the wonderful, homemade steak fajitas my brother bought from a Mexican family who ran their business out of a trailer in an empty Edgewood parking lot, no, I craved the bastardized version of authentic Mexican food affectionately dubbed tex-mex in the States.  "I could have a burrito," I blurted out suddenly to John.  He looked up from his Economist.  "Yeah, that sounds good."  "Yeah, I could have some Mexican rice with refried beans, guacamole, pico de gallo, sour cream, and beef."  I paused.  "And cheese."  "Ok, shut up, I get it, you're making me hungry now," John said, annoyed.  I opened my iBook and started searching for "Mexican takeaways in London W9."  Nothing.  Nada.  The two places we called were restaurants and sadly informed me they didn't do "takeaway" (in fact, they sounded a bit insulted that I asked in the first place).

"How about this one?" John suggested, showing me the Chilango website.  "Oh yeah," I said, a flicker of recognition stirring within.  "They opened one on Fleet Street recently."  "Well, there's one in Angel," said John.  A smile crept over his face.  "We could ... you know, drive there."  Ever since John's been recently blessed with Ivan's second-hand Skoda (in a lovely shade of daffodil yellow, nonetheless), he's been quite excited about the prospect of doing "big shops" on the weekends at the "big Asda or big Tesco" which we couldn't normally get to.  "Okay," I said, grabbing the GPS and programming in Chilango's address.  "It says here it should only take 10 minutes." 

I called the place to order first so I could jump out and grab our food when we got there.  An American voice answered, "Thank you for calling Chillannnnngooo, how may I help you?"  "Uh, yeah, can I order two burritos for takeaway, please?" I asked.  "Uh, I don't think so," the guy drawled.  "Why don't you just come in?  I mean, in the span of our conversation just now I could have made four burritos."  "Yeah, like, would love to?" I said impatiently.  "But we're, like, driving over and I just wanted to pick them up real quick."  "Honestly," the guy said.  "It's not going to make a difference and it'll be easier for you and me.  Hey, are you American?"  "No, I'm Canadian," I snapped.  "Okay, but you're still from North America."  "Okay, okay, I'm American."  "Great, come in and say hi if you stop by."  "Yeah, whatever, I'll see you in 20."

30 minutes later ...

We were stuck in an underpass as three lanes merged into one at the top of Euston Road.  "Oh my God," I moaned, as the Coronas clanged in the backseat.  "My burrito ... it's calling to me."  I looked over at John, who fared no better.  His jaw was set in an angry clench and he shouted, "Hey!" as he desperately sought the horn button when a dirty Lexus SUV obnoxiously angled itself between us and the car in front.  A hand gesture followed.  Uh oh.  If the King of Cool loses his calm, you know you're in trouble.

Nearly 40 minutes later, we spotted Chilango on Upper Street, which had replaced Mucho Mas (our former tex-mex favorite).  I ran in front of a moving bus (hope you're not reading this, mom) and raced into Chilango to order my burritos from the familiar counter, asking for extra pico de gallo and hot sauce.  Then I ran back to our car where John spent the next 20 minutes defiantly ignoring the TomTom and managed to get us home at a reasonable hour.  By then, I had a throbbing headache and the burritos were cold.

But oh, they were still so good, and so satisfying.  I downed my Corona in about 10 minutes flat and wolfed down my double stuffed treat.  Afterwards, I rolled myself onto the sofa, clutching my stomach and groaning with satisfied pain, watching Louis Theroux on TV.  I couldn't have thought of a better way to spend my Sunday evening.

Photo source

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Little Visit From The Fairy Godmother Of Shopping

When you can't afford even a spontaneous Primark shopping spree with your paycheck and you're missing the outlet stores of the States, you begin to develop a sort of crazed envy of other women who can, not only afford such said purchases, but are able to buy the things you've seen in shop windows and longingly gazed at when passing (did you get all that?  Because it was probably the longest run-on sentence known to humankind, so I'm not sure you did.  Basically, what I said was, "I'm too poor to buy pretty things."  That's it.).  But today, I had a little visit from the Fairy Godmother of Shopping, who clearly took pity on me while I was asleep last night, and waved her magic wand.

