Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Graze: Nature Delivered (AKA How to Help a Snack-a-holic)

Once, I emailed my co-worker to ask if he was free for lunch and wanted to grab wonton noodles with me in Chinatown. "Sure," he wrote back. "But I take my lunch at 1 pm - is that too late for you?" "???" I replied. "Your lunch seems to run from 10 am - 4 pm," he wrote. "Every time I come up to your office, you have food out on your desk during those hours. It's nearly a 24/7 spread." "I SNACK," I wrote back faux-angrily. "It's called GRAZING," I faux-fumed.

"You should eat a more substantial and slow-releasing energy breakfast," advised another colleague. "I make myself a bowl of steel-cut oatmeal every morning with a generous helping of almonds, walnuts and a handful of goji berries." "Mmm hmm," I nodded, scribbling down notes while wiping away a remnant of Nutella smeared on my pinky - evidence of my cinnamon and raisin bagel breakfast habit.

I get hungry mid-morning. So what? Rather than stress about it, I buy myself snacks. Which is fine except that I sometimes don't have enough forward planning to buy materials in advance and end up raiding the biscuit cupboard at work when I find myself shaking with low blood sugar around 11:30 a.m. - a lot. In emergencies, this is probably fine, but not good on a regular basis. So I tried to buy a pack of dried fruits and nuts at Sainsbury's to last me through the week. This was also, in theory, a good plan, except for the fact that I got so BORED of dried fruits and nuts, I felt like a freaking grey squirrel. I took the rest of the pack to the park and fed it to one. Just kidding. (But I thought about it.)

My snacking is also somewhat compulsive. The nature of my job means that I spend a lot of time problem solving or explaining things to people or writing long, angry emails (AKA negotiating). And when I'm deep in concentration, I tend to snack. Or chew gum.

Enter the Graze box: for £3.49, this compact little box with four compartments filled with different varieties of snacks that you choose arrives at your office desk once a week or as often as you'd like. Skeptical, I paid a visit to yet another co-worker, whose husband had given her a Graze subscription as a present one year. She loved them. And since Graze was running a promotional deal where you can get your first box free and your next box half price, I decided to try it.

Graze gives you the opportunity to choose what kind of box you'd like: 1) a "Nibble Box", which gives you maximum variety and is no-holds-barred when it comes to what kind of snacks you get (yes, it includes the occasional piece of chocolate in the form of, say, a chocolate button) 2) an "Eat Well Box", which includes strictly healthy foods and the occasional "treat" 3) the "Boost Box", which is the strictest, most nutritional box that consists of nuts, seeds, and maybe dried fruit and 4) the "Light Box" which contains low calorie nibbles. You can guess where this story is going, right? I started with the "Boost Box". New year, new me, right? Then, my face fell when I realized that, duh, I couldn't get chocolate buttons in the Boost Box. So then my finger hovered over the Eat Well Box. Nixed that idea in about 2 seconds. Then the Light Box. Finally I gave up and just headed over to the Nibble Box. You can choose what snacks you "love", "like", want to "try" or simply "bin" (AKA never have it delivered. EVER.). Click, done.

I admit it, when my first box arrived, I was so excited (and hungry) I kind of nearly ate the whole thing. My first box had "Billionaire's Shortbread", a mix comprised of dried cranberries, small toffee slices, and white chocolate buttons. Heavenly. The other sections had kalamata and halkidiki olives (weird for a mid-morning snack, but hey, you could have those mid-afternoon ... or at 9:30 a.m. Not saying that I did. Not saying that I did), cinnamon and apple flapjacks (YUM! And - butter, whoa!), and herb-y rice crackers. They were great. And the best thing is that you can rate your snacks after you've received them so you can ensure that you either get them again, often, or never ever again. I was like, so glad I didn't opt for the Eat Well Box. I'd just be grumpy. But then again, I haven't stepped on the scale lately ...


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Best Friends Get UGG-ly Together

That's Udita on the left and me on the right.

