Wednesday, February 25, 2015

24 Hours In Brussels: Travelling With Your Best Friend

Have you ever travelled with your best friend? Udita and I went to Brussels last week and had so much fun. BUT ... it was the first time we'd ever travelled together!

The trip was her idea: she and her husband (who's British!) were coming over for a quick visit to see his family and she texted, "Do you want to go to Brussels?" Slightly random, but okay - why not? So I booked our train tickets, found a dreamy hotel, and carefully scoured blogs for highlights to include in our itinerary.

On my way to meet Udita at St. Pancras to catch the Eurostar, I realized that this was the first time I'd travelled without John or my family ... which made this trip both fun and exciting. Mostly, I was looking forward to creating some new inside jokes with Udita because whenever we're together, for some reason ... hilarity ensues. EVERYTHING IS FUNNY. EVERYTHING. Heart-stopping, side-splitting, doubling-over kind of funny (in fact, she just sent me a list of the top 20 funniest moments from our minibreak yesterday, which included getting hit on by a bunch of Belgian businessmen at the hotel bar. Yep, married and still got it.).

Our moms think that we're friends because: "You're both Asian! And you're both so musical! You have similar upbringings by ASIAN parents. You both love to explore the world! But mostly because you're Asian." And, yes, while it's true that we met as standpartners in the Mount Holyoke orchestra, and ... we're both Asian-American ... the real reason why Udita and I get along so well is because ... of our love of celebrity gossip magazines. And reality television. We'd rather take a time out and flip through pages of the latest of issue of People (which we did a lot in college ... and which we might have done for a couple of hours on this trip - oops) than pretty much do anything else.

But mostly? We always seem to be on the same wavelength. Even over an ocean apart, one of us will text and the other will say, "OMG, I was just WRITING YOU AN EMAIL!" Mostly, we bring out the best in each other.

She's the one I'll call (and I have) at 3:00 a.m. when I'm upset and can't sleep. She'll sit in her car in a parking lot and FaceTime with me for an hour, just because I needed to hear her voice. She's also the one I share my triumphs with; the one who writes emails to me in all caps and exclamation points because she's so excited for me. And I will do the same for her.

Travelling with your best friend adds an entirely different dimension to your trip than say, if you were travelling solo, with your partner, or with your family. You might use that time to discuss things you wouldn't otherwise talk about (like whether or not Kylie Jenner had her lips done) or to experience a place or event that's special to you both (we loved the Musical Instrument Museum in Brussels for this very reason!).

On our final (and only!) night in Brussels, we had an extravagant dinner at Belga Queen (where you can order shots of caviar by the gram to enjoy with your oysters - yes, really). I sat across from Udita, who looked glamorous sipping a glass of wine with her blown-out hair and perfect makeup, and suddenly got misty-eyed.

"Look at us," I said, gesturing to our surroundings. "What do you think would have happened if we tapped the shoulders of college-us and told them that we'd be sitting in this fabulous restaurant, eating this fabulous food, living these fabulous transatlantic lives? We are so lucky."

And then I realized: we were so lucky to take this trip together. I'd always known that, even when I booked the tickets, but it wasn't until I was sitting there across from her, that I really, truly appreciated how fantastic it was to travel with my best friend.

It was a short, but sweet trip that I'll never forget. Until our next reunion in May, Udita! xo

Monday, February 23, 2015

24 Hours In Brussels: The Dominican

Although we were only in Brussels for a short time, I knew that I wanted to stay in a hotel with a bit of character, a touch of luxury, and a very convenient location, close to all the sights (and all the chocolate, of course) - The Dominican ticked all these boxes.

What initially drew me to The Dominican was its history and architecture; formerly a 15th-century Dominican Abbey and previously home to the French painter, Jacques-Louis David, the beautiful, high arches of the original building have been well preserved and seamlessly integrated into the modern design of the hotel's interiors. The lobby (or Grand Lounge, as it's called), with its sleek seating area (equipped with iPads and free Wifi) and jaw-dropping chandelier, makes for a grand entrance.