1)  After being invited to Net-A-Porter's outlet sister site's first anniversary £1 sale, I managed to nab this lovely Jonathan Saunders dress (pictured left) that was originally £895 for £1, plus postage and handling, which was £5.95.  Now I only pray that it makes it safely through the postal system and that it fits.  I know I was very lucky as a lot of people left empty-handed, including Adeline, who invited me to the sale in the first place, so I felt guilty as ever (howevernot that guilty as she just divulged that she splurged on a Chanel lipstick yesterday, bitch).

2)  Halfway through my morning, a purchase I'd been waiting for nearly a month (don't even ask) for from arrived, which made me really happy.

3)  I got a lovely set of book cover postcards for free through work, which will be added to my desk stationery drawer.  That also made me glow with happiness. 

So whilst I've been a bit unlucky in the money department lately in terms of not being able to buy every single lovely thing I've spied in Zara, I thank Goddess for the Fairy Godmother of Shopping who came to visit me today and who bestowed upon me some magical cheer before the weekend.

Rock on.

Photo source

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Fruit Roll-Ups On Steroids: Nakd

Yesterday, before yoga, I ate what can only be described as a Fruit Roll-Up on steroids.  For those of you who are not fortunate enough to have grown up with Fruit Roll-Ups, they are circular, flat, pieces of pectin-based fruit (soft) candy that make a delightful "ripping" sound when you tear it from the piece of cellophane it's attached to.  When I was younger, Fruit Roll-Ups were used as part of a reward system by my mother for not complaining when we accompanied her on long-suffering grocery store trips.  Nowadays, they're sold in the snacks aisle, but back then, they were tucked between the fruit stands at Safeway and I have vivid memories of reaching up to choose which flavor I wanted.  There were several ways of eating them.  Method One involved rolling the Fruit Roll-Up into a tight tube and munching your way through.  But it didn't last very long.  Method Two was to fold it in half and bite two half-moons, which conveniently turned into holes when you opened the fruit sheet, which conveniently fit over your 7-year-old face and thus, doubled as a mask, that you could then bite a hole through for your mouth.  Charming, eh?  Method Three involved shredding the Fruit Roll-Up into pieces and eating them one at a time, making it last longer.  I usually chose Method Two. 

Enough reminiscing.  Back to the story.

I was introduced to Nakd bars, these Fruit Roll-Ups On Steroids (or FRUOS, as I call them, rather than Nakd), by Lauren a few weeks ago.  When she heard that I'd been eating protein bars (lovingly brought over from the States by Udita per my request) before my workouts, she looked puzzled.  "You know those are meal replacements, don't you?" she asked.  Um, no, I've been eating them in addition to my meals.  I just like the way they make me feel full but not-full after my workouts to prevent the instant oh-my-God-I'm-going-to-faint feeling.  I don't like the way they taste like sheep poo (I've never tasted sheep poo before but sometimes if you chew a Pro-Max bar thoughtfully, rather than out of sheer desperation, I'm pretty sure that's what sheep poo tastes like).  "Oh my God," I said, feeling faint (not due to low blood sugar, but rather, panic).  "Will they make me ... like, fat?" I whispered.  "Try these instead," she suggested helpfully, showing me a Nakd bar.  "You can buy them at Holland and Barrett.  They're cold pressed fruit bars and contain all natural ingredients."  "Ok," I said doubtfully. 

But I tried one yesterday and it was like ... a revelation.  Fruit Roll-Ups on steroids.  That's all I can say.  I tried the Berry Cheeky flavor yesterday and had Cocoa Loco tonight.  Cocoa Loco reminded me of the scratch and sniff ice-cream stickers I had as a child (again, childhood memory trigger = instant win). 

They're not cheap (currently priced at £1.19 at Holland and Barrett), but they're worth it.  And they work just as well as sheep poo Pro-Max.  And you won't get fat.  Fact.

Photo source

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Yes Please, Mr. Kipling

Let me preface this by saying that I'm not a cake snob.  I don't care if it cost £0.70 or £12.  If it tastes good and it's in the form of cake, I'm probably going to eat it.  "Wow," said my mom on Skype.  "Wow, what?" I asked, irratibly.  "I hope you're working off those calories you're consuming.  You've been baking and eating cakes every weekend!"  I'm pretty sure that she's unaware that I feed 80% of such cakes to the office and John (who, even after a while, despite his love of carrot cake, declines the 8th slice).  However, I took her criticism concern to heart and started training for a 10k (which I do plan on running ... sometime).

