Saturday, July 31, 2010

It's Cake Time!: Cinnamon and Nutella Cake

Nutella is one of my favorite ingredients: I love it on toast, in cupcake frosting, and anything else you can think of to use it in creatively (Udita keeps going on about frozen Nutella hot chocolates which I have yet to try but sound amazing, if not a total oxymoron).

In the mood for a coffee cake that would go well with a cup of hot steaming black Illy, I thumbed through the pages of my newly purchased BBC GoodFood 101 Cakes & Bakes  (a bargain at £3.48 from Amazon) and found this quick and easy recipe.  I love this recipe book because it's about the size of my palm and is perfect for those days where you just want to make a simple variation of a sponge cake and not necessarily grand cakes of Hummingbird or Magnolia proportions (not to mention that the instructions are basically, "dump all the ingredients in a bowl.  Mix, bake, enjoy.").  Perfect for lazy days (I'll leave the macaroon making for next weekend, Shirin - perhaps).

For some reason, my Nutella settled on the bottom of the cake (which you can see in the picture), so I think I'll have to "swirl" it a little more thoroughly next time.  Otherwise, it tasted great and went well with the black coffee.  I'd encourage you to "give it a go," as people say in this country.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Falls Short On Substance: "Short Girls" by Bich Minh Nguyen

If I hadn't read Bich Minh Nguyen's bio and seen the litany of awards she's received for her work, I'd think she was a twenty-something writer who just graduated from some creative writing course at some liberal arts college in Cali or the East Coast.  I was surprised - no, shocked - to discover that she actually teaches creative writing at a university.  And then I realized that her professorship speaks volumes of the state of Asian-American literature and the study of Asian-American literature today.

You see, I think the market for Asian-American writing and stories is so incredibly starved that editors, publishers and even Asian-Americans, will jump at the newest-thing-since-Amy-Tan (who isn't even good and actually infuriates me, but that's another story for another time).  I mean, I jumped.  I read the blurb on the back jacket and thought, hey, maybe this will be it - maybe this will be that amazing tale of the struggle Asian-American women face in seeking their identity through their families, friends and partners (past and present).  Maybe this will be that book I've been waiting for - that thing writers like Amy Tan didn't get.   I thought I'd finally found a book I could personally relate to.

The premise of the story revolves around two sisters, Van and Linny, who are supposed to be polar opposites - one, outgoing, beautiful and laid back, the other, introverted, uptight and ordinary looking.  Both return home to help celebrate their inventor father's oath of American citizenship as he plans to submit his invention, the "Luong Arm" (a device that enables those who are vertically challenged - notice I did not use the word short, hehe - to "grab" objects from unattainable heights), to a reality TV show contest.  And surprise, surprise, each sister has a "secret" about her personal (read: love) life she is hiding from the other out of pride, fear, or both.  Sound like an absolute mish-mash of conflicting and incongruous ideas?  It is.

I've never been more disappointed.  Not only is the prose itself static, stilted and - for lack of a better word - dull, both characters (sisters, who were supposed to be foils to one another) have as much personality as a limp dish-rag.  You know, which is, like, perfectly fine if that's what you intended.  But somehow, I don't think it's what Nguyen was aiming for.  Furthermore, any remote semblance of personality injected into either sister was scripted and cliched beyond belief.  But perhaps the biggest flaw in the novel (and my personal gripe) is Nguyen's perpetual failure to "show, rather than tell" - that age-old adage every single creative writing professor, no, high-school English teacher throws at her students on the first day of class.  We are repeatedly subjected to new characters who are introduced in a formulaic "this is so-and-so.  I know him from such-and-such.  He used to be like this.  Now he does that.  My opinion of him is this.  He is a [insert categorical stereotype here, e.g. goth, punk, hipster, etc.]."  And yes, she really does this (if you want page numbers, I can give them to you, because I folded over each page where this occurs). 

I know I haven't been particularly generous here.  But what I will give kudos to Nguyen for, however, is the insight to address the complexity of an Asian-American identity that is grown and developed in small-town America.  She successfully highlights the paradox of desperately wanting to fit into the so-called "white" and/or "Vietnamese" community but not being able to feel a sense of belonging or loyalty to either through Van's tendency to shrink deeper, deeper within herself to escape these pressures.  She illustrates the painful relationships many first and second generation Asian-American children have with their parents through Van's and Linny's pleading attempts to gain their father's approval (or at least some show of affection or love) and his blatant refusal to give them either.  And it's not done in a cold-hearted way, but performed rather as a denial.  A lack thereof.  That's the stereotypical (but often true) Asian-parent way.  When Van informs her father of her imminent divorce from her controlling, manipulative husband, her father immediately blames her, saying, '"I like Miles ... he's a nice guy.  What did you do?"  A troubled look spread over Mr. Luong's face and stayed there.  He didn't offer anything more - not an I'm sorry or what happened or what can I do, the normal American things people were supposed to say.'  It's Van's and Linny's constant hunt for so-called "American normalcy" that strikes a chord with me.  And even though Nguyen doesn't do it perfectly, she does bring the reader's awareness to (what I believe to be) the core of the Asian-American identity crisis.  What does it mean to be normal?  In a town where neighbors refer to you as "gooks" (Van's) and laugh at you in Target because "you can't even speak English" (mine)?  What does it mean to be American?  Asian?  Asian-American?  There's a lot there that warrants further discussion.  Unfortunately, the sheer boredom of reading the book itself overshadows the important issues it raises. 

In summary, an amateur effort at best, from a professional.  A major disappointment, but highlights some key issues facing the Asian-American community today.

Have you read it?  Will you read it?  Let me know your thoughts.

Photo source

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Downtown vs. City Centre

The other day, Udita was in Seattle for a conference and she emailed me to ask whether or not the UW campus was "close to downtown Seattle".  I squinted at her message on my Blackberry and had to think for a while - because spending 3+ years living outside of the United States has completely worn down my American vocabulary - more so than you would think - and I momentarily forgot what "downtown" meant.  Okay, I didn't forget what it meant, but I found it hard to picture in my mind.  What did it look like (more like, which shops were there?)?  How far was it from the U-District?
You see, here, what someone might refer to as "downtown" in the States, is known (relatively more or less) as the "city centre".  When I first moved to England and lived in York (whose university campus is located "outside" of the "city centre"), the term "city centre" sounded overly formal and peculiar.  But now I know it generally refers to where the major "high street" (another British term for where all the popular shops and restaurants - mostly chains - are found) businesses are and find myself referring to wanting to go shopping "in the city centre" when visiting a new place (for the record, Salisbury city centre is immensely disappointing.  York is not.).
I had to laugh when my dad came to visit a couple years back and referred to Oxford Street as "the main drag".  "Can we go back to the main drag?" he asked, as we were half-way up Regent Street.  "What main drag?" I asked, exasperatedly. "You know," he said emphatically, as if waving his hands around would help illustrate his point.  "The main drag," he repeated.  But in a city the size of London, it's hard to differentiate between the "main drag" of Oxford Street and the other main drags of, say, Marylebone High Street or The Strand.  Those could all be considered "main drags".  You also never hear someone referring to "downtown London" or "London city centre", because it's simply too big for those definitions.   
So I felt a hint of nostalgia when Udita's email popped up on my phone.  I wouldn't mind being back in a city that had a "downtown" fairly soon (not to mention, a Nordstrom).  In the meantime, I'm certainly enjoying the city centres.