As for location, we were spoiled by The Dominican, as its central location meant that we could reach most places by foot - easily within 10 minutes or so (great for me because I'm lazy, and also because we had some initial confusion when trying to figure out the tram system!). We scoped out the seafood in Sainte-Catherine, wandered past the beautiful windows of antique dealers into the chocolate shops of the Sablon, and paid a visit to the Musical Instrument Museum on our last day.
And the rooms. Oh my goodness, the rooms.

When we walked in, we were greeted by soft Gregorian chanting emanating from the TV ... which we ended up leaving on during our whole stay! This, when piped into the bathroom as well, felt like a spa experience in itself (speaking of spas, I was dying to try the Finnish sauna and Turkish steam bath in the 5th floor spa, but we ended up vegetating in the room instead ... the rainfall showerhead was enough to feel like a treat after an afternoon of trekking around outside in the cold!).

And you know when it feels like you've been enveloped in the fluffiest of clouds just before you fall asleep? The pillows and duvet in the picture above definitely felt just like that. The courtyard offered a pretty view outside our window, while other rooms in the hotel (there are 150) overlooked La Monnaie, the opera house (so wish we'd had time to catch a concert!).

That evening, we went back to the hotel for a drink after enjoying a fancy, schmancy dinner at Belga Queen (which is less than a minute walk away from the hotel's entrance ... I had no idea it was that close, but Jess had suggested we try it, so we did!) - a live DJ takes residence in The Dominican's bar on Thursday nights and, while the clientele seemed to be mostly people on business (who had a few years on us), I could imagine that it'd be a fun place to hang out with a larger group of friends in the high season.

Waking up with slightly sore heads the next morning (champagne or chocolate overdose - I couldn't tell), we stumbled downstairs to breakfast, which I was really, really looking forward to.

Though it was raining in the courtyard to our left, I could have easily sipped tea and read a book in this gorgeous, tranquil dining room for the remainder of our visit, which really sums up the whole "feeling" of the hotel, if you will - a place that's beautiful and luxurious, but equally a place that I easily felt at home in.

The breakfast was all about fresh juices and fruit, champagne, eggs made to order, cold meats and cheeses (I love this part about European breakfasts - call me crazy, but I love having cold cuts, "schmeary" cheese, and a hunk of bread in the morning!), and of course ... waffles.

Needless to say, I did not skimp on breakfast (and yes, that's French toast in the corner too ... plus scrambled eggs and a sausage - don't judge) and Udita's day was made when she discovered passion fruit in the selection of fruit.

Staff at The Dominican were more than hospitable: printing out my Eurostar ticket for me when I realized that my return ticket was merely a blank page (nice one!), making dinner reservations for us, looking after our various chocolate-filled bags acquired from Pierre Marcolini, and helpfully letting us know when the breakfast buffet would be closing, you know, just in case we wanted seconds (which we obviously did).

Soon, however, it was time to leave, and I only wished we had at least another evening to enjoy at The Dominican. I'd love to return in the spring/summer when the weather's a bit warmer and we can take our drinks outside.

Until next time.

Udita and I were guests of The Dominican, which we both loved. Special thanks to Deborah for arranging our visit. I'd highly recommend this hotel if you're planning a trip to Brussels!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

24 Hours In Brussels: All the Chocolate. (And All the Macarons. And All the Speculoos.)

When researching what to do in Brussels, I (naturally) reached out to my blogger friends, Jess (Jess-on-Thames), Sandy (SMarkstheSpots), and Sunny (MostlySunny) for advice.

A reoccurring theme? Chocolate. Or, as Jess put it in her sweet email to me, "all the chocolate" (italics hers, not mine).

Udita dissolved into fits of giggles as she read the email out loud on the Eurostar: "We have to buy all the chocolate!"

This, I was told, could be discovered in the magical area of The Sablon (although we later discovered that chocolate shops are pretty much everywhere), which is famous for its chocolatiers and confectioners.

Our first stop was Pierre Marcolini, which had been included in virtually every email and tweet I'd received about Brussels. We stepped into the sleek, dark shop and were instantly enamoured by the delicate, bite-sized chocolates made from Venezuelan and Madagascan cocoa beans.