Last night, John and I accidentally had Christmas dinner.  I say "accidentally" because we didn't mean for it to happen.  You see, over the weekend, M&S had this great deal on roasting joints - £4.99 for honey glazed ham, bacon and stuffed turkey, and pork with crackling, to be exact.  So we kind of went crazy.  And then, John decided to make roast potatoes and parsnips last night (because he's only slightly obsessed with parsnips).  And we had some frozen peas (no brussel sprouts, which are traditional here at Christmas time) on the side.  AND, in the absence of cranberry sauce, we substituted it for Bramley apple sauce, which worked just as well.  But because I didn't know John was making the roast potatoes, I had stopped by Tesco to pick up some mash instead and on my way to the till, something caught my eye.

It was that lovely red box above (ok, it wasn't exactly the same because technically, I bought Bakewell slices, not Bakewell tarts), with an accompanying yellow sign that read "SPECIAL: £1.00".  Despite all the cakes and cookies I had eaten in the past week, something told me that I we needed these Mr. Kipling treats.  Now, in case you're unfamiliar, Mr. Kipling produces some of the tastiest, individually packaged grocery-store-type cake slices and tarts known to Britain.  And I'm not being dramatic.  My particular favorites are the Bakewell tarts (or slices), which I'm pretty sure you can't get in the States, and which have an almond and cherry jam filling.  Oh. My. God.  It's seriously, so good (so good that John ended up having one slice last night and I had three, then polished the other two off for breakfast this morning.  Um, oops?  In my defense, they're only little ... ).  But Bakewell tarts are only a fraction of the wide array of baked goods Mr. Kipling has to offer: Viennese Whirls, Mini Bramley Apple Pies, French Fancies, Manor House Cake, Victoria Mini Sponge Cakes, Angel Slices ... my chances of becoming diabetic (for genetic reasons) are basically a no win situation.  So while I should really curb my sweet tooth now, I can't help but think that I should actually enjoy such sweets now, as I won't be able to one day.

What a depressing thought.  I need some cake to cheer me up.

Photo source

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Aye, There's The Rub: Why I Don't Go To The Pub

But that's not true.  Because I do.  I once asked a California-based relation of mine (mind you, not blood related) whether or not he dined at a pub on a recent trip to London with his family.  "Oh no," he said, shaking his head vigorously.  "I wouldn't want to expose my children to ... that kind of ... environment," he said in a lower voice, as if describing a strip club.  I tried not to choke with laughter on my delicious barbeque chicken wing.  Environment?  As in the lazy, Sunday-afternoon, family and friends, work colleagues catching-up environment?  The carpeted floors, wood-panelled walls and Top 40 hits playing-in-the-background environment?  Didn't think so.  I mean, I doubt they were passing by some run-down Brixton/New Cross Gate joint (sorry Brixton and New Cross dwellers ... I just don't think of those as general tourist attractions.  Besides, I happen to be a fan of a few pubs in Brixton and New Cross ... ok, namely one and I haven't been back since last year), but to not stop into Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (where they were more likely to be near) for a pint and a Coke for the kids seemed to me a tragedy.

What my conservative dear relative probably didn't understand is that pubs in the UK are very different to bars in the US.  Plenty of my British friends recall spending time in pubs with their families for meals or drinks as young as 8 and I don't think twice when seeing little ones running around tables (but mostly on the weekends) at our local pubs.  Pubs play a role akin to that of cafes - whereas we Americans down caffeine like it's our job (I prefer chai or green tea even though I'm from the home of Starbucks - *shudders*), Brits tend to unwind, bitch, celebrate, cry, party, mourn and chat over a pint of beer or glass of wine.  Most pubs (except for the really sketchy ones that have boarded up windows or make you nervous from the outside) have amazing character and uniqueness that make them worth visiting and most have delicious menus filled with homecooked meals or simple sandwiches.  One of my local favorites, The Elgin on Elgin Avenue, Maida Vale, even do a mean French toast with fresh fruit on Saturday mornings.  So far from being the evil, immoral brothel of horrors my relative was probably envisioning, pubs are actually enjoyable places to visit and frequent. 