Tuesday Morning Tube Rant: Preggers Or Not? That Is The Question.

A colleague of mine walked into work today (I won't mention any names) bemoaning the fact that someone on the tube mistook her food baby for an actual baby last night and gave her her seat.  Ouch.  We've all been there.  Feed me a double stuffed burrito around the right time of the month (or actually, come to think of it, at any time) and I'm guaranteed to look at least five months pregnant.  No joke.  So we all expressed our shock at my poor friend's humiliating experience and uttered the necessary tut-tuts of sympathy.
... which then naturally led us to the "how can you tell if someone's pregnant or just carrying a bit of extra weight around the tummy" conversation.  Now, for anyone who self-righteously announces, "I can always tell.  It's obviously very different," puh-lease.  Because it is NOT always glaringly obvious when a woman is five months pregnant or simply had a bad day of bloat.  We've all heard horror stories of people (mostly from men) who have been berated by pregnant women (and fellow passengers) who failed to give up their seats for a woman with child and similarly, stories (again, mostly from men) of people who have been publicly humiliated by women they have given up their seats for - women who, like you or I, just happened to be suffering from a bit of bloat (or were simply overweight, or had just very recently given birth).  
So how can you tell?  Advice columns in newspapers chide those of us who have mistaken a bit of stomach fat for a baby as the "firmness" of the bump is what's in question.  Um, excuse me, but I have seen-many-a "firm" bumps of fat during my time on public transport.  So that won't really help.
One friend claimed she absolutely will not give her up her seat unless she is 100% certain the woman is pregnant.  Some women help matters by wearing the "Baby On Board" button (or badge, as you Brits call them), which is apparently available from TFL's Customer Service Centre.  Others take the same newspaper's advice that questioned the "firmness" of the bump to drop hints by "leaning against the hand rails and stroking your pregnant belly" (sorry, the phrase "stroking your pregnant belly" just made me throw up in my mouth a little). 

So anyways, I like, still don't have an answer to my question.  Obviously, I don't want to be the grinch who doesn't give up her seat (it's a pet peeve of mine - people who don't, when necessary) to a pregnant lady - I mean, heck, if I was holding more than just my regular food baby, you'd be sure as heck I'd be hinting in all ways possible for a seat (including stroking my pregnant belly), but at the same time, I don't want to make the same mistake as my friend's seat-giver-upper did, since my friend has now sworn off eating cakes for a while.  Ouch.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Need New Music? Join Rough Trade's The Album Club (Or Just Trade iPods).

I traded iPods with John the other day and I've never been happier - all of a sudden, the likes of Tupac, Biggie Smalls and These New Puritans were flooding my ears on my commute to work.  While I confess I'm not particularly a huge fan of any of the above, the most important thing is that trading iPods gives me access to new music - music that I wouldn't normally listen to and music that I've become addicted to (ahem, Local Natives).

My friend Orianna came up with a great idea via Facebook, which consisted of getting twelve people together (who may or may not know each other) to make mixed CDs for one another.  I was assigned the month of April and obviously never got around to it, but having received a mix from someone in Australia this weekend, I've been inspired and have vowed to create mine ... soon.

Anyway, another great way to get new music is to join a CD club, which John has done.  Rough Trade Records in Brick Lane (although there are other locations) is the trendiest go-to-place for new music in London.  And for £12 a month, you can join The Album Club, which is Rough Trade's pick of the best album releases that month and what they think you should be listening to - and which, might I add, is almost always very, very good.  Recent posts have included Grizzly Bear, Fever Ray, The XX (wayyy before they were huge and on every television commercial you can think of), Local Natives, The Very Best and a recent favorite of mine, Surfer Blood (think Weezer before they sold out and started making crappy music).  If anything else, it's just refreshing to hear something different coming through your earbuds rather than Gaga, Kylie and Gaga 24/7. 

Meanwhile, here's a song I've been listening on repeat all week - enjoy:

Photo source

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Reason Why I Hate Starbucks #927

I grew up in Starbucks country - I mean, literally and figuratively speaking, since Americans drink a lot of Starbucks coffee and I'm from a little town just south of Seattle, where Starbucks is based.  In Tacoma, you can sit in one Starbucks, sipping your Venti Skinny Vanilla Latte, and gaze directly into the window of another.  No joke.  Growing up, there were three Starbucks (all with drive-thru windows) en route to my high school.  Occasionally, I made the stop at one or two, as it was very fashionable to flounce into first period with a paper cup bearing the famous green mermaid stamp of approval and the smell of strong coffee emanating from the said cup (otherwise, I made my "ghetto mocha" at home - which involved dumping two spoonfuls of hot chocolate mix into my Starbucks travel mug, adding a heaping spoonful of Folgers on top, and filling it with hot water before running out to my car with a Pop-Tart and mug in one hand and keys in the other.  So chic.  NOT).

So it's not like I always had a disdain for this chain - in fact, it was the opposite.  I spent most of my time after school at Starbucks and studied for my AP Exams there.  But by the time I got to college, I guess I just got tired of paying exorbitant prices for mediocre coffee and sought out coffee shops with more character or charm to meet up with people.  But today, during a rare stop at Starbucks (at a service station/rest stop off the M25), I was reminded of why I despise the coffee chain so much.  Behold the remnants of my Grande (looks like a Tall to me, no?) Iced Chai Latte above.  See how much ice is in there?  Yeah.  That's the whole cup.  I paid £3.20 for a cup of ice.  And my drink wasn't even mixed.  It came in three layers.  When I questioned the barista, she rolled her eyes and said, "Yeah, you just need to mix it."  Um, hello, isn't that what I pay for?  Every time I take my business to Starbucks, I walk out upset and cursing the establishment, vowing to never go back again.  And yet I do.  It's kind of like self-flagellation.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Friends Are Important

No matter what anyone says, it's important to have friends.  It's important to have people in your life who've "got your back" - people who would drive you to Boston Logan International Airport at 3 a.m. in a borrowed car and people who you'd stand on a chair in the middle of a full cafeteria and lead a rousing rendition of 'Happy Birthday' for (erm, for the record, I don't really think those two things equate - one's a significantly bigger sacrifice than the other).  Really important.