After agonizing over whether or not to buy a pair of UGGs for oh, a few years, Udita finally took the plunge - but not before also agonizing over what color and height she should buy ("Gray or chocolate brown? I think gray but then you sent me that email that said I should get chocolate brown so now I really think I should get chocolate brown. But the gray look good too!") then experiencing buyer's remorse ("I totally should have gotten the long chocolate browns, not the short grays. I totally regret it. Do you like them? You think so? You think the gray look good?").

So momentous was this decision that we decided to co-ordinate our outfits so we'd both be wearing our UGGs when meeting each other for lunch a couple weeks ago.

Having lunch with Udita and writing tormented emails to each other about what color UGGs and iPad covers to buy reminded me of my New Year's resolution to make more of an effort to visit my friends - wherever they are in the world. This especially hit home this weekend after Adeline's third (or fourth? Or even fifth?) trip down to London to stay with me and my lousy one-time trip to Edinburgh to see her.

This picture reminds me of how lovely my real friends are and how precious the time I have with them truly is.

Ashtanga Yoga @ The Life Centre, Islington

I've been fortunate enough to live near two, well-known and established yoga studios during my time in London: the Iyengar Institute in Maida Vale and now The Life Centre in Islington. And while my previous experience at the Iyengar Institute was a little, erm, overwhelming, it still made me reassess my current yoga practice and I came away with some very helpful corrections/adjustments from the instructor.

So when I attended the Ashtanga Level 1-2 community class at The Life Centre on Friday with Adeline, I went with an open mind - but also with the intention to get my butt kicked. And I did. Have my butt kicked, that is. I still can't lift my arms above my head and the class was on Friday. Like, ow?

While I can't envision myself being able to afford the £13, sometimes £15 per class fee at The Life Centre on a regular basis, the community classes are priced at a more affordable £7 and seemed to be the perfect opportunity for me and Adeline to take a class together in my neighborhood (we took Lauren's class together last time she visited and I took her regular Ashtanga class at Union Yoga when I was in Edinburgh).

The class was taught by Ulric Whyte, whose soothing voice and slower-paced Ashtanga sequences helped calm me as I had been hysterically running around (with poor Adeline in tow) trying to make it to the class on time, after a bus had severely delayed our efforts. But after a few too many vinyasas, I couldn't resist the urge to rest in child's pose and now my triceps are paying the price.

The studio is a incredibly calming, quiet haven away from the hustle and bustle of Angel and Essex Road. Inside, you can't hear any cars or noises from the street interrupting your practice and the wood floors, gentle lighting and warm studio help you focus on your breath and asanas. I was also pleasantly surprised at the size of the class, which was considerably small-medium sized (granted, it was in the middle of a Friday afternoon) and it made me wish I had more free Fridays to take off, just so I could make it to the class again. And despite the multiple chaturangas, the pain made savasana feel ever-so-sweet.

Thai With A Twist: Suda Thai, Covent Garden

St. Martin's Courtyard in Covent Garden is my new favorite escape: quiet, tucked away, and full of my favorite stores (Twenty8Twelve, Jaeger, and the newly discovered French organic skincare brand, Melvita) it also currently boasts a pop-up concession from Glassworks, a newly opened yoga studio and is, above all, QUIET. Struggling past tourists down Long Acre on my way to Zara is enough to give me heart palpitations, but slipping into St. Martin's Courtyard is like a little sanctuary. At least, for now - until more people stop forgetting it exists and start spoiling it for me.

Meanwhile, I have Suda Thai to enjoy. Since its opening last year, I've been for lunch and dinner on several occasions and its delicious and diverse menu means I get to try something each time - not just stick to my boring usual of pad thai (although their version is delish).

When Udita was in town a few weeks ago, we met there for lunch and caught up on life, shopping, and everything in between. I always order a lychee juice as their juices are freshly pressed and their juice options are both varied and plentiful.

