Monday, July 15, 2013

What's Your Favorite Summer Fruit?

During our recent visit to Washington, my mom tried in vain to take John and his mom to one of our local fruit stands. After making one wrong turn after another, she gave up, and I was disappointed - I was really looking forward to biting into a gigantic Honeycrisp apple.

Where I'm from, fruit stands are ubiquitous. I don't know how I developed such a sweet tooth, because my parents rarely ever indulged us with sweet desserts - instead, we always had fresh fruit. Cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, strawberries, persimmons, grapes, mangoes, apples, Asian pears, oranges - you name it, we had it after dinner. The hot summer months always remind me of my dad sitting opposite me at the dinner table, grimacing as he tried to peel an orange all in one go or the sound of him carving out slices of watermelon and honeydew in the kitchen before my mom put toothpicks in the slices to make eating more fun and less messy for everyone.

I love the variety of fruit in the Puget Sound and the sheer abundance of it, which you just don't get in the middle of London, save for an overpriced little packet of cantaloupe in a Boots' meal deal or in the to-go aisle of Sainsbury's.

I have terrific memories of going strawberry picking in fields near my house in Puyallup before my brother was born, and being treated to a Fruit Roll-Up or two when we were finished. Now, the only fruit stands I pass are the ones soaking up all the exhaust fumes on High Holborn, and the fruit is imported from other countries - hardly local.

So, as I savor the sweet strawberries (above) given to me by my co-worker this afternoon, I'd like to know: what's your favorite summer fruit?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Perfect View: Mount Rainier

Growing up in the particular part of the Pacific Northwest that I hail from, we always had a view of Mount Rainier. Before the trees behind my parents' property grew to cover the view, we'd sit, eating breakfast at the dinner table every morning, staring directly out of the dining room window at the mountain. Our street was named after this view, my elementary school was called Mountain View, and my high school (established in 2000 - I was in the first graduating class), was Emerald Ridge High School. Needless to say, it also had perfect vantage points.

It wasn't until I returned to Paradise (yes, it's really called that) at the base of the mountain with John and his mom last week that I realized how much I took this precious view for granted. I can't remember the last time I saw a pine tree here in England (except for short, dumpy ones at Christmas), let alone a forest full of them, or the spectacular, snowy-covered dome of an active volcano. Here, the landscape is flat, though pretty in its own right, with occasional rolling, green hills in the countryside. The forests do not have conifers that force you to crane your neck in order to squint at the tops. In fact, not too many places in the States can boast of the mountain ranges that we have in Washington.

That mountain has always been there for me; a steady, dependable point in the distance on which I could focus my eyes, almost no matter where I was driving. I always felt indifferent to it, until I returned last week. Even as we caught sight of it a good distance away, it looked majestic: powerful, gleaming, almost. But, in a weird way, almost kind - benevolent.

Perhaps it was the familiarity of the landscape, or the fact that I was really looking at it for the first time, rather than looking through it (the high temperatures and beautiful blue sky also helped), but I suddenly felt a rush of wistfulness, a longing that I hadn't felt for a long time.

This was my home, where I am from - whether I like it or not. And I'm proud of that. I used to always feel the need to hastily add that I went to school in Massachusetts, when people asked which state I was from for fear of being "uncool", but standing there at the base of the mountain that day, I felt proud to be a Washingtonian. We have beautiful scenery in the Pacific Northwest, and a culture of our own. Just because I've adopted another "scene" over the past six years, doesn't mean I have to let go of this one - not now, not ever.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Keepsake Wedding Gift: My Aunt's Jade Ring

John and I didn't ask for gifts or contributions to a honeymoon fund for either of our two US and UK receptions. While both would be very useful indeed, we've never liked the idea of having a registry and don't even have a permanent home at the moment (in fact, we're getting kicked out of our flat in a month's time and have nowhere to go yet since our recent plans to purchase a house fell through), so it seems silly to be asking for things like cookware and bedsheets, which I feel a little strange asking guests to contribute anyway. We asked our guests who will be attending the UK reception to donate to Trinity Hospice instead, which is of special significance to us.