When I first moved to London, I had this many friends:  0.  Now I have about 7 (that's 7 unique friends, as in, friends I made without the help of John, thank-you-very-much).  I'm quite proud of that number.  But when you can count the number of friends you have on one and not-quite-half hands, little changes can make a big difference.  Say a friend moves out of London entirely, or just to another neighborhood, or changes jobs - you don't lose that friend, but you see a lot less of them.  Suddenly, things begin to shift quite rapidly: the desk you used to look forward to working at isn't looking so appealing anymore, the journey on the tube from your familiar station is a little lonelier and maybe instead of dialing a number, you email instead, since that doesn't cost money on your phone plan.

And in a city like London (or New York, or Chicago, or Boston, or Seattle, as I'm sure you all know), that matters.  As an adult, you sound so pathetic when you say something like, "I want to make more friends."  Because everyone who's anyone already has friends - they already know each other and they don't need to make new ones.  More importantly, as you discover, they went to uni (college) together - so why would they need to possibly meet anyone outside their circle of friends?  Beats me too, I know.

But I do.

So I'm hoping that all these changes within my friendship circle will be positive ones - leading me to meet more new people and maybe even make new friends - as difficult as that is in a city like this.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Thursday Morning Craving: Root Beer Float

Yeah, it's 9:12 a.m. (well, as I write this ... not when I post it ... long story, but I think you can guess why I'm posting so much later as I'm not going to spell it out here) and what I really want, more than anything in the world, right now - at this very moment - is a root beer float.  I'm sure I'd regret it, sure I'd feel sick and throw up straight afterwards, but I feel like my body needs it right now.  A root beer float, for those of you who are British, is two or more scoops of (usually) vanilla ice-cream dropped into a giant glass mug and topped up with copious amounts of root beer (or Pepsi, as I used to also have as a child).  I have great memories of passing the summer nights (before my brother was born - you know, I love you, Justin, but I had the only child treatment once upon a time and it was ... awesome.  In fact, I still act like an only child ...) with my dad in front of my parents' TV upstairs, watching 60 Minutes (yeah, I was five and I was watching 60 Minutes with what's-his-face-famous-newscaster because it was the show my dad watched) and watching with delight as my dad made me a root beer float in an old-fashioned root beer float glass during a commercial break.  He used to make me eat it at the dinner table because the glass was as big as my head and he always put a straw AND a spoon in, which I loved.  It seemed like a decadent treat to have at home.

What makes me sad is not the lack of root beer floats in the UK (of course, you can always make your own ... but where are you gonna find root beer?  And root beer as in Barq's or A&W, not root beer as in that medicinal tasting concoction some person merely thought resembled American root beer) but the look of shock/horror/disgust on John's British peoples' faces when I describe a root beer float to them.  It makes me sad that some peoples' palates are too "refined" to enjoy delights such as root beer floats, cheese fries, corn dogs or fries dipped in milkshakes (hey, don't knock it 'till you've tried it).  

Great, now I want fried chicken tenders along with a root beer float for my breakfast.  Gross.  Burp.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Bowlin' With My Homies

Yesterday was Lauren's birthday, so Bindy threw a surprise party for her at Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes (which I had never been to), located in the basement of Tavistock Hotel in Russell Square.  After getting significantly lost (with the help of my Blackberry sat-nav) and stomping up and down Southampton Row with an attitude that would give the Jersey Shore kids a run for their money, Gill and I finally located the venue.  It wasn't the bright and shiny lanes I'm used to in the States (heck, even Daffodil Bowl in my hometown has gotten a makeover ... I think) and resembled the basement of your local YMCA, but it sure was charmingly decorated in a retro/vintage "American style" and served oh-so-appropriate American food - including my choice of a chili dog.  'Twas good.  My bowling was ... not so good (I mean, I started out, like, real good, then ended up, like, real bad.  I don't know what happened).  But the birthday girl did pretty damn well and we graduated to the karaoke room after our game was over, which provided us with some much needed birthday mirth and laughter (not to mention hoarse voices and broken eardrums - who knew that screaming singing TLC's "Scrubs" could be such hard work?!).  

All Star Lanes is just around the corner, albeit a little pricier, but since I haven't been there yet, I can't compare the two.  Would I go back to Bloomsbury Lanes?  Probably.  Would I practice on Wii bowling first prior to my second visit?  Um ... probably.

Photo source

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Juicy Lucy Designs

I'm not usually a fan of "cute".  But when John gave me one of these cards last year, instead of wanting to gag, I cooed over its adorableness.  Juicy Lucy Designs is a (primarily) greeting card company based in Wales (read their "About Us" page - it's ... so cute) but their cards and products are sold in Paperchase and other fine stationery stores across the UK.  I'm especially a fan of their "Love & Naughty" card range, which mixes Lucy's innocent drawings with some not-so-innocent messages - most of which are too naughty for me to mention here.  It's this delightful combination that catches you completely by surprise and makes it impossible for you not to fall in love with Juicy Lucy Designs (ugh, I sound like a walking commercial.  But I can't help waxing lyrical about things I love and hating on things I hate.  I only work in extremes).  If you're in the mood for a card for your friend, best friend (yes, there's a difference), significant other, or even dad - yes, I said dad - try out Juicy Lucy Designs.  They're not for everyone, but I'm pretty sure you'll be smitten at first glance.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Dog Days of Summer

Today, I fell asleep on a copy of The Economist in the garden.

I woke up with newsprint on my palm and drool on the grass.

It was so nice.

The Terrace Restaurant @ Le Meridien Hotel

"Your mum would like this," said John, looking around approvingly, as we dined in a hotel restaurant last year.  "Why?" I asked, suspiciously, my fork poised halfway to my mouth.  "Because it's in a hotel," he said.  I realized he was right: my mom has a real penchant for hotel fine dining.  As does her mother - on every trip to Hong Kong, my grandma insists on taking me to lunch at her favorite hotel in Hong Kong, which consists of an all-you-can-eat buffet of Chinese, Western and Japanese food, including a noodle and congee bar, where a chef in a crisp white uniform and chef's hat makes soup noodles to your exact liking.  So it runs in the family.

In attempt to "celebrate" our five and a half year anniversary (yes, we celebrate halves - deal with it) yesterday, John and I had originally planned a nice dinner at Bluebird, one of our favorites, in Chelsea.  But the thought of getting there (it's not the most convenient of places to get to and there's no parking nearby) was making us feel lazier by the second.  So instead of dreading our dinner, I decided to cancel our reservation and book the first Toptable deal I came across, which happened to be for The Terrace Restaurant at Le Meridien Hotel in Piccadilly - a 17-minute tube ride away (and a short enough distance from the station to the restaurant for me to navigate in heels).

I was sold by their high windows and glass ceiling, seduced by the idea of eating outside, without actually having to be outside.  The hotel itself was gorgeous - grand, but simultaneously understated, with modern furniture and decor.  I wouldn't mind staying there (if I win the lottery anytime soon).  As we filed into the restaurant on the second floor, I was struck by its coolness, despite being under greenhouse-like glass.  I was a little conscious of the fact that we were by far, the youngest diners there, but it didn't put me off, as the staff was as courteous and warm to us as any of the other guests.