After a freezing cold (but delicious lunch) outside in Sainte-Catherine, we needed something hot to warm our cockles, so when I spied the chocolat chaud stirring in the corner, I ordered two cups for us to enjoy while we browsed the shop ... I think we both made it about halfway through our cups before realizing that one between the two of us would have been plenty - it was exquisitely rich and oh-so-divine!

While ogling the beautiful displays of chocolate, this adorable but quirky keepsake box (to be filled with macarons of your choice) designed by Olympia Le-Tan caught my eye. I decided that it'd make a great souvenir - a reminder of a fun and fantastic trip with my best friend.

I carefully chose my 12 macarons (including some intriguing flavors such as speculoos - a spiced biscuit similar to gingerbread - and bergamot) and turned for half a second to have a look at another display while my box was being wrapped. No sooner had I returned to pay, when I noticed that Udita had somehow managed to surreptitiously hand her card to the shop assistant instead! I protested loudly and we had one of our embarrassing, "WHY? STOP! NO!" arguments and I walked out of Pierre Marcolini feeling extremely spoiled.

I love the box as much as the macarons themselves; I plan to use it as a keepsake/jewellery box (perhaps a place to store our ticket stubs from the trip?).

From there, we made a beeline to Laduree, as I'd seen Jess's photos of the magnificent interiors before, but wanted to see them for myself.

Please tell me I'm not the only one who immediately imagines powdered wigs, fake moles, and strains of harpsichord music when walking into this room? I mean, we didn't even try to pretend to buy anything (okay, I picked up a couple of candles to sniff) - just gawked and took photos. But oh my goodness. This might be the most beautiful room I've ever stood in.

After reluctantly making our way out of Laduree, we headed to Neuhaus (first photo above), where Udita bought some crunchy hazelnut spread (just in case she runs out of her personalized Nutella) and we marvelled at the sheer range of colorful chocolate eggs.

From there, we timidly stepped into Patrick Roger - who had a decidedly artistic (if not, somewhat, acquired) take on chocolate and sweets:

Feeling slightly intimidated by the "Please do not touch" signs, we showed ourselves out after a quick tour, and headed straight into Maison Dandoy for some speculoos biscuits, which I purchased for John.

The shop smelled delicious; I can only imagine how festive it must be around Christmas-time!

By now, our chocolate high had waned, and we collapsed into a taxi with our copious bags filled with macarons, truffles, and speculoos.

Sprawled on the bed back at the hotel, my eyes about to close for an afternoon nap, I suddenly shot up and looked at Udita: "I didn't buy any chocolate!"

She started laughing.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Valentine's Staycation @ Artist Residence, Pimlico

I know it's a little late, but how was your Valentine's weekend? We don't usually celebrate Valentine's Day, but last weekend, John planned a lovely surprise (!) staycation at Artist Residence, in Pimlico. We headed over on the Friday and had a delicious dinner at the hotel's restaurant, 64 Degrees, before heading upstairs to our room to catch the Graham Norton Show (my favorite thing to do on a Friday night, sadly!) and to snuggle in thick, white and fluffy robes.

It was heavenly.

I loved the vintage furnishings in the room: from the trunks that doubled up as nightstands, to that reclaimed "Wash & Brush" door, to the impossibly small but chic mini Smeg fridge that stood in the corner - stocked with soft drinks and coconut water.

In the morning, we woke up to this pretty view of the rooftops across the street ...

... before ambling down the stairs to have breakfast in the restaurant's ultra-cool dining room.

During dinner the night before, we'd joked that that chefs of 64 Degrees and INK were actually brothers who had a fight and retreated to their respective East and West corners of London to open their own restaurants ... the tapas-style dishes at 64 Degrees were quite similar to those on the menu at INK with their textures (chargrilled octopus with daikon cooked in octopus juice and crispy rice, for example) and concepts. Still, we had a lovely time and the perfect window seat to ourselves, facing the street and watching the world go by as we shared portions of pork belly and kimchee chicken wings (yes, really - finger lickin' good).

