Thursday, August 30, 2012

It's An American Thing: Alliterative Names For Siblings

John thinks it's hilarious that my brother and I have alliterative first names. Then again, John and I have alliterative first names, as do our best friends, Joe and Jodi (we also know another couple named Jamie and James - and no, it doesn't stop there. We know more "Js".).

Now, this doesn't always hold true, but I tried to explain that a lot of American parents give their children names that begin with the same letter and that this practice isn't just limited to the Kardashians (ahem, Kourtney, Kim, Khloe) or the Duggar family (of 19 Kids and Counting fame).

"At least," I sniped, "Americans don't recycle the same names over and over again for generations." Ooooh ... smackdown.

What do you think? Would you give your children alliterative names? Do you share the same first initial as your sibling?

The wax seal initial necklace above is from Pyrrha, and I kind of want it.

Monday, August 27, 2012

I love London as much as the next person, but ...

... is this too much?

It seems that British high-street favorite, Oasis, has jumped on the #loveLondon/#London2012/Olympic mania and released their own little, London-inspired collection, which includes this London City Scape shift dress (£70) above.

Here's a closer look at the pattern:

What do you think?

I'm not entirely convinced the pattern works - at least, not as a shift. Maybe if it was on a vintage, flared skirt day dress instead? Also, I'm just not sure how I feel about having the O2, of all things, poking out of my chest. The fact that every landmark is drawn, literally, on top of each other, just highlights the overcrowded aspect of this city and kind of gives me a panic attack just from looking at it. Breathe. Breathe.

What I do like, however, is the pattern featured on a tote bag or a notebook - both of which are available from Oasis as well.

Bottom line is, I won't be hitting the stores for this any time soon.

Cadbury Rolls Out Their Own Version Of Chocolate Covered Pretzels

The very first blog post I wrote was on snacks that reminded me of "home". In it, I waxed lyrical about the virtues of chocolate covered pretzels, or Pretzel Flipz, as they're branded in the States. Very salty and equally sweet, they're the one snack I pick up every time I'm back in the US.

But now, a game changer has entered the arena: Cadbury has made their own version of chocolate covered pretzels. I see a future for myself in this country.

I picked up a pack last week to test and brought them along with me on my trip to the Yorkshire Dales.

The result? Well, they're chocolate covered pretzels, made with creamy, Cadbury milk, but they're just not quite as satisfying as the American kind. "They're not ... crunchy enough," John mused between bites. Being the typical American, I observed: "They're not as big." The pretzels themselves also just aren't salty enough. Would it be wrong if I melted them a little and rolled them in some rough sea salt? Probably.

But at least they're here. I wonder how many Brits will actually buy them. Most seem repelled by the suggestion of this salty and sweet combination. "You cannot mix savory and sweet!" I've been told time and time again. "Don't knock it 'til you've tried it," I've responded smugly, tossing Pretzel Flipz back as the people I'm with look on in disgust.

Have you tried Cadbury's new chocolate covered pretzels? Are you a fan of this flavor combination?

Monday, August 20, 2012

London In A Box

In case you're wondering what the new banner on this blog is a photo of, it's Muji's London In A Box, which was a housewarming present from Alice and Matt.

Isn't it adorable? You can buy it here.
I know it's for kids, but it also makes a great piece of interior decoration for adults. I love the fact that we can see so many of the buildings featured (such as the BT Tower and Gherkin) on the skyline outside our apartment window.

For NYC transplants (ahem, Ruth and Suzy!), they also have New York In A Box - and for Francophiles, Paris In a Box.

I kind of wish they would make Seattle In A Box, though I suppose the only structure that's familiar enough to stand-out would be the Space Needle.

Any other cities you think they should add?

Chilango Islington Celebrates Its 5th Anniversary With Free Burritos

Chilango is my ultimate go-to place for Tex Mex in London. Hands down. John and I love it so much, we once drove for nearly an hour from Maida Vale to Angel, just to grab one of their amazing - not to mention, gigantic - burritos.

