Wednesday, May 28, 2014

In Which My Dream of Owning A Liberty London Silk Scarf Is Realized

I hate to admit it, but living in a cosmopolitan city like London has made me more materialistic than ever. Subscribing to magazines like Stylist with their weekly "Style List" of things to buy and email newsletters like SheerLuxe (which is, essentially, one huge advertisement wrapped up in witty editorial and pretty website design) really don't help my habit of "coveting", as John calls it.

But he's right.

I remember ogling the sea of Longchamp Le Pliage bags on the commute in to work when I first moved to London - it seemed like the grown-up, sophisticated working woman's handbag. Plus, it folded up into a little square when not in use - how handy is that? I went through iterations of the bags (because the corners wear so quickly) and my latest one is seldom used, except for traveling, and remains at the back of my wardrobe.

Next, it was the ubiquitous Links of London silver "Sweetie" charm bracelet, worn by the same Longchamp-toting women and which I pined over for months and months, unsuccessfully saving up for it until, one day, I found a gift wrapped Links box waiting for me on the window seat of our Maida Vale flat. John had beat me to it. I wore it every day for about three years or so and now, less frequently - preferring a more delicate rose gold chain.

Then, it was the Mulberry East West Bayswater handbag, which I first saw on the arm of my incredibly stylish and put-together friend, Jodi. By some stroke of luck, my family happened to pass through Bicester Village (i.e. I forced John to drive us there en route from Oxford), the discount designer factory outlet in Oxfordshire, a few years ago. My mom and I walked into the Mulberry store and it seemed as though I was magnetically pulled toward the first one I saw. "I'll pay for half of it," said my mom, as I protested. "Stop arguing with me and take the one you want before someone else takes it, for goodness sake!" she said, exasperated. Somehow, she ended up paying for all of it by using some kind of nonsensical mathematical deduction of money she owed me (she didn't - not one pence) for expenses used during the trip and I walked away with a ribbon tied around the handles of that unmistakable Mulberry shopping bag.

It gets worse.

I'll never forget the moment I walked into the Liberty London scarf hall for the very first time. Rows and rows of silk scarves hung from floor to nearly ceiling - each a beautiful silk-screened piece of art on its own. I flipped over the price tag and gulped: £95. 'No one needs an expensive silk scarf,' I thought to myself as I touched the exquisite fabric. But I felt a rush of adrenaline in my veins as I stared at the pretty, swirling stained-glass patterns and I added the scarf to my carefully curated, mental "covet list" of things to acquire some day.

A few weeks ago, an email pinged into my inbox from Vente-Privee - a French flash sale site that now operates in the UK. "The Liberty London scarf sale is now open!" it exclaimed brightly. I stared at the pink banner for a while, willing my finger not to click on the link. But it did. And £35 later (a significant reduction from £95, might I add!) I walked away (well, as much as you can "walk away" in cyberspace) with a gorgeous, peacock-feather print Hera scarf, which I tied around my all-black outfit yesterday like so:

(Yes, that is a Kate Spade watch and a Monica Vinader necklace pictured - both which I had also coveted and were also given to me as gifts.)

My friends and I email links to each other all the time of things we "want" or "like" or "just have to have". But increasingly, my "coveting" habit has made me realize just how much I have, and that I should really focus on that for a change, rather than the "next big thing". Not only am I lucky to have a beautiful array of accessories that I once coveted but now own, but I'm also extremely lucky to have my health, my family, my husband, and my wonderful friends - touch wood.