But you won't find me in The Warrington (which is our local) very often.  That's because I don't drink.  Ok, ok, I do drink but not often and only very small amounts.  This is hard when you live in the UK.  "Is it because of religious or moral reasons?" a newly-introduced acquaintance asked, with a respectful but knowing look in her eye after I ordered my third Coke of the evening.  I burst out laughing.  "Err ... no."  Although, I did resist the temptation of putting on my most solemn voice and launching into a 30-minute tirade on the evils of alcohol on society and why anyone who drank was damned to eternal hell,  but since I wanted to keep this new "friend", I didn't.  It's more of the fact that I'm allergic to alcohol and will be drunk and hungover in the span of 20 minutes (or whenever I've finished the neck of a bottle, whichever is the sooner).  The only reason why I wasn't on the floor in The Warrington two nights ago after my half-pint of shandy was because the barman took one look at me and filled 80% of my glass with Sprite and only the remaining 20% with lager, leaving me comfortably warm, rather than sloppily drunk.

My friends find this aspect of me hilarious, since none of them have a problem holding their liquor.  "Ok, ok, so, Jaime," someone always starts out when we sit down at the pub.  "What would happen if you drank ..." and a string of examples come tumbling out.  Half a pint of lager.  An entire mojito.  A mojito spread over the span of an hour.  A mojito downed in 10 minutes.  A glass of wine.  Two sips of wine.  Red wine.  White wine.  Sweet wine.  The possibilities are endless and after a while, I'm tired of their cruel game.  "I always said she was a cheap date," says John, patting my shoulder affectionately while I glare at him.  "Going out for drinks with her is like, buy one get one free!" he chortles as his friends guffaw.  It's true that John is, rather than my designated driver, my designated drink holder.  At various points in the evening, in order to make sure I don't get too sloshed (especially in new company, as everyone knows social events make one sip a little faster), he discreetly takes my glass away and "holds" it for me until the redness of my face has receded slightly and my voice returns to its normal volume rather than an obnoxious shriek.  Without this enforced control, I quickly fall into a downward spiral, tottering around and pointing fingers, going, "I rully, rully lushh yu.  Youknow?  I lushhh yu.  I don't tell yoush enoush, butsch I rully lushh yu."  When I described this scene to Jodi last week, she admitted it sounded "hideous" and it truly is. 

So please, if you visit England, have a pint in a pub for me.  I'll still go but will stick to the Coke, thanks.

Photo source

Convenience Food

On the heels of yesterday's post regarding the "proper" use of silverware in the UK, I've been thinking about the concept of fast food/convenience food and overall eating "on-the-go" in America and the UK.  In Britain, it's perfectly acceptable to eat "on-the-go" - as long as you sit down and do it, say, on a park bench or preferably indoors.  It is not acceptable, for example, to eat and walk at the same time.  Or eat and drive (I only did that in high school when running late - I don't endorse eating and driving at the same time, although sometimes it's necessary!).  I used to order a chicken and coriander baguette from a Broad Street sandwich shop in Oxford and eat it while walking to my next destination, which seemed perfectly normal to me, but obviously not to other students and inhabitants of the stuck-up city, as I got strange looks as I walked past.  And after conferring with a Brit, I learned it wasn't good manners to do so.  So I'm always excited when I go home to shop at Target, where I can buy a drink and/or a hot dog and happily eat it while I'm doing my shopping without having to confine myself to the "cafe" area of the store.  I feel like I'm almost doing something wrong as I sip my supersized Coke (and wastefully throw the other 2/3rds away as I can't finish it without having to use the supersized bathrooms 4-5 times during my shopping trip). 

In general, food and convenience often go hand in hand in America and Brits look down on this idea in disdain, I think.  In an age of Jamie Olivers, whose current campaign in America aims to highlight "why the diet of processed food and snacks is causing so many health and obesity problems", Britain maintain a sort of superiority and smug satisfaction that they have, on the whole, generally healthier eating habits than their Yankee counterparts (if someone calls me a "Yank" one more time, punctuated by a "heh heh heh heh", I'll pour a pint of Guinness over their head) because convenience foods such as my beloved Hot Pockets (above) are simply not available here.