In Chinese culture, relatives often give red envelopes containing money to the bride and groom, and we received very generous monetary gifts from both Chinese and non-Chinese guests alike on Saturday, which we feel embarrassed, but grateful for.

We also received some really special boxed gifts, which I hope to blog about in days to come, as they were all one-of-a-kind and incredibly meaningful.

Nothing matched my surprise, however, when one of my aunts passed a little red velvet box to me on the day before our wedding reception. "This was given to me as a wedding gift, and I wanted to pass it on to you," she explained. "I hope it's subtle enough for you to wear every day. I was criticized for passing on something that was my own, but you've always been like a daughter to me," she continued. In it, contained the most beautiful and delicate jade and diamond ring I'd ever seen - perfectly suited to my taste. My fingers are also outrageously small (I wear a US size 3.75 or UK G on my left ring finger), so I was delighted when the ring slipped comfortably on to my right middle finger.

Jade is precious in Chinese history and culture, and worn by most Chinese women - usually as a bangle around the wrist or pendant around the neck. I have had several jade pieces given to me as a child, which are currently being held by my mom for safekeeping, but it's so nice to have something small that I can wear every day. I was so touched that my aunt thought to give this to me - especially since it holds so much significance to her - and I will treasure it always.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Jo Malone: A Gift I Can Afford To Give But Can't Afford To Keep

So, I don't know about you, but I can't - on my publishing salary, at least - afford to burn a £40 candle. That, to me, is like the equivalent of taking two £20 notes and burning them with a cigarette lighter. It might not be as fragrant, but it's basically the same thing.

Whenever I walk into a home that has Diptyque candles, I feel an irrational surge of rage and/or jealousy, that someone has the disposable income to burn a £40 candle, because, you know, I'd love my one-bedroom flat to smell like Baies or Jonquille as much as the next girl, but, in reality, I'm just lucky if it doesn't smell like rotten meat if I've left my trash for too long.

Anyway, Jo Malone is one such brand that makes me seethe and swoon at the same time. My mom has a 9-year-old piano student who uses Jo Malone shower gel (sorry, I believe the correct terminology according to the Jo Malone website is "body wash") and apparently taught my mom how to "layer" her perfume. THE GIRL IS NINE, PEOPLE. NINE. What will she be bathing in when she's 37? Beluga caviar?

But I digress. Last Christmas, I bought my mom a set of Jo Malone colognes, knowing how much she coveted the stuff. It felt quite liberating to march into the standalone store in Covent Garden, point to the item I wanted, and have it prettily wrapped (complete with scented tissue paper, natch) - all for someone else I loved, not me. Because, you see, if I was buying it for myself, I'd hem and haw for about 9 months (which, yes, I realize is the time it takes to cook a baby in the proverbial oven), pick up a bottle at Selfridges and put it down, do several "drive-bys" of the store itself ("drive-bys" occur when you swan past a shop without actually going in, all while giving it the eye), and eventually never buy it.

So, you know, I give my mom these colognes, she's overjoyed, uses them, etc. and then casually, casually mentions to me one day that her little precious student wears Orange Blossom, and that the mini collection I gave her doesn't have Orange Blossom. Okay. So I set out to buy my mom the Orange Blossom body creme and cologne at the store, but guess what? Said body creme and cologne cost £50 and £39 respectively. 'Wowza', I said to myself. I know these are luxury items, but ... wowza.

BUT THEN: fate intervened and I had to take a flight through Heathrow Terminal 5! Hallelujah! I could once again, march in, point at the items I wanted, and have them prettily wrapped - all for a major discount! Huzzah! And how smug did I feel carrying that fragrant bag reeking of Nutmeg & Ginger on my transatlantic flight? S-M-U-G. By the end, all I had to do to mask my nasty plane smell, was rub a piece of tissue paper on my wrist and, voila, I was scent-ified!