Breakfast was equally delicious. Though I'd had a hankering for a thick stack of pancakes, our late start and impending lunch plans at Green Man & French Horn in Covent Garden meant that we needed to keep things light ... so naturally, we shared a full English breakfast and a side of sourdough toast with jam and marmalade. Totally light, right?

Unfortunately, they'd run out of beans (and I was tempted to run across the street to bring back a can from the corner shop), but we were plied with extra eggs and I was in lurve with the toast: melted butter in all the right places.

After requesting a late checkout so we could flop back into bed and watch TV, we took a romantic walk through Belgravia and Green Park, where I found my dream street:

... before sharing a bowl of moules mariniere together at Green Man & French Horn and heading over to (and this is where the day gets very "John") for a romantic tour of ... the Houses of Parliament. Followed by a romantic afternoon tea at ... the Houses of Parliament.

But in all seriousness: the tour was really interesting (it also made me want to be an MP, but then I wondered whether or not Americans could be an MP, even if they became British citizens). I'd highly recommend it if you haven't been before. And the tea at the House of Commons Terrace was a sweet (if not slightly formal and serious) way to end the afternoon.

Sometimes, it's so nice to be a tourist in your own backyard. Kudos, John, for planning a super fun but unique, last-minute Valentine's getaway! I loved it.

Monday, February 16, 2015

7 Steps to Growing and Maintaining Your Blog Readership

I've written before about how supportive and inspirational the blogging community can be, but have I mentioned that it can also be a little ... competitive?

I am. So. Not. Into. That.

Sure, I'll have an occasional peek at my post views and try to increase my Facebook following (if only because I like to share funny photos of American bald eagles superimposed onto the American flag), but I'm not into competing for campaigns, amassing over 5k Twitter followers, or being at every single blogger event that's happening in London.

Not really.

I'm kind of lazy. So I'd rather sit in my fleece robe, with my trapezoidal feet shoved into a pair of UGG slippers, slathering peanut butter onto a toasted sesame seed bagel and writing about family heirlooms. Which doesn't get very many page views.

That probably means that my blog isn't very "successful", but my definition of having a successful blog is much more than simply reaching a wide readership ... it's about the quality of engagement and encouraging existing readers to, well, you know, keep on reading (so thanks for coming back!).

In the spirit of competitiveness, there are bloggers who feel like blogging tips are their secrets to keep. Nuh uh. Blogging tips are my secrets to blab. I learned this from my blogging friend and idol, Runawaykiwi, who didn't hestitate to share everything she's learned about pitching, photography, social media, and more. But then again, Rebecca's incredibly generous.

So, in the spirit of sharing (and since I've newly embraced the title of "blogger"), I've compiled my top 7 tips for growing and maintaining your blog readership and shared it with the Bookmachine publishing community. Take a look at what I have to say here.

Because I believe that sharing is caring.

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Special Valentine's Guest Post: The Secret Life of Angloyankophile ... by Mr. Angloyankophile

Do you know the REAL Angloyankophile? There are almost 600 posts here which form a picture - but is it a true, and full one? 

For example, how many ChattyFeet socks does she own? 

There are many lovely pictures among these pages, but what about the out-takes? 

Most importantly, does she ever eat IN? 

From my vantage point as Mr 'ophile, I thought I would fill in a few salient details that have mysteriously not made it onto these pages:

J├Ąger-what? - Meeting Ms 'Yankophile for the first time while at university, I was struck by the tales of her drunken antics at her college, Mount Holyoke. 

Falling asleep outside the club after too much beer on her birthday - impressively British! 

However, over time some further important context has emerged. 'Too much' in fact meant, basically the neck of ONE beer. And the time of said disobedience? As far as I can make out it was about 8pm; with the party having kicked off half an hour before. 

In short, Angloyankophile is the worst (or maybe the best) drinker in the world! A sip is all it takes...

(h)Angry - You all know Angloyankophile as sweetness and light, sugar and spice etc. You think that's all? Just try her if dinner is running 20mins late. Shrift is short, stares are stony and a rage over something trivial is never far away. It's enough to terrify. In fact I'd better put the oven on ...