But I believe a balance can be struck - you can eat heathily and still enjoy frozen, convenience food.  Heck, growing up, our fridge was filled with Hot Pockets, frozen Costco chimichangas and other microwaveable snack foods to be had before our hour(s)-long after-school activities.  But that didn't mean that my mom neglected to feed us our 5-a-day portions of fruits and vegetables or that we developed (knock on wood!) long-term health conditions from these fast food indiscretions.  Moreover, I miss things like Hot Pockets, etc. - and maybe it has to do with portion control, but Brits' ideas of "snacks" are very different to Americans' ideas of snacks (i.e. tea and biscuits or a packet of crisps versus a Hot Pocket, for example).  I miss all the creative frozen snack foods found in the supersized aisles of Costco. 

My point is, I'm still going to try and stay on the high and mighty "healthy" path, but once in a while, I feel no shame in saying "Supersize Me" and walking around while I do it too.

Photo source

Monday, April 12, 2010

Knife and Fork

Once, I was eating breakfast at John's mom's house and I noticed her frowning at my place setting.  "You don't have a teaspoon, Jaime, let me get you one," she said, turning into the kitchen.  "Oh, that's ok, thanks," I said brightly.  "I'll just use my fork!"  She laughed and placed a teaspoon by my napkin.  "Don't be so uncouth, dear," she said, patting my arm.  Although I know she was joking (or at least, I think she was), in general, silverware and the use of silverware play an entirely different role in British/European culture than in American culture. 

I remember going into a teriyaki restaurant with my mom for lunch in Edgewood a couple years back.  When my food came, I realized there was only a fork resting neatly in the middle of the paper napkin.  "Where's the knife, where's the KNIFE?"  I said, panicked.  "I need to cut my CHICKEN!"  "Calm down," my mom said tersely.  "Why do you need a knife?"  She gesticulated to the waitress and asked her to bring us chopsticks instead.  While that solved my knife quandary, it still didn't hide the fact that after living in the UK for two years, I'd finally adapted to the "proper" way of eating, that is, with an actual knife and fork at all times, rather than using my fork as a knife as well - which is common in the States. 

"I'm sorry, I don't know what you mean - using your knife as a fork as well," said one British friend, clearly confused by my caveman-like eating habits.  "You know," I said.  "Like this."  And I demonstrated by putting down my knife, picking my fork up in my right hand instead and gnashing it down on my sausage and cutting off a piece (with a bit of trouble, the casing was a bit ... erm ... tough on that particular banger) and elegantly putting it into my mouth with some mashed potatoes.  "Mmm ... yum.  See?"  He looked disgusted.  "Well, that's all very good, but what happens if you're trying to cut something tougher, like beef?" he asked.  "Oh, well then, I would hold it in place with my fork in my left hand and cut with the knife in my right hand, like you do," I replied.  He looked relieved.  Until I continued:  "Then, I would put down my knife and fork and switch hands again so I'm only using my fork to eat again."  He rolled his eyes.  "That's annoying," he said.  "Yeah, I know," I said, with my mouth full.  "Thatsch why wesh eatsh witch jush a forskh."

I only started learning how to eat with a knife and fork in both hands for the duration of the meal (at least, the starter and main courses - I still insist on gnashing down on any dessert with my fork or spoon) and must admit it was difficult to adjust at first.  I wasn't used to holding my fork in my left hand and kept missing my mouth, especially with peas or other small items.  In fact, the first time I ate in front of American friends after living abroad, one commented, "Why do you eat so funny?" 

At home, I still put down a knife for show next to my place setting, as I don't always find it necessary for my meal but as John actually eats properly every time, he always requires a knife.  Next time I face a dining dilemma, however, I'll just ask for chopsticks.

Photo source

Sunday, April 11, 2010

100th Post Sunday!

It's been an absolutely gorgeous weekend weather-wise here in London and I've had a great time catching up with friends.  I made the above pancake brunch (complete with fresh strawberries, blueberries and bananas - yum!) this morning for a mini York reunion with Chloe and Catherine and even sneaked in a refreshing run outside in the afternoon.