It was all the more satisfying to hand it over to my mom on the other end of the flight. "Here's the Orange Blossom you always wanted," I said, thrusting it into her hands breathlessly. "There's a 175 ml body creme in there and a cologne too," I said smugly. "See what your student makes of that! AND," I started shouting. "IF SHE BUYS HER PRODUCTS AT NORDSTROM, I BET YOU THEY'RE NOT BOXED IN JO MALONE BOXES! AND GIFT BAGS! LIKE YOURS!"

That's when my mom brought out the Jo Malone gift bag I had given to her last Christmas. She had left it to display on the living room table and the sun caused it to fade so badly that the whole bag had turned white, with the "Jo Malone" logo barely visible. She keeps each individual cologne in the original gift box they came in and barely uses them, except to admire.

Bless her heart. She deserves it all. And more.

An Open Letter To My Friends Re: This Weekend

Dear Udita, Deborah, and Kara,

It's 3 a.m. and I'm jet-lagged, but I just had the most amazing dream:

I dreamt that I was in the lobby of Hotel Andra in Seattle, waiting for Kara to arrive for my wedding reception that weekend. It was a hot summer's day in Seattle and Kara, I hadn't seen you since 2006! I spotted you as soon as you walked past the window and was there to greet you with a hug when you walked in. You looked so terrific and my heart filled with joy as soon as we spoke: everything was the same. You never cease to light up a room when you walk into it.

After you checked into the hotel, we walked to the Olympic Sculpture Park with John and his mom, Alison, with delicious cups of iced coffee in hand. It was a beautiful day on the Sound, and sail boats were abound on the water, which glittered like crazy. We took silly photos in front of questionable fountains and fake rooftops, and caught up on the classmates from Mount Holyoke we've seen - both in person and on Facebook.

After having a dubious sandwich from Subway, which involved standing in line for much longer than necessary, I got a call from Deborah, my first-year (and sophomore year!) roommate. Remember little Debbie? Our adventures to Friendly's for ice-cream sundaes in her red Camaro? Deborah, I hadn't seen you since you graduated early from MHC in 2005, but you said you were five minutes away from the hotel, so we gathered up our things and started walking back.

The minute I walked into the reception area and saw you, Deborah, I was so excited: you looked and sounded exactly the same. We filled the lobby with our shrieks and laughter, then headed down to Pier 55 to take a ride on the Seattle Great Wheel, where we had amazing views over the Sound, Seattle skyline, and restaurants below.

When we got back to the hotel, we shared an incredibly delicious selection of tapas at Lola, during Happy Hour. Skewers of grilled halloumi, honey-glazed pork, and octopus were brought to our table on sizzling platters, drizzled with a shot of ouzo, which caramelized the onions and made our mouths water. I even enjoyed the ouzo on my arm, after the waitress accidentally poured it down my shirt instead of the plate. Yum.

After dinner, we went back to the suite that John and I were staying and demolished a magnum of wine while listening to all the music we loved at MHC. I got a text from Udita and read it out to you: she was on her way. When she arrived, you thought it'd be a great idea for me to hide and surprise her. I ruined the surprise by leaping out from behind the couch early and letting out some sort of strangled wail, which you proceeded to imitate for the rest of the weekend. You girls are such jokers.

We went out that night to have enormous desserts at The Cheesecake Factory (which none of us had been to since we were in high school, save for Udita, who apparently visits every other week) and ridiculously good cocktails at Clever Bottle, where we did shots with a random medical student named Danny. Kara got into an argument with the taxi driver while the rest of us snickered in the backseat.

The next morning (the day of the reception), you all showed up to my room and surprised me by whisking me away for donuts at Top Pot Doughnuts, a luxe spa trip in downtown Seattle (which included massages and a champagne toast!), and a manicure on the way back. We took awkward selfies in bathroom mirrors and made everyone else in the spa uncomfortable with our hysterical laughter. And we didn't care one bit.