I was particularly impressed by our waitress, who switched seamlessly between perfect French, German and English among different tables and unimpressed by the people who rocked up in denim shorts and baggy jeans.  Shudder. 

As for the food, we had booked the Toptable offer for 50% off our food bill, so the menu was our oyster, so to speak.  I had pork cutlets with butternut squash (creatively served in stacked parcels of paper-thin slices) as my main and an apple and blackberry crumble with vanilla ice cream for dessert.  Both were delicious, but the pork was ever-so-slightly overcooked and the crumble was ever-so-slightly watery.  We finished with an espresso each and the bill, which was perfectly fair.

If I were you, looking for a nice place to cool off on a hot summer evening, I'd book The Terrace.  It's swanky without being stuffy, delicious and delightful.  Dressing up isn't compulsory, but don't show up in jeans.  It's just ... wrong.

Why Links Trumps Tiffany's In My Book

I walked into the bedroom in a bad mood yesterday, looking for my earrings - and froze.  The bag on the left was sitting on the window seat, along with a card addressed to me.  I rubbed my eyes.  Surely I was dreaming - one of those PMS-induced hallucinations, caused by chocolate cravings and cramps.

I can't remember the first time I fell in love with the iconic Links of London Sweetie bracelet, which is ubiquitous in this city, along with Longchamp Le Pliage handbags - you see, Links and Longchamp are like Coach and Tiffany's to Londoners and for materialistic, shallow women like me, they're possessions to aspire to own.

My dad gave me my first Longchamp foldable bag in periwinkle blue and I used it religiously until the entire lining threatened to rip off and I'd worn holes in the corners.  I then marched myself to John Lewis, bit the bullet, and bought a new one in navy. 

So it was no surprise when I suddenly became fixated on a heavy, sterling silver charm bracelet dangling on the wrist of one woman's flawless, perfectly manicured hand on the tube.  It seemed to me the perfect, classic piece of jewellery - guaranteed to go with every outfit, every occasion (I told you I was shallow).  I had to have it.  And I vowed that in light of my recent promotion, I'd get it for myself.

But I hemmed and hawwed over it a little too long - stared at it on the Links website one too many times, debating whether or not I should buy it - because there it was, sitting in front of me on the windowsill.

Someone beat me to it.

Thank you, John - for five and half fantastic years of putting up with my materialistic shallowness.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Back-Up Plan: Be A Tour Guide

I used to be a tour guide for the Office of Admission at MHC.  In fact, I was a tour guide for three out of the four years I was at Mount Holyoke - I walked backwards in heels (back in the day when tour guides wore heels - I saw someone giving a tour in flip-flops once and almost had a heart attack), made grand gestures with my hands, described the significance of the library's stained glass in hushed whispers and patiently answered questions from overprotective parents in statistical-speak.  I loved it.  And I thought I did a pretty good job of making people want to go to MHC (what, with my bouncy hair and shouty voice). 

Nowadays, my tour guide instincts sometimes kick in when I pass tourists in London (though I keep them to myself, otherwise, that would be obnoxious).  "Here we are, London Bridge!" says an American woman to her husband.  'Err ... no,' I want to say.  'You're actually on Tower Bridge.  London Bridge is that boring one over there.'  I always have the urge to stop someone holding a map, looking confused.  "Can I help you find something?" I want to say, with a bright smile.  But it's not my place.  And I refrain.  Unless I'm approached by someone.  Then I love to help.  Once, when my mom was over, we were ambushed by a small group of Americans and Canadians, looking for some "local" restaurants around Maida Vale.  I swiftly took out a notebook, wrote down my list of the top 5 and their addresses.  Enthusiastic?  Yes, I am. 

So if I could, I'd love to provide a guided tour (for a small fee, of course - I gotta pay for my cupcakes, you know) to Americans, specifically, of central London.  Because I feel like as an American, you find different things interesting (like, where's the nearest cupcake shop) and you tend to want to compare and contrast London to your own familiar big cities (like English versus American cupcakes).  That's my back up plan.  Not sure how to get started, but I'd love to.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Love Ladurée

I go through these phases of having "favorites".  "Anthropologie is my favorite store," I'll gush.  "My favorite restaurant, like, ever, is Bluebird."  Of course, this varies accordingly.  And poor John is forced to endure and entertain my whims.  Rewind to last year ...

"What's that?" I point to a small bag.  "It's for youuuu," John coos.  "Ooh, where's it from?"  I say, as I peek inside.  "Your favorite storeeee," he sings.  "BANANA REPUBLIC???"  I scream.  "No," he says, and his face drops as I open a gorgeous Ted Baker bag with a tissue-paper wrapped leather wallet inside.  He looks crestfallen, while I look delighted at my gift.  "I thought Ted Baker was your favorite," he says, falteringly.  I think for a moment.  "Did I say that?  Oh, maybe I did.  But Banana is my favorite now.  Thanks, though!"  I say, clutching my new wallet and giving him a hug.  "I wanted to get you something from your favorite store though," he whines.  I roll my eyes.  "I change my mind sometimes."  

Ladurée is one of such "favorites" (I'd actually forgotten its existence until nearly mowing over a woman with one of their rather large signature green bags on her arm outside my office).  Basically, it's a luxury French macaroon shop based in Paris, with a few locations in London, namely one in Burlington Arcade near Regent Street, which used to cause my heart to palipitate (I've moved on to truffles now).  Their macaroons are certainly beautiful to look at - bright and pastel hues sandwiching color coordinated puffs of cream in flavors such as blackcurrant violet and caramel salted butter - but it's the packaging that makes my heart throb: the tissue paper, the carefully folded signature box, the sticker ... and finally ... the bag.

If you're going to visit a friend (a really, really good friend, that is) or celebrating a birthday, I would definitely swing by Ladurée - but be warned, it's not cheap.  After all, you're eating art.

Photo source

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cupcake Hate: Jealous, Much?

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.  I read a rather unfortunate article in the Guardian the other day, where the author spews venom at the American cupcake, calling it an "alien invasion from across the Atlantic" garishly decorated with "great wodges of lurid buttercream".  Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.  She then continues on to describe the superiority (or perhaps austerity?) of British "fairy cakes" - disappointingly flat versions of cupcakes, with a splatter of melted icing sugar (or as the author describes it:  "traditional non-fat glace stuff"). 

Jealous, much?  Maybe your 5-year-old, who has never been introduced to the wonder - no, glory - of our cupcakes will eat your devastatingly boring and uninspired "fairy cakes", but we Americans have been championing our own beautiful pastel creations way longer than bobble-head Carrie from Sex & The City has been stuffing her Manolo Blahnik-ed face with Magnolia Bakery duds, thank you very much.  Shame, too, since I've always thought fairy cakes were ... cute. 

Oooh, burn.