Feeling grateful (and, okay, a little stylish) today.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Quick, Pre-Theatre Dinner @ The Delaunay

Last night, John and I went to see RSC's production of Wolf Hall at The Aldwych Theatre. Have you read the books (i.e. Wolf Hall and the subsequent Bring Up The Bodies)? They are so good. Well, actually, I'm only a third of the way through Wolf Hall but John's read both and he hardly ever has a book in his hand (or has the time to read) so you know that any book he recommends is definitely worthwhile - and he could not put these two books down. In fact, he looked over at me with sad eyes one night at the dinner table and I asked him what was wrong. "I'm almost finished with Bring Up the Bodies," he said sadly. "I just don't want it to end." He looked so forlorn that I felt obliged to reassure him by telling him that Hilary Mantel is working on the third installment. "Oh good!" he said, rubbing his hands together. Then he fell quiet. "She needs to hurry up," he said, looking worried.

Anyway, Hilary Mantel's writing style is nothing short of amazing. I love the descriptive imagery and Cromwell's voice, which I couldn't get out of my head for weeks after I started reading it. I definitely need to pick it up again.

But last night ... you guys, I'm not gonna lie. Mid-way through the second act, I TOTALLY FELL ASLEEP. It was 10:15 pm or so and way past my bedtime. Also, while the book took you deep into the head of Thomas Cromwell and did a lot of character development throughout, the play lacked this - superficially focusing instead on the story we know all too well re: Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, and portraying Cromwell is a sort of "fixer", as John put it, rather than someone who was really, really clever (which is how he comes across in the book). It was around Anne's stomping around on stage that I dozed off - only to be woken by an angry outburst from George Boleyn.

But before all of this happened, we had the loveliest pre-theatre dinner at The Delaunay on Aldwych. I've passed it several times before on the bus and always wanted to go in, but never had an excuse. It's a restaurant styled as a "grand cafe" serving delicious European food in a mahogany paneled, white tableclothed, and heavy velvet curtained environment - and yet, it's not stuffy at all, which is what I love about it. The bread (soft, but fashioned into a branch-like shape with leaves) arrived to our table promptly and warm and we had perfect seats for people watching, which is always fun.

Though we didn't have reservations, we were able to grab a seat pretty quickly and the theater was literally next door, so I didn't have to worry too much about being late, though we were sort of in a rush. I ordered two bockwurst with sauerkraut, sauteed onions, and potato salad from their extensive wiener list (yes, really) and John opted for a mouthwatering lobster roll with fries. It was so good!

I wish we had more time to spend there because I was drooling over the desserts, which I caught sight of as we were being led to our table: slices of the most exquisite cakes perched on ornate glass cake stands. I definitely want to go back for brunch, a long lunch, or even afternoon tea!


Forever 21's "Artist Series" - Featuring The Works of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat (Yes, You Heard Me Correctly)

You know that line in Kanye West's song that goes "Rock Forever 21 but just turned 30"? No? That's okay. You shouldn't.

But if you do, that single line describes me to a T. Now, I'm not sure that I'm actually "rocking" Forever 21, but I definitely still do shop that there. Guilty. I hold my hands up.

Of course, I stay away from the crop tops and micro skirts, but I love their accessories (I could spend two solid hours on the third floor of the Stratford Westfield Forever 21 store picking out chandelier earrings and statement necklaces - just ask John, since this was actually a recent occurrence), their selection of gym gear (their open-back tanks are amazing for hot yoga), and their dresses - that is, when they're not too short for me.

Best of all, shopping at Forever 21 is like popping candy. It's beyond affordable - it's just cheap! They're clothes that, in a couple of seasons (maybe even less), I'll upcycle into something else or recycle. Of course, like all sensible people in the world, John frowns upon this practice - steering me in the direction of COS or Whistles and saying things like, "quality, NOT quantity". Of course, I am not like all sensible people in the world, so I reply to him brightly, "Why not both?" as the sales assistant at COS rings up a sweater dress that he had picked up for me with a sigh as he paid for his own suit for work.

Anyway, that was a very long introduction to this WTF email that popped into my inbox this morning from Forever 21 (YES, I VOLUNTARILY SIGNED UP FOR THEIR NEWSLETTER, DON'T JUDGE) featuring their newest "Artist Series" wherein tanks, skirts, and more have been screen-printed with the iconic artworks of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Slightly disturbed, yet intrigued? So was I. So I clicked on the link.