On Saturday, the Islington branch celebrated their 5th anniversary in Islington by giving away free burritos from 12-8 pm. I texted Ruth to ask if she and Peter had gotten any, but she replied that the line stretched four buildings in length, so they nixed the plan.

But on my way back from dropping off John's bag to him at King's Cross, I couldn't help but jump off the bus in Angel to see what all the fuss was about. The line was long (by now, it had stretched to about six or eight store-fronts in length) but moved fairly quickly. Also, the pain of standing in a long queue was ameliorated by carnival-inspired dancers wearing next-to-nothing performing samba and pulling out random people from the queue (which had now become a crowd) to dance with. So that was fun. And I got chatting to a friendly Northern Irish girl in front of me, who marveled at the thought of a free burrito at the end of the tunnel.

Once inside, we actually had a choice of customized burritos - so they weren't simply wrapping and handing them out. The staff was also extremely friendly and excited, which is surprising, considering they'd been dealing with over 2,000 people that day and I went towards the end of the evening. Very impressive.

I went with this bad boy:

A prawn and char-grilled vegetable burrito with guacamole, 'natch. Needless to say, I was very happy with my decision.

I'd highly recommend it.

It's Cake Time: Patriotic Cakes

I haven't posted a Cake Time post in a loooooooong time. In fact, I think this was the first cake I've ever baked in our new flat. The oven is a lot hotter than the previous apartments I've lived in, so I've had the adjust the temp ever so slightly from the one mentioned in the recipe.

To celebrate the Olympics a couple weekends ago, I hosted a little get-together at my place and made two Victoria sponges (virtually the same as the one from this post). I decorated both with berries, making the American flag on one cake and an attempt at the Union Jack (above) with the other. Aren't I lucky that both countries sport red, white, and blue? It made decorating the flat easier too.

This is a fantastic, easy cake to make and a British classic to boot. It takes hardly any time at all, minimal ingredients, and is basically fool-proof. The addition of berries in the summer make it perfect for picnics in the park as well.

What's your favorite kind of cake?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"Would you like roast potatoes, russet potatoes, mashed potatoes, potato salad, baked potato, or rice pilaf with that?"

When people in the UK ask me what I miss about the US, one word immediately springs to mind: choice.

Admittedly, most of this has to do with food. For instance, the choice to have a Dairy Queen Blizzard at 10:00 p.m. at night, the choices of five different types of tortilla chips in the grocery store and the choices of smoothie combinations at Jamba Juice (or my personal favorite, Emerald City Smoothie) still blows my mind. The other day, Alice came up to my desk at work and said, "I just had the most amazing ice-cream flavor - you'll never guess. Although you might, since you're American. It's called ... rocky road?" I pitied her. I did. What I also did, however, was laugh at her (which was mean). I can't imagine what the ice cream freezer at Tesco was like before the introduction of Ben and Jerry's. Chocolate or vanilla? Even now, B&J flavors are extremely limited in British grocery stores - even the big ones.

Americans are, as the saying goes here, "spoilt for choice" (cue obesity jokes).

Having lived abroad for quite a few years now, I'm no longer used to all this variety. I've simply adapted to the pared down options offered to the rest of the general British public. I can tell I'm used to it because my parents pity me when I go back to visit them, just as I pitied Alice, standing before me at my desk describing her first interaction with rocky road ice-cream.

My mom's favorite phrase to use when I become indecisive over which flavor of chocolate covered pretzels to buy (they come in white, swirls, dark, milk) is, "Buy them all! They're 10 for $10! Buy them all!" At the conclusion of dinner, my dad pushes away from the table, looks at me with a laugh in his eye and bellows, "BLIZZARD!!!" It means that he'll drive to Dairy Queen and pick up the Blizzard of my choice (usually Heath Bar or Banana Cream Pie). When I politely decline after my fifth consecutive night of Blizzards, he looks crestfallen. "Ok-ayy," he says, throwing his hands up. "Up to yo-uu."