Photo source

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tuesday Morning Tube Rant: People Who Read Their Books and Papers On My Head

Yes, you read that right - on my head.  You know when you're on a crowded train carriage - nose to armpit with the person next to you (unfortunately I know alllllll too well)?  And it's one of those days when the tube is boiling hot and you think you're going to pass out because the "vents" just aren't blowing enough "cool" air through?  And some banker wanker has just stepped on your sandaled feet with his Church's Oxfords and deemed you too little of a mite to apologize?  And then all of a sudden ... you feel a rustle at the crown of your head.  At first, you think it's your imagination.  Then the rustle starts to become more than a tickle, and more like directly applied pressure.  You turn to find that this source of pressure is a man, in a suit, a good head and a half taller than you, pressing his goddamned paperback (am I supposed to be grateful that it's not a hardback?) or FT into your head.  What the hell.  Seriously?  Srsly?  So you give him the evil look.  Again, you're too small of a mite to matter so he ignores the look.  So then you do the passive aggressive thing and press back into the book.  Yes, that's right, use my head as a book stand and I'll use your book as a head rest.  Ahh ... I'm oh-so-comfortably settling into my new book-pillow when he suddenly pulls away, causing me to topple over backwards. 

The moral of the story is, I should get on an earlier train to avoid this from happening.  Or, people could have the decency to simply endure the 15 minute ride into work without reading their jaw-clenchingly-suspenseful-work-of-non-fiction-on-macroeconomics.

Monday, July 12, 2010

"Just run YOUR race."

On Sunday morning, I completed the ASICS British London 10K Run 2010, raising funds for Diabetes UK, a charity that is close to my heart.  I was pretty nervous before we headed out the door, as it's my first road race (I've only previously done Cancer Research UK's "Race for Life" 5K runs, which take place in parks and other scenic locations!) and I knew there'd be a lot of people.  My greatest fear was that I would have to walk part of the race due to the heat or the pain in my foot (which conveniently decided to hurt - a lot - before I left the house).  Though John doesn't regularly participate in road runs because of his bad knees, he does run often and can complete a 10K in an easy 45 minutes, without any preparation, to my jealousy.  His words of advice to me before I started off were, "Just run YOUR race."  And those words stuck with me throughout.  Even though I wanted to complete the run in less than an hour, I wasn't going to give myself too hard of a time over it if I didn't manage it.  So when my result of 1 hour, 4 minutes, 18 seconds came up, I was disappointed, but not too beat up about it.

The day itself was fabulous and had a great atmosphere - I met three runners standing behind me at the start who were also supporting Diabetes UK.  Turns out all three of them have diabetes and were running with insulin pumps and liquid glucose - truly inspirational.  It put all of the "issues" and "problems" I've been dealing with this week into perspective.

Afterwards, I met up with John, who had been patiently waiting for me (and snapping photos, of course!) and we went off for a nice celebratory birthday lunch for Natalie and her boyfriend Glen near Mile End.  The results looked like this:

It's not too late to sponsor me if you'd still like to ... please send an email to the email address on the right, and I'll send you the link to my sponsorship page.

Noah and the Whale @ Somerset House

I've never really gotten into Noah and the Whale, even though I love folk music.  They just cross my folk-boundary.  But seeing them live at Somerset House on Saturday completely changed my mind.  I now love them.  Love them.  And the folk-indie scene is always such a small world as I discovered (thanks to good ol' Wiki) that they're friends with Laura Marling and Johnny Flynn, whom I'm a fan of.

Aside from anything else, Somerset House, located only a stone's throw away from my office, is a fantastic summer venue.  During these months, the courtyard is transformed into a mini festival-like stage and yes, even an outdoor cinema.  People bring blankets and pillows along and it's a nice little hidden escape from the city - without ever really leaving the city.  And as I was saying to John while we were there, I generally like the vibe and atmosphere of outdoor shows more - everyone is a little more relaxed, happy and a little less aggro. 

Villagers opened for Noah and the Whale (though there was only one Villager, as Conor J. O'Brien's bandmates had apparently other obligations - weird).  Without the band it was ... quite bland.  I almost nodded off into my bottle of Orange Tango.  But when the main act took the stage, they owned it - which isn't difficult to do when you have a trumpet, trombone, violin, three backing singers, three guitarists and a drummer.  I loved how many middle-aged couples and children were present, which highlighted the band's vast appeal.  They played quite a few songs from their first album (which I am running out to get as we speak) and their second (which John owns and I'm more familiar with) and ended with one from their upcoming release, called L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N., (which took me FOREVER to spell and figure out in my head, by the way, as I'm a little developmentally delayed) which I predict to be a big hit across the pond as well, since it's very poppy and catchy - a slightly disappointing but understandable move from their more folky roots.

All in all, it was a fabulous show and I couldn't have thought of a better way to spend a warm Saturday night in July.  What topped off the night perfectly, however, was our 11:00 p.m. stop at McDonald's on the way home for a McFlurry - which I dipped my portion of small fries into, to John's disgust. 

If you haven't heard Noah and the Whale yet (I'm sure you know this song though ...), here's a little tune to start you off with:


Friday, July 9, 2010

Bless The Local Bus Drivers

I'm basically terrified of buses.  If you get off too early, you're screwed.  If you get off too late, you're screwed.  So when my dad came over to visit, I told him not to get on any random buses unless otherwise instructed (by me) - especially since some of them don't announce the stops (most of the London buses do now, although the 15, which I frequently took when living in East London, didn't - and it happened to be the bus passing through all the biggest tourist attractions, so I spent most of my bus ride home helping French and Spanish tourists find their way to the Tower of London).  Nowadays, I'm familiar enough with (most of) London that I don't mind getting on a random bus, even if it only takes me halfway to my destination, as long as it means I can change to another bus or tube. 

Local buses in smaller cities like York or Leicester, for example, are no exception to my fear.  In fact, they're slightly scarier because everyone except for me knows where they're going and the areas are more remote or unrecognizable to me.  But the drivers are generally nicer than central London bus drivers.  They usually don't mind helping you get you to your destination, whether it's reminding you at the stop or advising of a better route to take.  London drivers grunt and don't tend to make eye contact (then again, they're probably traumatized by London traffic and Londoners, so I forgive them).  So I like taking local buses whenever I can.

Today, I took the 5 outside Guildford train station to Royal Surrey County Hospital.  I like seeing all the little old ladies with their wheelie-shopping-bags and the way they greet the driver by name.  My favorite bus story (about myself, obviously), was the time I took the local bus from Alison's house in Wigston to Leicester city center because I wanted to go shopping and neither Alison nor John could accompany me.  Rather than be left home alone, I decided to brave the bus.