This is what I would wear if I was actually 21, had no boobs, and still had a flat stomach:

Obvs, I wouldn't wear it on its own - instead, I'd pair it with a black or white semi-sheer, low-cut trapeze tank and skinny jeans.

And I quite like this Basquiat tank as well, but would question the possibility of croppage:

... which could be fixed with a high-waisted (and thick - always thick), jersey slimline skirt from H&M. But at my age, I probably wouldn't risk it.

It's an interesting (and surprising) collaboration, though not that surprising, since one could see how easily both Haring's and Basquiat's art lends itself easily to a graphic print clothing line - after all, Uniqlo had already produced a capsule collection of Keith Haring tees for its "UT" t-shirt line in 2013.

So yes. If you're actually 21, please consider these pieces for me as I tend to the few, wiry white hairs that have suddenly popped up in the midst of my jet black fringe. It's the end of a shopping era for me (save for maybe two departments in the store that I can still shop from), but it may not be for you.

Seize the day, my young and glamorous friends - seize the freaking day.

All images from the Forever 21 website.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

When Did You Know You Were An "Adult"?

A few weeks before my 30th birthday, I was carded while buying a bottle of red wine at my local Tesco. I was thrilled. The legal age for purchasing alcohol in the UK is a mere 18, compared to 21 in the States (heck, they ID'd my mom in Target a few years ago when she was buying a bottle of champagne. My mom. A senior citizen). I showed my Washington State driver's licence to the cashier and proudly proclaimed, "I'll be 30 in a few weeks", to which he replied with a nod and a smile.

And because I look a few years younger than my age, I often don't feel like an adult - until I have to make adult decisions (like, deciding that hanging over the side of my bed like a giraffe and squinting via one eye at my iPhone every morning isn't probably the best way to preserve my eyesight) or until I see my parents and realize how child-like they've become in my eyes (without thinking, I asked my Dad three times if he needed to pee before we embarked on a 2-hour car journey through Oxfordshire last year and then couldn't contain myself when he started popping huge grapes into his mouth, begging him to please bite them in half first to avoid choking).

The first time I felt like an adult was when I started to buy my own contact lenses. That was last year. Up until then, my dad ordered and paid for them at our family optician in Canada and had them sent to my address here in London. Gross, right? Grow up, right? Yeah, I know. I'd be like, "Dad, I need new contact lenses. Can you send over my prescription?" And he'd go, "Why don't I just order them for you?" And I'd be like, "Yeah, okay. But I'll pay you back!" And he'd reply, "Don't worry about it. It's small change." And so on and so forth.

The second time I felt like an adult was when I walked out of the bathroom at John Lewis with my mom and craned my neck to get a better look at something. "What? Did you see a cute dress over there?" my mom asked. "No," I sighed. "I saw the most amazing vacuum cleaner. It just looks ... so good. Like it could suck every bit of dirt up ..." I trailed off. I heard the wistfulness in my voice and was mortified. A vacuum cleaner. I was lusting over a vacuum cleaner.

Sometimes, I visit friends' houses and I think, "Oh my God. You're such an adult." Here are the ways I can tell:

1) They offer me a drink other than water. If you come to my house? You get water. From the tap. I might let it run and wait for it to get really cold, but yeah, it's from the tap. Sometimes squash (which is this weird concentrate thing they drink here in the UK, which you mix with water - like, Ribena is a type of squash), but mostly water. When I go over to Tom and Cristy's house, I'm offered (in no particular order): water, sparkling water, sparkling wine, wine, ginger beer (from Australia), Diet Coke, Coke, and this hilarious minty-citrus drink they get called "Lime-on". After dinner, it's: espresso, "regular" tea, mint tea, camomile tea, lemon and ginger tea or French press coffee. After dinner at my house, I'm like, "Anyone want some ... water?"