At the reception, Udita gave a beautiful speech that made me cry, and I heard you girls cackling away during dinner, which made my heart sing, because I knew you were there, cracking jokes, having a great time, and that nothing had changed.

It was like a dream come true.

The best part of my dream? It was all real. It just happened this weekend. But I had so much fun and was so deliriously happy, that I had to pinch myself when I got back to this side of the ocean - just to make sure it was real.

I am so lucky to have friends like you. I cried on my way to the airport, at the airport, and on the plane because I missed you so much already. I forgot what it feels like to have a friendship like yours - the kind where I feel at home in, wholly comfortable and totally safe. I forgot what it feels like to laugh honestly - the kind where you wake the next morning with aching sides because you couldn't breathe from laughing so hard. I forgot what it was like to create moments that would provide a lifetime of inside jokes.

Then I realized that most people never experience this kind of friendship, one that is so tightly woven and strong, nothing can shake it - not even years apart, not even years of not communicating regularly, not even distance. And that made me sad. Our friendship is like a secret, like a good recipe that one is reluctant to impart for fear that someone will take it, replicate it, replace it, and make it better. But that secret is ours, and can't be stolen.

My time with you was so precious, it was like a fleeting dream. I could see each moment pass before me, count the seconds, the minutes that ticked along, until I found myself back in the same old place again, in my flat in buzzing London, knowing that you, Udita, were back in Houston, Deborah, back in Madison, and Kara, back in San Diego - our little group dispersed once more, returning back to normal.

Like a child pulled away from the party early, I wondered why seeing each other all the time couldn't be "normal". How many more years will pass before we have our next reunion? But I guess then moments like the ones we had this weekend wouldn't be as precious or as special.

I love you and hope we'll meet again soon. Thank you for making my wedding weekend perfect.



Happy As A Clam

Whenever I visit Washington, I try to eat my weight in seafood and shellfish, because the quality is just so good.

Have I mentioned how much I love clams? In fact, I like any kind of shellfish, with oysters being the exception. It's rare to find clams in the UK (they're called "cockles" here) and when you're do, they're tiny, chewy, and vaguely tasteless.

On Tuesday of our visit, my dad's boss dug fresh saltwater clams from his beachfront home in Shelton for us to enjoy.

In comparison to UK cockles, the clams supplied by my dad's boss were large, succulent, sweet, and tasted of the sea - we washed them down with glasses of crisp Pinot Grigio and filled four large bowls with our discarded shells.

In this photo, my dad is preparing the clams by rinsing them three or four times in the garden. Then, my mom steamed them with some chicken broth, onions, garlic, and white wine. Bellisimo.

It's safe to say that we were all happy as clams that night, with the deck door open and the sun setting over the Pacific Northwest.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Seattle: Life Is But A Dream

Oh, Seattle. Did this (above) really happen? Did I really just spend last week and weekend with three of my best friends from college, laughing so hard until our stomachs ached; visiting Paradise at the base of Mt Rainier with John and his mom; eating freshly dug clams that were so big and sweet, that they tasted of the sea? Did John and I really have the most perfect, sweet, American wedding reception of our dreams that my parents generously organized and hosted? Were we only cutting leftover wedding cake 24-hours ago in Renton at the conclusion of a dim sum brunch extravaganza?

I can't quite believe it. But I do have a scar from where a mosquito bit me (the bite subsequently swelled to great proportions) as I enjoyed a beer on my parents' newly finished, beautiful deck on a deliciously hot, summer's evening with John and his mom. And I also have pale pink nails as a result of having a last-minute $12 manicure with Udita somewhere along 4th Avenue on the day of the reception. Plus, hundreds of photos and videos of our trip, taken as if I had known I'd need these reminders to help prove it wasn't all a glorious dream as I type this from my hot and stuffy NE London flat.

I'll explain more in the next few posts, but until then, enjoy these photos of perfection - taken from the top deck of an Argosy cruise ferry to Tillicum Village on Blake Island.

© angloyankophile

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