Getting there was fine, but I got a bit disoriented on my way back.  First of all, I couldn't remember where Alison lived.  Uh oh.  Slowly, I sidled up to the driver.  "Um ... like ... are we anywhere near [Alison's street name]?" I asked, gingerly.  I was the last one on the bus.  "Yes, we're nearing that street, where would you like to be dropped off?  Top or bottom of the road?" he asked cheerfully.  "Oh ... um ... well ... I don't really know, actually," I said, which I realized sounded stupid only after I had uttered it.  "Um ... it's like ..." and I trailed off.  "Well, I can take you wherever you'd like on the road, but you'll have to know where you live, unfortunately!" the driver laughed.  "Thanks," I said, "That's helpful.  Actually, you can just drop me off here," I said, when the street began to look familiar again.  "Here?" he asked, as he braked abruptly.  "Thanks so much," I said, hopping off.  "You have a nice day now, love," he replied.  I looked up and was relieved to see Alison's house in full view.  Door-to-door service - you can't get much better than that.

Photo source

Thursday, July 8, 2010

More American Stores, Please

In the past two days, I visited Banana Republic in Covent Garden three times during their summer sale for birthday gifts (and maybe a little £6.99 skirt gift for myself).  "Excuse me," I said excitedly to a shop assistant, while lifting up a skirt.  "Are these, like, in American sizes?"  I could not hide the happiness from my expression at her confirmation that yes, the clothes were the same as the US version (unlike Gap, whose European line and sizing are particular to ... Europe, which is, you know, great and all, but I still can't figure out if I'm a size 6 or size 12 in the UK.  Besides, it feels so much better to buy a 2 in Banana).  Something akin to pure joy rushes at me when I step into the BR store on Regent Street or Covent Garden (to be honest, nothing much less than joy rushes at me when I step into any retail store).  There's something so familiar, so homey, so American about the smart, preppy clothes and suiting meant for work - the lovely clean lines of classic-cut twill blazers and dresses that almost brings me to my knees.  I'm not even kidding (you don't want to know what happened when Anthropologie opened on Regent Street.  All I'm going to say is:  face pressed up against the window).  Truth is, BR is one of the places I hit up first when I go home the the US, and where I stock up on all my preppy essentials.  Brits don't do preppy, they do trendy.  They look flawless, on-trend and original.  We look like store mannequins (or at least, I do.  My style consists of seeing a Gap mannequin I like and buying everything in the same color scheme from top to toe).  And I'm okay with that.  In fact, I'm more than okay with it, I love it. 

I heard a rumor that Victoria's Secret is coming soon to the UK (airports don't count).  I sincerely hope that's true and not just someone pulling my leg, because if I can start buying my underwear in bulk, I'll be sorted - no more 5 for $25 trips to the mall when I go home and hauling panties back across the ocean. 

Watch out, Britain.  We're taking you over.  One Krispy Kreme at a time.  Cackle, cackle!

Photo source

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Remembering 7/7

This is a photo of the memorial in Hyde Park honoring the victims of the July 7th bombings in central London - a memorial I haven't yet actually seen, despite having visited Hyde Park several times since it was erected. 

Reading the BBC's coverage of remembrance this morning has brought tears to my eyes - just as much as reading, watching, or hearing about the events of 9/11 has in the past.  It's particularly difficult to read the survivors' stories; last week's Stylist had some insightful and heartbreaking entries from women who were affected in different ways - one a grief counsellor who worked with the doctors, nurses and emergency crews after the incident, another, a survivor who lost her legs but recently gave birth to a healthy baby girl.

On that day, I was spending my summer at Mount Holyoke under a research fellowship, working on my thesis.  John had just left the night before after a week-long stay with me in sticky hot Massachusetts, to return to London.  I knew his flight arrived that morning, so I logged into my email account to see if I had any news from him.  I didn't even know about the bombings until a friend IM-ed me and said, "Oh my God - did you hear about London?"  I replied that I didn't know what she was talking about and quickly went to the BBC website, where I spent the next 10 minutes or so scanning the headlines with my hand over my mouth.  Aside from the immediate shock, horror and disgust I felt, I remember panicking about John and his safety, as I knew he had to take the Piccadilly line straight into London from Heathrow and then a bus afterward - both which had been affected.  I tried calling him in vain for the next 2 hours, not knowing that the mobile phone lines would be cut off for some time, as in the case in these situations.  Hysteria.  I finally received an email from him about four hours later, saying that he was safe at his uncle's flat in Pimlico, but very shaken and stunned.  He only mentioned to me once about what he saw, but it was clear he had been traumatized by the experience. 

Sometimes when I take the tube into work, as I do every day without thinking, I become conscious of the fact that the risk is always there - as in any big city - for public transportation and other buildings to be targeted.  One day, I saw a man get on my carriage with a backpack and I just suddenly had a bad feeling.  It was paranoia, but I got off two stops early, just because that bad feeling wouldn't go away.  I remember arriving to my first day of work in a new building at a previous job in London and being "trained" in "what to do" in case a terrorist attack occurred, as that particular building was "high risk" for such events.  I don't walk around feeling nervous or scared, just as survivors and others of the British public who weren't directly affected that day stress:  that they don't want to give in to the fear the terrorists hoped (and hope) to create. 

But on each anniversary of 9/11 or 7/7, I'm jarred back into the very bleak reality that these "things" can and do occur.

Photo source

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tuesday Morning Tube Rant: People Who Search For Their Oyster Cards In Inconvenient Places

Alright, I admit it - I'm not a very patient person (John snorts at this as it's a mild way of describing my temperament in general).  But what is it with people who stop right in front of the barriers at tube stations to search for their Oyster cards?  Have it ready, people!  In Lauren Conrad's under-enunciated words, srsly!

This morning, I made my usual way down the stairs into Maida Vale tube station, by-passed the copies of the Metro on offer underneath the service update bulletin and turned a sharp right to make my way through the barriers.  It just so happened that there was only one barrier available this morning (aside from the big, slow, handicapped one) and a man was standing in front of it.  Not in front of it, like, as in, leaving a space for other people to get past, but in front of it as in, his body was touching the barrier itself.  In other words, A Barrier Hog.  He patted his left chest pocket for his Oyster card.  Nope, not there.  Right chest pocket.  Nope, not there either.  By this time, I was hemming and hawwing, pssshing and puffing behind him (this is the point where John laughs uncontrollably at my distress if he were present).  So I took a step forward in effort to rudely shove my way past.  Oh no, he stepped forward too.  Checked his back pocket.  Nope.  So I stepped back.  He stepped back.  It was like we were doing some kind of two-step dance.  Front pocket.  Ah, bingo.  FUH-FREAKING FINALLY!  Four pockets later, he found his travel treasure. 

It's not a first - people do this all the time - especially during the most convenient times, like, rush hour at Oxford Circus, or in my case, Embankment.  Look, if you can't find your Oyster, kindly step aside and search your four, five, six, seven pockets.  Don't hold up the rest of the people who are, you know, like, on their way to someplace?

Monday, July 5, 2010

My Cup of Tea

I'm such a sad person:  I'll basically enter any giveaway or contest that I think I have a remote chance of winning (and sometimes do - see today's post on partying with Perez Hilton and my £1 Jonathan Saunders purchase which friends and family are sick of hearing about by now) and take advantage of any and all freebie offers.  Gross, huh? 