2) Similarly, they have a magical array of pre-dinner snacks to offer guests. Rice crackers? Olives? Some canapes I prepared using Waitrose smoked salmon and this pack of organic oat thins I picked up at Planet Organic? Look, if there are any snacks in my cupboard, they will get eaten. By me. I do not just "happen" to have some hand-smoked chips lying around for your pre-meal consumption that just "happen" to go excellently with wine. I'm SORRY. I'm an adult FAILURE.

3) They own Diptyque candles. I'm sorry, who has £40 to spend on candles? Adults do, apparently. And they burn them, apparently. In places other than the bathroom, apparently.

4) They have sets of matching cups and glasses. I tried. I really tried with this. I bought a set of small tumblers from IKEA once. Like, six. Broke two, left with four. I have numerous different types of wine glasses. Of course, they all originated in a happy family of four. But at some point, I killed off one or two family members and then I just gave up matching. If I have four people over, every single person gets a different glass.

5) See Point 3 above, but with plates. I increasingly wish that we had a wedding registry rather than being noble and asking people to donate to our favorite charity. I'M KIDDING. But only kind of. I WOULD LIKE SOME MATCHING PLATES, DAMMIT. Please don't get started on my flatware.

6) They use words like "flatware" and ask for things like chef's knives or a herb chopper for birthdays. Adults cook. They do not eat mac 'n cheese out of the box, order Domino's pizza on a weekend, or have Pop Tarts for breakfast. They plan their meals for the week in advance and scrawl through Pinterest for hours on end looking for new recipe ideas. I make spaghetti bolognese every time a guest comes over. Because it's the only dish I can make well.

7) Their walls are full of adoring black and white photographs of each other on their wedding day. My walls are blank because I still rent my place and do not foresee becoming a homeowner in the near future (see this post).

8) They are well-versed in current events and speak eloquently on subjects such as "referendums", the "up-coming election", Syria, Russia, Nigeria, etc. I'm like, "Did y'all see Beyonce's sister whoop Jay-Z's ass in the elevator after the Met Gala? What was that all about?" with my mouth full.

9) They have children. I regard my friends who are parents with a sort of reverence: these are people whose sole focus, for at least a few hours per day, becomes the comfort and well-being of their child, rather than the comfort and well-being of themselves. My sole focus is myself. All the time. Hats off to you.

10) They have a garden with real flowers that they actually look after and garden furniture that does not rust.  So, I went out to assess our "garden" the other day. It was filled with weeds. I went out and proceeded to de-weed the damn thing, all the while swotting at flies that were landing on my neck and yelping every time a little worm or other insect moved, disgruntled that I had unearthed their home. I angrily texted John, "I HATE GARDENING" accompanied with a red emoticon that looked like its face was about to explode. Meanwhile, my neighbors (homeowners) across the fence were having what looked like a fantastic barbecue with their BFFs, enjoying their freshly laid grass while I shot icy glares in their direction.

So. Do you feel like an adult? And when did you know?

The Stylist's Rail @ Fairground

I've been a long-time fan of The Stylist's Rail - a carefully curated and delightfully unique pop-up sale event featuring local jewellery designers, vintage enthusiasts, and ASOS marketplace traders as well as up-and-coming indie clothing retailers - since its early days as a much smaller outfit hosted at Birthdays in Dalston.

It's so lovely to see them expand to bigger and even more exciting venues (more space = more clothes and accessories to browse = win/win situation), like The Hoxton Hotel (which I adore - their rooms are amazing and fun, if you've never stayed) in Shoreditch. VIP entry grants you early and exclusive access to the rails, plus a Bloom gin cocktail and a gorgeous goody bag filled with treats.