I also love the contemporary interior and spacious seating, which means even at its peak times, you can still hear your dining partner's conversation without having to shout - rare for London restaurants and a real blessing. Service is prompt, polite, and attentive.

Though I'm a big fan of their noodle dishes, I'd also recommend their rice and salad options.

I took a leaf from Udita's book when I met up with a co-worker for lunch last week and ordered the Gae Yang Som Tum: grilled lamb chop with lemongrass and chilli dressing, served with som tum (a spicy Thai salad consisting of fresh green papaya, fish sauce, dried shrimp, chilis, garlic, and lime). The sticky rice that is optional (but advised) is stickier than what I'm used to, but apparently more traditional. My only complaint is that I managed to accidentally eat a whole clove of garlic, thinking it was something else. Oops. Needless to say, I avoided meetings for the rest of the afternoon. Dragon breath.

Prices are very reasonable (read: cheap) and the experience is one that is both enjoyable and calming. I'll definitely be a returning regular.

Photos courtesy of Udita Iyengar. 

Favorite Gift #7: Dinner at Asia de Cuba and Sleeping Beauty @ The Royal Ballet

Yes, it's been over a month since my birthday passed and we're soon about to hit John's birthday, and I'm still blogging about my presents ... I can't help sharing!

Shortly after my birthday, Jodi sent me a text asking if I was free on Thursday. I texted back, saying that I had planned on taking a ballet class with a friend after work, but nothing could have prepared me for what she responded with: "You'll still be doing something ballet-related, since I got tickets for us to see Sleeping Beauty at The Royal Opera House!" I kind of almost passed out with excitement. Despite my obsession with ballet and frequent visits to Sadler's Wells, I hadn't yet made it to see The Royal Ballet. I immediately called off my plans to work on my plie at the Central School of Ballet and met Jodi instead at Asia de Cuba, where she had booked a table for two.

Though we were booked in for the pre-theatre menu, our food took some time to arrive, which was a shame since we were rushed. The courses selected from the set menu were nevertheless delicious and I particularly remembered my dessert, which was Caribbean carrot cake served with a lemongrass-infused raisin ice cream and pineapple cream cheese frosting, which was at once creative, delectable, and cool. Jodi opted for the Mexican doughnuts, which she had apparently had before and loved, consisting of sweet brioche doughnuts rolled in cinnamon sugar and filled with butterscotch sauce. YUM. Because we were in such a rush and waited for over half an hour for our main courses (which would have been completely reasonable, had we not been trying to make our seats at the ROH), the ever-helpful staff offered to comp one of our meals - a meaningful gesture we appreciated. Thankfully, we're returning to the restaurant for John, Joe, and Peter's birthdays this week (yes, they all have birthdays within a few days of each other) so we can really sit back and enjoy the experience without the mad dash.

And on to the ballet ... I certainly hadn't expected to be seven rows from the stage, and when I discovered that we, in fact, were, I teared up a bit when the curtain rose. For someone who studied ballet from the ages of 2 - 17 and used to pore over her subscription of Dance Magazine page-by-page, the incredible view was overwhelming. I can't remember the last time I was actually able to see the expressions on dancers' faces, let alone the details of their costumes and footwork - I'm usually squinting from the nosebleed section, obscured by a column.

The dancing was spectacular (albeit with a few near misses - Princess Aurora nearly lost her balance in one particularly tricky partnered arabesque and a principal dancer did actually lose his balance and fell backwards after completing a tours en l'air) and the set was absolutely magical. As the first ballet I ever had a part in (I was 8 and I'm pretty sure my lilac costume is still lurking in my closet at home somewhere), Sleeping Beauty has always made an impression on me and seeing it performed by The Royal Ballet, at the risk of sounding cliched, was truly a dream come true.

The evening was one of the best gifts I've ever received and I was so touched by Jodi's thoughtfulness that it'll definitely be a present I'll never forget. Thanks, Jodi!

Photo source 
© angloyankophile

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