This is a long, roundabout way of telling you about the choices that delight me the most when I'm "back home" dining at a typical, suburban, middle-class restaurant: deciding on which salad dressing and side to have.

I love how they come out in a tumble from the server's mouth: "Wouldjoulike (deep breath) ranchcaesaritalianthousandislandfrenchbalsamicvinaigrettesundriedtomatovinaigretteorhoneymustard with your salad?" Seasoned pros like my dad will answer with a confident, "Thousand island", and a nod. I now have to ask once, twice, sometimes even three times for the poor man/woman to repeat him/herself. Then they're on to the sides: "Wouldjoulike (deep breath) roastpotatorussetmashedpotatopotatosaladbakedpotatoorricepilaf with your steak?" The fact that these salads and sides are often on the mediocre side of things doesn't matter to me. What matters is that I'm paying $18.95 for my lobster tail and it comes with a salad and potatoes, y'all!

My heart breaks when I return to the UK to dine in restaurants where "sides" cost upwards of £4.95 each. Sigh.

What's your favorite "side"?

Photo source

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Wearing Your College Logo On Your Sleeve (Or Your Chest, Or Your Leg): It's An American Thing

I love my alma mater. And I kind of like letting everyone know I love it too - especially in Washington state, where I'm constantly surrounded by a sea of purple, "GO DAWGS", sweatshirts or burgundy, "GO COUGS" sweatpants (plus the occasional "PLU Lutes!" or "WWU" baseball caps). Even my dad still wears his "Mount Holyoke Dad" t-shirt I bought for him during my first-year with pride. You go, Dad.

I have two pairs of MHC cheer shorts that are so worn, the elastic is now non-existent and the letters are starting to rub off. But I still wear them around the house.

But outside of the US ... I don't really feel a need to broadcast my university, though a lot of Americans do. Just sit on the Islington towpath for a while and watch the joggers go by: 90% of them are American and 99% of them will be wearing their alma mater across their chests. You go, dudes. There's nothing wrong with this. I'm just saying that it's an American thing.

Sometimes when I'm homesick, putting on my MHC sweatshirt makes me feel somehow more American again. When I do this, John kind of pauses, looks at me and goes, "MOUNT HOLYOKE!", in a really, exaggerated American accent. "HEY Y'ALL, I WENT TO ... MOUNT HOLYOKE!" Then I slam the door in his face.

Anyway, as someone who's lived in the UK for over five years now, I can identify Americans by attire pretty quickly, if they wear the following:

1) Northface. A must. I saw a group of six Americans walk in the other day with six different variations of Northface jackets.

2) Coach. Specifically, a monogrammed Coach bag.

3) Uggs. Actually, the combination of Northface, Coach, and Uggs seems to be the uniform-du-jour for female visiting students and tourists abound.

4) College sweatshirt. You went to an Ivy and want everyone to know? That's cool. You didn't but you still want everyone to know? That's cool too.

The funny thing is, it seems like there's demand in the market for similar collegiate attire in the UK ... except for the fact that no one walks around with "BATH UNIVERSITY" plastered across their chest or down their sleeves. Not really. It doesn't really have the same effect.

So stores like Jack Wills have succumbed to making the "collegiate-chic" look cool and sell faux university-branded tops. In fact, they dub themselves "University Outfitters: Fabulously British". No, there's nothing more un-British than big logos. Leave that to us.

In the meantime, I'm going to buy a pair of those sweatpants up there and pop into Tesco. I WENT TO MOUNT HOLYOKE, Y'ALL!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Fashion Knows No Boundaries - Or, I'll Trade You Swedish Minimalism For Lace Push-Up Bras

The recent influx of American brands and stores in the UK means that I'm starting to have less reasons to shop in the US: four of my favorites, J. Crew, Anthropologie, Forever 21 and Victoria's Secret, have already made their way over here (albeit at twice - or more - the price).