I can't believe I've written 100 posts for this blog (and can't believe anyone would actually waste their time reading them, but thank you!) and while I'm not sure it's helped me figure out my US/UK dilemma any better, all I know is that it's made me immensely grateful for all the amazing people and things in my life - both here and back "home", wherever that is. 

So, thank you.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Travels With Charley

When I was in school (that is, elementary, junior high, and high school), teachers used to use "ice-breaker" activities on the first day to get us to integrate and talk to each other.  One inevitable question that was oh-so-creative (NOT!) was "Name any person, dead or alive, that you would like to meet and explain why."  Most people said "Jesus" or "My great-grandma" (I originate from a religious and unimaginative town, what can I say?).

If you asked me that question now, I'd say, without a doubt, John Steinbeck.  If there was any way to bring someone back to life, I'd rush over to John's grave/ashes and do whatever it took to resurrect him because that man is a genius.  And I want to know what he thinks of our world today - so badly.  It doesn't have to be a long conversation, but one that should be had over a cup of hot, steaming coffee (preferably spiked with something, as it seems that was his preference, especially when on the road) and maybe at a diner (because that's just how I envision it to happen). 

What has sparked this impassioned longing, you ask?  I'd always been a fan of Steinbeck's fiction: in junior high and high school I studied the requisite Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, The Pearl, The Red Pony, etc. but until now, I hadn't dipped into his non-fiction work - and oh, what I've been missing.  Earlier this year, I read A Russian Journal, in which he documented his travels through the then Soviet Union during the Cold War with the acclaimed war photographer, Robert Capa.  I was particularly struck by his insight and interpretations of the people and culture around him which were then brilliantly offset by his wry and unparalleled, witty sense of humour.

Although that book struck a real chord with me, as I've developed a real interest in Russia since visiting briefly in 2006 (and reading too much Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and listening to too much Borodin and Tchaikovsky), Travels With Charley hit home the most because, well, it was about my home: America.  Not just America - America through Steinbeck's eyes, which is, suffice to say, perhaps more precious than anyone else's view.

The introduction by Jay Parini describes the book as "prophetic" - and it is.  First published in 1962, it's difficult to believe that Steinbeck would have/could have predicted the route America was heading in, but somehow, he did.  And though his tone throughout is mostly that of an amused (sometimes bemused) observer, there's an underlying anger or frustration that sits heavily on the heart of the book - especially in the final pages, when he describes the height of racial tensions in the South during that time.

Perhaps the most endearing feature of the "travel-log," if you will, is Charley, Steinbeck's companion and beloved French poodle (who was well and truly born and raised in France).  Steinbeck describes him thusly: "He is a very big poodle, of a color called bleu, and he is blue when he is clean.  Charley is a born diplomat.  He prefers negotiation to fighting and properly so, since he is very bad at fighting ... [he] has a roar like a lion, designed to conceal from night-wandering strangers the fact that he couldn't bite his way out of a cornet de papier." Then later: Charley is a tall dog.  As he sat in the seat beseide me, his head was almost as high as mine.  He put his nose close to my ear and said, 'Ftt.'  He is the only dog I ever knew who could pronounce the consonant 'F' ... the word 'Ftt' usually means he would like to salute a bush or a tree."  Even if you're not a bit interested in America or American culture, you've got to read the book for the antidotes about Charley.  Trust me, it's totally worthwhile.

While some things have obviously changed in the United States, much of the culture and sentiment that Steinbeck describes throughout remains the same today, which is particularly interesting and at times, deeply disturbing.  Overall, I promise that it's a great read - perfect for picking up and putting down, mulling over, and discussing with friends.

If you do read it (or have read), I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Photo source 

Friday, April 9, 2010

You Know You're Getting Old When ...

... you forgo a copy of OK! magazine in the hospital waiting room for The English Home instead.  Yes, that's right, people - combined with my self-imposed bedtime of 9:30 p.m. (sometimes 10:00 p.m., if you're lucky), I think my real age is actually 72 instead of my to-be 27. 