A little while ago, Twinings had an offer on their website (which they're still doing, if you're interested) for you to sample two teas of your choice, on them.  So naturally, I filled in the appropriate fields and had two samples sent to me, one of their white tea and the other of Rose Garden, which is essentially Lady Grey with a hint of rose.  So lovely.  I usually dislike Earl Grey because of bad memories associated with that tea (not going to go into detail), but the rose twist was wonderfully aromatic and sent all the bad feelings away.  Shame I can't find it in any supermarkets.  If you stumble upon it, do try it - it's literally like drinking a rose, in tea form.

Photo source

I Partied With Perez

I'm a pretty big fan of Perez Hilton's celeb gossip blog (although I once gave myself a self-imposed ban on his website, due to his relentless negativity and hatred towards oh, everyone and anyone he doesn't endorse).  It's mostly offensive and controversial, so I read it all with a grain of salt, tongue-in-cheek, all that stuff.  I'm not going to explain who he is or what he does here, so if you really must know (if you already don't), Wiki him on your own time.  

Anyways, scrolling through for my daily fix of celebrity abuse, I came across an ad on his website for his One Night In London party at the IndigO2 (a smaller venue within the O2).  "CLICK HERE TO WIN FREE PASSES," it said.  So I did.  I forgot all about it until later that week when I received an email saying, "Congratulations!  You've won a pass to Perez's One Night In London party for you and a guest!"  I was pretty excited, to say the least, and emailed John right away to see if he'd be up for it (the predicted answer was 'no', but he surprised me by saying 'yes').  

I had no idea what to expect and thought we'd stay for about an hour or so and leave if it was really awful.  We got to the venue around 10 and about half an hour later, Perez himself took the stage.  Wow.  He is a celebrity in his own right and I see him all the time on other websites, magazines, newspapers, etc., so it was totally surreal seeing him there on stage.  And, it must be said, he has lost a LOT of weight.  His face was like, chiseled.  

First in the line-up were The Hoosiers of "Goodbye Mr. A" fame - they played a song from their new album which will be released in August and were actually amazing live.  Unfortunately, the insufferable Diana Vickers followed, which promptly put me in a bad mood.  

She annoyed me on The X Factor and apparently, still rubs me the wrong way.  But she did do a cover of one of my favorite Snow Patrol songs ("Say Yes") and didn't entirely butcher it ... one thing I will say though, is that the girl has a lot of energy (and for the record, she was barefoot) as she was persistently jumping up and down (her one dance move) and pulling up her dress (which she's doing in this photo, I think - apologies for the poor quality, I took them all on my phone).

The biggest surprise (for me, at least) of the night was the appearance by one of my favorite singers/musicians/artists/crazy-freaks, Peaches (NOT Geldof).

John was thoroughly scandalized but I told him to stop being prudish.  Since my mom and John's mum read this blog, I won't go into who Peaches is or what she's about, but all I can say is that I think she is absolutely the bee's knees for being as inflammatory and obscene as she is - and unapologetically so (the fact that she also underwent at least five different costume stages while on stage also earned my respect.  And because the club was only to about half capacity, she interacted with the audience a lot ("Jesus walked on water, Peaches walks on YOU.") and at the end of her set, jumped off the stage on my side and trotted past us - in the bad-ass way only Peaches could.

The act John and I were both there to see, however, was Kelis (though John's more of a fan than I am - he drunkenly shouted into my ear before the show started, "Kelis has TALENT.  She is TALENTED.  Not like the other people we've seen so far.  (pause)  SHE'S GOT TALENT!!!"  Okay, okay, I get it.  You love Kelis.  Sheesh.). 

When she came on at half past midnight, the crowd went a bit crazy ... she is, after all, Kelis.  And my God - that woman has the most amazing body (especially after having a child!  And yes, she's wearing a beaded wig - only Kelis could get away with that).  She did a very short (about 20 minutes) set that was mixed by 2 DJs on stage, which included "Millionaire" (which none of the snotty teen girls in matching tights and skirts in front of us knew, to my satisfaction) and a mash-up of Madonna's "Holiday" and Kelis's own famous "Milkshake". 

The only crappy part of the night was getting home, as the Jubilee line was down and we bus hopped for two hours (yes, two hours) around East, South and finally Central London before being dropped off at Warwick Avenue.  I don't mind getting home at 3 a.m., but I wish 2 hours of that wasn't due to poor transportation options.  Sort it out, TFL. 

All in all, an absolutely amazing night - thanks, Perez, for letting us in for free!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

It's Cake Time!: Happy Fourth of July!

Two years ago, I was invited to a 4th of July party held by John's American then-boss, at his sprawling (by English standards) home in Gerrards Cross.  "I'll make some cupcakes!" I said enthusiastically to John, when he said I could come along.  "Err ... great!" he said, trying to sound positive.  But he and I both knew the truth - the closest I'd come to an oven was watching him lift a roast dinner out from my position on the couch.

Who was I kidding?  I didn't know how to bake.  I bought a cake mix from Tesco and some icing sugar, plus some cute marzipan toppings.  Then I went back to my flat and "baked" the mixture.  It turned out like cornbread.  Undeterred, I added the icing sugar on top (which resembled a glaze as it melted) and pushed a tiny marzipan froggy's face into the top.  Satisfied with my creations, I put them in a tupperware container and brought them to the party.  My confidence was knocked when I saw the counter lined with Krispy Kreme donuts and homemade pies - and to add insult to injury, my cupcakes never even made it to the dessert table outside.  At the end of the night, I collected them before leaving, still intact in their tupperware containers - the little marzipan faces staring up at me.  I waited until East London to burst into tears as John tried to comfort me and I ended up throwing them in the trash, even though he insisted on stuffing 2 or 3 in his mouth and saying, "Mmm ... these are so good!" in a way only the kind and generous John could - anyone else would have ... well, subtly but purposefully omitted them from their dessert table.


Behold my creation above.  It wasn't for a 4th of July party - a friend of John's, actually, was hosting a cake and tea party for her belated birthday celebrations.  When I saw the words, "make", "bring", and "cake", I knew this was my chance (though only personal to me ... no one else at that party could have possibly known the emotional element my red, white and blue masterpiece held) to restore my baking self-confidence (yes, you read that correctly - I used, no, hijacked, someone else's party for my own selfish motives).

Again, I went to Tesco, but this time for raw ingredients, rather than a cake mix.  Blueberries and strawberries were expensive, for some reason, so I opted for the cheaper raspberries instead (they ended up working better on my small round cake anyways).  And for once, my icing was stiff and spread well, unlike the other times I've made it.  All was well in the land of cake preparation.  Now all it had to do was pass the taste test. 

I'm always nervous when making cakes for people I don't know, because I can't cut myself a slice and make sure it doesn't taste awful.  So I was really pleased to receive compliments about the cake at the party, with one guest asking me for the recipe before I left. 