Have you ever had one of those dreams where, you walk into an amazing store filled with everything you love at massively reduced prices and start to grab at things, only to wake up as soon as you approach the till? Yeah, that's like, my recurring dream. Luckily, The Stylist's Rail's Hoxton Hotel events are just like my dream - except I don't have to wake up! Last time I went, I spied a gorgeous Smythson clutch in its original box (that went to another lucky owner, sadly) for a tiny fraction of the price it usually sells for and some beautiful vintage skirts in heavy brocade as well as fine silk. I also picked up a pair of adorable Charlotte Olympia flats, only to discover that they were about two sizes too small (seriously, who wears a 3.5?!). Enraptured by a particular rail that was devoted to 2nd Day (Day Birger et Mikkelsen's diffusion line) tops and dresses, I agonized for ages before grabbing a pair of brand new Maison Scotch jeans for £5 and rushing off to some boring house viewings in Greenwich. Boo.

Thank goodness I have a chance to redeem my shopping dream: the next few weekends are exciting times for The Stylist's Rail and its founder, Plum of lifestyle blog Plumdiddlyumcious as it takes up residency in London's newest experimental event space, Fairground London, for four Saturdays in a row.

I visited Fairground with Hannah this past Saturday and spent the morning ogling at soft leather vintage bags, statement rings and necklaces, plus all sorts of summery dresses and tops - just in time for the change in weather. After sifting through each rail twice and making a purchase at Ivy Nixon jewellery (delicate, gold-filled rings, earrings, and bracelets that rival those of Cat Bird NYC), we continued on to Broadway Market and Netil Market - the perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

If you're looking for something to do the next few weekends, The Stylist's Rail will be at Fairground from midday to 5 pm on Saturday May 24th, May 31st and June 7th, with free entry after 1 pm. Have a look at their Facebook page for more information.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Shlomit Ofir Jewelry Design

Do you ever feel overwhelmed when shopping on Etsy? I definitely do. I love to support independent artists, designers, and creators, but I find the website so overwhelming and really frustrating to navigate. 

But while I was browsing one day, I came across these delicate gold, matte earrings by Israeli designer, Shlomit Ofir, and I fell in love with them! Then I started clicking and ... well, you can guess the downward spiral that occurred after that. I posted a photo of them on Instagram after they arrived and it turns out that my college roommate has been buying her jewelry for years!

All of her designs are beautiful and really unique. I'd wear any of the earrings in a heartbeat and they're all reasonably priced, so they make a great treat or even a gift.

I think it's so rare to come across a jewelry designer that makes such wearable, beautiful everyday pieces at affordable prices - I just had to share!

Happy Friday. :)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Lunch @ The London Review Bookshop Cake Shop

YOU GUYS. I just had the best lunch ever. I'm not exaggerating. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit because lobster might have been even better, but this was pretty darn amazing.

I've blogged about the London Review Cake Shop before (which is attached to the London Review Bookshop) but gone are the sandwiches (as delicious as they were), replaced by dishes such as the one above: behold the waffle (!!!) with jerk butter (!!!) topped with chicken, carrot slaw (!!!) and cherry tomatoes with a sweet balsamic dressing, drizzled with olive oil.


You're welcome.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Venezuelan Brunch @ Arepa & Co., Haggerston

Hot on the heels of Easter Bank Holiday, yesterday was also a Bank Holiday here in the UK - the first of two in May (the other one's at the end of the month). Amazing, right? Usually, we like to make the most of these "free" days off and find somewhere to go, but since we've been taking little trips here and there, we decided to give traveling a break and just stay in London. 

When I woke up yesterday morning, I was hungry. It was sunny outside and I was determined to wear my new shorts! So we walked along the canal to The Proud Archivist, because they have such a lovely space and do great food. Unfortunately when we arrived, we were told that the kitchen was closed (!) even though I had called beforehand to make sure they were open and serving breakfast. What a bummer!

Fortunately, I had passed Arepa & Co. on our way to The Proud Archivist and made a mental note to check it out next time I was on the canal, so we simply headed back the way we came and popped in.