I was waiting for an appointment with a consultant surgeon in the ENT department of the Royal Surrey County Hospital today (erm, don't really know why exactly I linked to that, it's just a nice little NHS hospital in Guildford down south that has knick-knack sales run by grandmas that I also somehow gravitate towards when I go) this morning when I needed some reading material, having finished Steinbeck's amazing Travels With Charley on the train.  On the table opposite, I spied an OK! magazine with some Z-list wedding featured on the cover.  I was about to get up and fetch it when something caught my eye to my left.  It was a copy of The English Home and I found myself saying (in my head, not outloud), 'Oooh, isn't that nice!' in reaction to the soft neutral tones and the fresh flowers featured in the interior pictured on the cover.  But as I flipped through the pages, I had to laugh: The English Home must represent the pinnacle of snobbery in Britain.  In fact, I felt as though the magazine itself was cringing at the thought of me defiling its glossy pages with my uncouth, American fingers.  But then it seemed to have a change of heart and thought it could teach me a thing or two about designer interior designers and Natural Hatley patterned canvas shopping bags (at £32 each) that should hang just so on the pegs of an entry way coat hanger.

I was most baffled by the salad/storage bowl in one featured kitchen labelled "cos lettuce" (I wish I could link to it but I can't seem to find it - I have a sneaking suspicion it's from John Lewis, though).  Omg, what would happen if you put any other type of lettuce in there - including (deep breath) ... ICEBERG lettuce???  Oh no, iceberg lettuce would never exist in the English Home.  Instead, kitchen ceramic tiles selling for £69.95 per square meter and Hunter wellies lined up just so outside a whitewashed door thrive in such environments.

The funniest advertisement came at the end of the magazine and caused me to choke on my own saliva (I'm old, remember?  If you're not choking on your own saliva by the age of 72 then consider yourself fit and healthy):  Have you heard of anything more ridiculous?  You can add some flair to your interiors with these individually sold letters and numbers (and other decorations) starting at £7.50 each.  And most importantly, it's posh, people.  You're not stooping to any kitsch level by buying these overpriced designs because they're defined as posh and therefore, are.

The second funniest thing I came across was an advertisement for AGA cooker cleaning services, which boasted the motto, "Take the palaver out of cleaning your AGA!" (and with an English accent, "palaver" sounds like "palava" which rhymes with ... you get it).  AGAs are cookers that are similar to ovens (see the Wiki link above for further explanation) but popular in medium to large country houses such as the ones featured in The English Home (John's dad has one, for example, in Peatling Magna).  Because of this, they are also, to me, a clear indicator of class and the ad was just fitting for the Le Creuset collecting (holla back, I'm guilty of this, albeit bits and pieces collected from T.K. Maxx) readership of the magazine.

Fascinated by the pages of this elite publication, I was reluctant to put it down when called in for my appointment and couldn't get it out of my head for the rest of the day.  AGA palaver, indeed!  *Cough, cough, splutter, splutter*

Photo source

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I Want Me A Corn Dog Real Bad

Yesterday, a co-worker turned to me and expressed her desire for a stack of American-style pancakes with crispy (or as they call it here, "streaky") bacon smothered in Aunt Jemima (I advised her of this) syrup and it turned a switch on in me that's been off for a long time: a sudden desire for a corn dog.  Yes, that's right, I know that pancakes and corn dogs don't have any correlation but stay with me here: a hot dog coated in batter and deep fried in oil, my friends.  Far worse than a chip butty, but at least uh, it has a protein element to it.  Sort of.  Vegetarians and vegans turn away (unless you have a vegan corn dog, which sounds even sicker than the original thing) because I have a craving for one (or two ... or four) I just can't shake.  It needs to be dipped in mustard and ketchup too.  I don't know where this hankering came from.  As a child, I hated corn dogs.  My mom (and dad, because you know, I lived in a pretty progressive household where my dad cooked at least 1 or 2 meals on occasion) never made them and I made puking noises every time I saw it on the hot lunch schedule at school.  But then again, school lunch turned me off pizzas (I had a little um, vomiting incident after a slice of school pizza once) and I can't live without them now, so ... not surprised they kept me from my secret love of corn dogs either.  In the coming weeks (read: more like days), I am hoping to recruit one or two fellow Americans (or gutsy Brits) to join me on the quest for corn dog satisfaction at The Diner in Soho.  Anyone with?

Photo source

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Where My Peeps At?