Yesterday, during my run with Elaine along the Southbank (btw, BIG MISTAKE - honestly, the stupidest place to run at the height of Olympics tourist season), I almost ran smack into the back of a man as I passed an activity display that seemed to be sponsored by none other than ... Target. As in, the place I buy my milk, clothes, make-up, and iPad accessories at in the US. Be still, my beating heart. Could the brands of my teenage years, Xhiliration and Mossimo, finally find their way here?

Now I'm just waiting for more European "high street" chains to make their way to the States. Come on, guys - let's make an even trade, no? Swedish minimalism for lace push-up bras?

I recently read that Nordstrom in San Francisco Center is getting a Topshop concession. But how about COS (pictured, above right)? Or Zara in places other than NYC? I think Oasis and Warehouse are beginning to make their way over as well.

Even my highly impressionable and fashion-forward (read: dapper) little brother bemoaned the lack of European styles in the US. After hearing him admit to shopping at the cheaply made and highly uninspired American mall fixture, Express, I clutched his arm in sympathy. "I knowwwwww," he wailed. He's a smaller build, so suits the likes of Topman, COS, Bershka, and Zara. Previously, he could only find slim-fit pants and shirts on family trips to Uniqlo in Hong Kong, but visiting London opened a whole other world for him. When he visited last year, I took him on the best possible mini-shopping spree my modest publishing salary could afford.

So I'd really appreciate it if Massimo Dutti, Mango, COS, and my other (typically Spanish, sometimes British, and always Scandinavian) favorites would make their way across the pond. Soon. All this cross-continental swapping is getting me really excited. Fashion knows no boundaries.

Photo source

What did you think of the London 2012 Opening Ceremony?

So now that the Olympics are well under way, what did you think of the Opening Ceremony?

I was lucky enough to attend the final technical rehearsal last Wednesday, so had a sneak peek at pretty much everything that happened, minus the celebs and the Queen jumping out of the helicopter, of course.

At first, I was a little skeptical about the whole "English countryside" concept, complete with walking "clouds":

But I found myself very moved by the use of Nimrod from Elgar's Enigma Variations to illustrate Danny Boyle's vision of the "Isles of Wonder". Audience participation was critical here, as you can see:

That part was fun. Apt and appropriate.

For those watching on TV, I could see how it might have been a little less-than-spectacular way to open the Games, but in the stadium, I can tell you that it was quite stirring and emotional - even for a dress rehearsal!

By the time we transitioned into the Industrial Revolution, I was hooked: the staging was jaw-dropping and more importantly, original. The dusky sky also provided the perfect backdrop, as seen below:

The culmination of this part of the program into the forging of the Olympic rings was spectacular:

Don't tell me you weren't impressed by that?! I think, at that exact moment, I felt really proud to be  Londoner. I thought of all the volunteers within the park and across London, and all those performing "on stage" that night (which included Lauren), and it made me little teary!

It wasn't without its flaws, I'll admit: the NHS bit was cute, but seemed forced. The giant baby's head at the end? Creepy and kind of reminiscent of those baby cake wrecks circulated via email a while ago. Just ... no. And, why?

Even ol' Duck-Face AKA Voldey AKA He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named made an appearance. I'm not even going to comment on "Tubular Bells" being chosen as the soundtrack for this part. If you're American who grew up in the 90s, that just stirs up bad memories of this particular CD (which I've just noticed apparently has only Part 1 of Tubular Bells - I can only imagine what joy Part 2 brings).

Let's just say that I thought the beginning was better than the end, though guest appearances by J.K.Rowling, Rowan Atkinson, The Queen, and Daniel Craig James Bond made up for it. I was also very, very pleased that Akram Khan (whom I blog about on here a LOT) and his company were chosen to close the ceremony, accompanied by one of my new favorites, Emeli Sande. It was a beautiful piece and Shame that NBC in the States cut his performance. Shame on them, really.

What did you think?
© angloyankophile

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