I'll never make those picture-perfect, gorgeous cakes you see in books and they'll never taste gourmet - but at least they (hopefully) won't go unnoticed or ignored on someone's kitchen counter again.

Happy Fourth, everybody.

Friday, July 2, 2010


So while we're on the subject of (unhealthy) food, I gained a lot of weight when I met John.  That's because, as an American newly introduced to the wonders of English tea (with milk), chocolate covered digestive biscuits (I went through approximately 1 1/2 tubes per week ... normal people go through about 1/3 of a pack in one week, if that) and British puddings from the St. Catherine's College dining hall (formally referred to as simply "hall"), I was a little ... enthusiastic with my food.

Anyways, when I met John (fittingly, stuffing my face across a dining table in hall), I was in the middle of quite the overeating breakfast routine.  Every morning, I'd saunter into the Catz JCR and proceed to order the following:  one banana and toffee muffin (muffin as in, like, the big calorific kind you get from Starbucks - not to be confused by the savory "English muffin"), one cup of milky English tea and one cheese toastie.

Yup, the American spellcheck on Blogger just flagged up the word "toastie".  'That's just a grilled cheese sandwich,' you say (or rather, sniff, haughtily).   Oh no.  It's not "just" a grilled cheese sandwich.  It's so much more.  There's the ceremonious sprinkling and stuffing of grated - yes, grated, not sliced - cheese between two slices of Warburtons (or Kingsmill, depending on your allegiance), plus the addition of ham or tomato, if you so wish.  But for breakfast, I had cheese.  Can we say artery-clogging disaster?  Then there's the wonderful toastie makers that keep all the loose pieces of cheese in so any danger of fire or burnt pieces of cheese is made improbable.  Then there's the wondrous way it's served - sliced diagonally (never horizontally) and placed squarely in the middle of a plate, with absolutely no garnish at all, with most of the cheese melted but some pieces flaking onto the plate as you lift it to your mouth (clearly, I overanalyze my moments of food consumption).

Like grilled cheese sandwiches, toasties are a great comfort food.  And last weekend, when we stopped off in Leicester for a break before heading on to London, I peered into Alison's fridge for some lunch (I'm polite like that - making myself too at home).  "Jaime, would you like to make a cheese toastie?" she asked.  She handed me a vegetable peeler and a hunk of mature cheddar.  "I just bought these toastie bags from Aldi, so just pop it into a bag when you're finished and put it in the toaster."  I was suitably amazed.  Reusable toastie bags?  Yes, please.  And they worked.  Really well.  So I asked her to please purchase a pack of toastie bags for me the next time she was in Aldi and I would repay her when we next met.

But that's not Alison's style.  No, instead, she purchased two sets of bags and sent them to me via Royal Mail, in a neat envelope addressed to me in her signature cursive writing, along with a lovely handwritten card of a pen and ink study by George Ernest Airey of Ripon - which all arrived in today's post.  What a way to make my Friday.

I just might re-live my Oxford mornings this weekend.  Thank you, Alison.

Oh Domino

My diet has been pretty disgusting lately.  I had about two weeks of eating healthily - i.e. stocking the fridge with fresh fruit, snacking on carrots (yes, carrots - if you know me, you'll know that this is a huge step), nuts, etc.  Then it all spiralled out of control.  My memory's a bit hazy, but I think my descent into the fifth circle of junk food hell (where I presently reside) started when we went over to visit John's bro, Tom, who had just had his appendix out.  Upon arriving at his and Cristy's awesome new flat in Finsbury Park, they suggested we order Domino's pizza.  Now, I don't think I've ever had Domino's in the UK, but I've had my fair share of pizzas (Pizza Express, anyone?) and they've all been very tasty ... just not ... very ... American. 

I love American pizzas.  Don't get me wrong, I really like the more authentic ones that are served here (with a sprinkling of cheese, a sprinkling of parma ham ... and a sprinkling of not much else) too, but it's like someone saying they enjoy Tex-Mex more than authentic Mexican food.  Is that bad?  Probably.  Do I care?  Not really.  I love a thick, deep dish pizza with a loaded crust, lots of toppings and lashings of cheese.  I love toppings and cheese that melt into each other and that amazing sight of black olives, green peppers and pepperoni toppling over as I attempt to pull a slice from the box.  That's the best pizza moment.  So when our Domino's pizza arrived at the door (we did half and half - The Extravaganzza for me and The Sizzler for him), I was expecting a watered down version of our greedily-loaded pies, but nearly wept with joy when being greeted with the same, piping hot, deep dish, topping-filled pizzas of the USA.

As I was a guest in Tom and Cristy's new home, I behaved myself and didn't act too excited, but inside, I was jumping for joy.  After that, not even a week had passed before John asked, "Should we order Domino's tonight?" and I couldn't pass it up.  It's not even like we eat pizza a lot at home in Washington - maybe once in a while, but for some reason, I've been missing it almost as much as I miss the Costco hot dogs

And you know, it's Friday ... I've been running ... working hard ... where's that delivery number?

Photo source

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Last Sunday, I played in my second concert with the Royal Orchestral Society (that's me with the stand obscuring my face), which was fun and exciting because we played Sibelius's Finlandia, Dvorak's 8th Symphony and a Dvorak Slavonic Dance (#2) as an encore (yes, I purposely failed to mention the Scriabin Piano Concerto in that line-up because I was not a fan) but even more fun and exciting because I had friends in the audience (this is a big deal because 3 years ago, I had zero friends in London ... and even even more fun and exciting was a special surprise appearance by Alison at the very end, though she appeared and disappeared as quickly as a fairy godmother).  It was a sweaty (literally - especially as the stage lights were atrociously bright) performance, as the concert fell on one of the hottest days of the week (30 degrees Celsius, or 86 degrees Fahrenheit), but nevertheless enjoyable - and I only had to fake my way through 25% of it (the key is to just make sure your bow is going the same direction as your stand partner's - especially if your stand partner happens to be the principal second violinist - even if your fingers can't move as fast).

Dress rehearsal was a different story, however.  I was pretty annoyed to miss the England World Cup game (where I wanted to see England pummelled by the Germans - revenge for all the anti-American/patronizing comments the commentators and the British peanut gallery made during every game the USA played in) and even more annoyed at being simply unable to decipher what the hell the conductor was saying (you'd think I'd learn my lesson from last time).  "Cellos, you're coming off too early on that dotted minon." Minon.  Minon.  WHAT THE £$%& IS A MINON?  Next time, I'm bringing a cheat-sheet to rehearsal and placing it at my feet.  Honestly. 

I'm looking forward to the next rehearsal in September already ... even though I'm not a fan of the Verdi Requiem.  It was a year ago that I saw that girl on the tube with a violin case - an observation that caused me to pluck up my courage and join this orchestra.  I wistfully imagined the day I'd walk around with random fragments of pieces drifting through my head, leftover from a previous rehearsal - and now I do.  I've made some great friends through the experience as well and am just thankful for it all.
© angloyankophile

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