So Sunday was Easter (duh) and I have to admit, despite having more chocolate in the flat that I could possibly handle and gorgeously decorated chocolate eggs that caught my eye in every shop I went into over the weekend, I missed my peeps.  Easter just isn't the same without the artificially colored and bound-to-give-you-cavities sugared marshmallows shaped as bunnies and chicks.  Peeps, I weep for you.

Update:  I got some peeps!  Lauren shared her stash with me!  Thanks, peep!

Photo source

Monday, April 5, 2010

(Carrot) Cake Time!

It's not very pretty and doesn't have a decorative carrot or bunny on top, but it's John's favorite, so after months of promising I'd make one, I finally came through on my promise last night.  Although I've liked carrot cake for as long as I remember, I didn't really get into it until I came to the UK, as it seems to be offered at every good tea house.  I used this Mary Berry recipe (except I made it into a sandwich cake with a thin layer of frosting in the middle) and though I was skeptical about the addition of bananas, it worked well, keeping the cake moist and sweet.  I did add cinnamon and nutmeg, however, as I don't understand how you can make carrot cake without those two vital ingredients!  Next time, I'll add orange and lemon zest too for a bit of zing ...

Cherry Blossom Street

One of the things I miss the most about our house in Washington is the beautiful cherry blossom tree at the bottom of our driveway.  So I was quite cheered by the fact that the cherry blossoms along and near our street have started to bloom.  It means that spring (and summer) is finally on its way.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

St Albans, Je T'aime

And I'm not talking about St Albans, France.  No, I'm talking about that little place you can get to on a southbound First Capital Connect train from St Pancras.  Why didn't anyone tell me about its virtues before?  I'd pick it over Salisbury any time (sorry, Salisbury, but you failed your test).

As we were kindly invited to one of John's family friends' 40th wedding anniversary party (held at Sopwell House) we decided to arrive to the hotel/country club early before the festivities began in order to get a gym workout and swim in before dinner so we wouldn't feel as guilty about indulging (but mainly because the facilities on the website looked incredible). 

I was so impressed by our room, the service and the facilities at Sopwell House that I'm considering taking my mom there to stay in May when she comes to visit.  Every little detail was attended to and the idea of ordering grilled panini at 3 a.m. via room service was mighty tempting (though I didn't go through with it as I was apparently snoring - according to John - in the most comfortable bed ever at that time).  I don't want to sound like I don't get out much (because I do, really) but the fact that the hotel pool had a bridge across it and a mosaic at the bottom pretty much had me sold - not to mention the lovely town of St Albans itself.

Upon checking out of the hotel this morning, John and I had a wander up the clock tower (from which the photo above was taken) and stupidly stood near the large bell, not realizing it was about to strike 11 ... needless to say, by the time I had it worked out and had my fingers half in my ears, I still screamed out of fright like a small child and cowered in the narrow staircase.  Note to self:  don't stand near any large bells before the hour, reading the accompanying sign beside it.  Not good for the nerves.  We then asked the kind man down below selling tickets for admission up the tower (£1 for a terrific view of St Albans and the scare of your life) whether he knew if the Verulamium Museum was open.  Though it didn't open until 2 (on Sundays), he did direct us on a lovely walk and we stumbled upon The Waffle House.  Jackpot.

Although I was drooling at the thought of having the Banoffee Waffle (complete with whipped cream and toffee sauce), I settled for the Fresh Banana and Cinnamon Waffle instead and a tall glass of hot chocolate.  After all, we had just finished breakfast half an hour ago.  Burp. 

After our little pit stop, we headed out again on the path as instructed by our new friend from the clock tower and had a quick glance at the Roman mosaic near the Verulamium Museum (both weren't open yet), and then came upon St Albans Cathedral which more than one person had told me was worth visiting.  I also had these sepia-toned cat-eye sunglasses I bought from Primark last week for £1 and everything looked freaking fantastic through them, so I took a photo through them so you could experience the sepia-toned loving too (sorry for the glare - it was done in haste so I could avoid looking like an idiot for more than 2 seconds):

See?  The effect is great.  Those glasses put me in a fabulous mood.  I might start wearing them indoors. 

But in all seriousness, I was charmed by St Albans.  Smitten, even.  It could have been the glasses, or the party, or the hotel, or a myriad of other things, but I like to think that it's just a nice little place that deserves to be visited.
© angloyankophile

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