Intimidating - This one's probably not so surprising, but have you tried spending most of your time with someone who is an accomplished business person, musician, blogger, speech maker, speech writer, and has more friends already in her adopted country than most of us do in their own?! It's pretty intimidating, (could I mean irritating?). Don't worry, for the good of humanity I try to take her down a peg or two when I can ...

Mountainfearing  - At various times I notice Angloyankophile posting photos of the brooding and spectacular Mount Rainier as, variously: 

a) a picture for a blog post on the beauty of her home town;

b) the cover photo on Facebook or Instagram;

c) evidence of her undying love of nature. 

These are falsehoods. 

Angloyankophile is neither at all awestruck by mountains, or interested in walking on, climbing up or sliding down them. Below is a better representation of her 'true spiritual home':

Ear plugs at the ready - One other topic that seems to have been strangely neglected in the blog posts among these pages is Ms 'Yankophile's COLOSSAL SNORING. Seriously; where does it come from?! I don't know, but when she gets into full swing, resistance is futile.

'SLH (small luxury hotel) only please' - Angloyankophile was recently nominated as one of the UK's top travel bloggers - presumably for her fearless, independent voyaging across the globe. 

Call me a pedant but I think something has gotten lost in translation. For Angloyankophile's real outlook on travel, think Hilton instead of hostel, BA rather than backpacking, spa not Spartan. Left to her own devices I think she'd spend most years in the same resort in Thailand (even getting her there took weeks of persuasion!). 

Mr and Mrs Smith would be proud - but come on, the odd cockroach never hurt anyone!

Footsie - Angloyankophile never shows her face on her blog posts to protect her anonymity. I'll tell you one other thing you'll never see: her bare feet. Ballet shoes put paid to that; they are now more trapezoidal than feet-shaped. Sorry. 

Arachnophobia (the phobia, definitely not the film) -  You'd assume that with such a vibrant social life, trendy friends and hobbies (disclaimer: I work in finance, so to me pretty much everything is trendy to me), Angloyankophile would also naturally have a great taste in films. 

I think she would, except for one major issue - she is totally chicken! I'm not talking about horror movies here; I think she had nightmares from Monsters Inc. So it's a Disney diet for us...

Brilliant - And, in addition to all that, she's - well - brilliant. 

Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

- Mr Angloyankophile

Well, there you have it. All my secrets revealed: from trapezoidal feet to my "colossal snoring" (I highly doubt this, by the way, though the foot thing is true). Thank you, sweetie. Happy Valentine's Day :)


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Travel Talk: What's Your Travel Planning Style?

Last weekend, we booked a trip to Sri Lanka over Easter Break and it was, like, the hardest work ever. At one point, I tweeted, "Does anyone else plan their holidays with thirteen tabs open across two computers and a spreadsheet? No? Just us, then."

As I've alluded to before, I'm terrible at travel planning, which is especially ironic since I've been shortlisted for the travel category in this year's UK Blog Awards and I travel quite a bit. Sometimes - shamefully - deep down, I know that we probably wouldn't take as many trips as we do if it wasn't for John's handiwork and Zen-like state-of-mind.

And I'm not the only one. Recently, a friend admitted to taking the escalator straight up to John Lewis, plonking herself down in front of Kuoni travel specialists, and letting them plan her trip to Thailand. Another confided to me over a bowl of pho about how her upcoming trip to Burma was being "handled" by a group of travel agents. "It's just so much easier," she said, with a sigh of relief, and I was a little envious at that weight that looked to be actually visibly lifted from her shoulders.

But I think my travel planning style says more about my personality than anything else, i.e. anxious, anxious, anxious. Two weeks before our trip, I print out every single hotel confirmation, flight confirmation, rental car booking confirmation and carefully tuck and fold them into a (tabbed and labelled) plastic document holder, which also holds my travel insurance information.

I also travel with a near-complete medicine cabinet with me at all times (this is one habit of mine that I've never regretted).

You see, my first instinct when planning a trip is to panic. I'll look at a map of whatever destination we're going to and go, gulp. Whereas John ... John moves through five, distinct phases of travel planning. It's fascinating to observe.