Originally a food stall at Camden Market, Arepa has now opened this restaurant right on the canal and it's all sorts of wonderful - full of bright colors, hammocks, with large windows that provide great views of the canal so you can just sit and watch the boats pass by. While they're apparently known for their cocktails and rum, they also serve up some amazing coffee (I ordered a soy latte and John had a fresh mint tea) and of course, utterly delicious Venezuelan food.

I had the Mariana with Chachapa (bottom photo), which is a thick, sweet corn pancake filled with a delicious combination of chicken (so tender and finely shredded that it almost resembled crab meat!) mixed with guacamole and plantains. It was super filling and tasty, especially when accompanied by the tangy chilli sauce that's provided at the table.

John opted for the Desayuno Reina with arepas (top photo) which I couldn't resist picking at too! His platter had black beans, perico, chicken with guacamole, cheese, and plantains. You can put these in the arepas to make little pocket sandwiches. The best thing about these arepas is that they're wheat free and very low in gluten.

I noticed that the restaurant is also featuring a deal at the moment: £6 for a selection of different fillings with arepas plus a hot drink, which is pretty fantastic though our gluttonous meal didn't set us back too much at a total of £24 (including service).

If you're in the mood for something a little bit different and you want to take advantage of the off/on nice weather we're having at the moment, I highly recommend a pit stop at Arepa & Co. It's just so nice to venture away from the usual bacon and eggs/French toast brunches and experience something that's nothing short of a taste sensation. Once again, we felt extremely fortunate that this place (like so many other awesome eateries at the moment) is very nearly on our doorstep.

Try it.

Square Meal

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Spotted from a London Bus Window

So, there was a tube strike this week which lasted for two days. For those of you who don't live in London, this essentially meant that several lines were closed, with some running a significantly reduced service. The knock-on effect was that people who have never cycled in London decided to do so, and people who apparently never walk to work also decided to do so. This meant that there were quite a few more London ambulances on the road (I kid you not) and some passive-aggressive elbow-throwing on the already crowded sidewalks.

But on the whole, tube strikes don't really affect me (and haven't for years) as I'm fortunate enough to live in a part of London that is mostly dependent on bus routes and I can easily walk to work in under an hour. This is beneficial to the general public because venturing underground and taking the tube turns me into a nasty, spiteful, troll-like monster. I curse at tourists who choose to stop right at the bottom of the busy escalator at Oxford Circus, I've had shouting matches with people who nearly run me off the platform, and I've had my fair share of men reading their morning newspapers on my head (yes, my head) because they thought it served a useful purpose on a crowded train as a book stand. To say that I hate traveling by tube would be an understatement; I avoid it at all costs.

I've lived in London long enough now that I walk whenever I can. I know, it's shocking. Ask John what I was like when we met 9 years ago - I thought walking to Oxford city centre from St. Catherine's College was a hike (to be fair, it is kind of a trek).

When I'm not walking, I take the bus. I love buses (except when I fall up the stairs and bruise my knee so badly, I can't walk on my leg properly for two days). They're convenient, stop where you'd like them to stop, and you can just kind of sit yourself upstairs, stare out the window and daydream.

Sometimes, you even see interesting/curious/funny things/people and even situations play out on the streets of London.

Like this bride (with veil, which you can't see in this photo) who was doing a photo shoot with her groom near St. Paul's:

Or this scene near Mansion House, in which mounted police stopped traffic and allowed photo opportunities to take place in the middle of the street:

I have no idea what's going on here, though I assume it has something to do with the Lord Mayor (it's not the Lord Mayor Show, btw - that's later in the year). 

See? Interesting, I tell you.

p.s. If you're visiting London and want a really cheap bus tour, take the 15 from Aldgate East. It passes by loads of famous streets and landmarks, including the Tower of London, Monument, St. Paul's Cathedral, The Royal Courts of Justice, Somerset House, and The Strand. It used to go a lot further than Charing Cross station (e.g. through Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Street) but I guess it doesn't anymore.

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