Phase 1: Gathering information. "We're thinking of going to Vietnam," he'll mention casually to friends and colleagues at work. "Have you ever been? What did you think?" This is the informal stage of planning conception (I'm sorry to relate it to childbirth, but seriously. It's that's painful to me).

Phase 2: Study the guidebook. One of my favorite parts of travel planning is taking a trip to Waterstone's together (mostly because I spend ages looking at cards in the stationery section before getting distracted by a ghostwritten D-list celeb memoir) to buy a Lonely Planet. John will go home and flip through it thoughtfully for ages: before bed, on weekends ... and dog-ear pages of interest. I will point to pictures of beaches and say helpful things like, "I want to go there."

Phase 3: Browse accommodation. Are we the only ones who book trips around accommodation? That might be a slight exaggeration, but if there's a hotel we're dying to stay at (Sala Samui in Koh Samui was the best thing that's ever happened to me), we'll consider structuring a trip around where we'll lay our heads at night. This is also where the multiple tabs start happening ... from i-escape to Mr. and Mrs. Smith to Tripadvisor, we meticulously comb through reviews, pros and cons, and transport considerations. This is the lengthiest phase and one that I give up on easily.

Phase 4: The Spreadsheet. To help organize our trip, as well as to keep track of costs, John creates an Excel spreadsheet that magically calculates the cost of a 3-night stay in a luxury resort with a few clacking of the keys. Since I get a serious case of #smugface when I manage to merely sort and filter columns in Excel, I stay away from this phase, except to occasional tap John on the shoulder while he's working away to whisper things like, "I want to stay in the chocolate hotel. Okay? The one with the chocolate. Facing the mountain." (It's this one in St. Lucia, in case you're wondering.)

Phase 5: The Commitment. This phase involves a credit card and is the one that I fear the most ... heck, even buying flights back to Seattle freaks me out. But what if I got the wrong date? What if I change my mind? What if something happens and I can't go? What if this hotel has roaches and no one bothered to mention it? What if we missed that one Tripadvisor review that said the food gave them dysentery? WHAT IF? This is the point where, I run into the bedroom, pull the covers over my head, until John comes over with the laptop and goes, "Hello? Are you in there? Should I book it?" and I manage to squeak in agreement.

Totally. Useless.

Please tell me that you do better than this. How do you plan your trips? Do you enjoy it? Do you use Excel? Do you research chocolate hotels?

(And, also: Sri Lanka. YAY!!!)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Safe Travels

I tend to blubber a lot when I see Runawaykiwi: we both teared up while trading stories of homesickness over Venezuelan arepas in January; I got misty-eyed when I recounted how generous she'd been in sharing blogger advice with me over bowls of ramen; and then, while we brunched at Sweet Thursday, I had a lump in my throat when she presented this necklace to me (which she'd made, natch).

What can I say? We eat a lot; we cry a lot. All the emotions.

Traditionally, the St. Christopher's shield is often worn as a pendant by travellers to keep them safe on their journeys. The silver necklace above, cast in the shape of St. Christopher's shield and inscribed with the words, "safe travels", is Rebecca's own unique take on the medallion.

From one traveller to another, this necklace is a truly special gift - and one that will accompany me on all my travels.

Thank you, Rebecca. I'll try not to cry next time we meet.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Lunch @ The Twenty Six, Tunbridge Wells

Hey. How was your weekend? We met up with our friends Joe and Jodi in Tunbridge Wells, where they live with their sweet dog Darcy, and their (even sweeter!) 9-month-old, Elizabeth (she sits with one leg tucked daintily beneath her, and her favorite book is one about dragons. In. Love.).

Joe and Jodi are old friends ... all the way back to our Oxford days. Jodi's American and met Joe (who's Irish) while studying abroad at Catz (the same way I met John - I know, we're such walking cliches!) and they were married in the ultimate, romantic setting in Tuscany a few years ago. Joe's one of John's best friends, and we've all been close ever since (also, our names all start with "J", which is both funny and weird!). Before Elizabeth was born, they moved to Tunbridge Wells and bought a house, which they renovated and it looks amazing. All that space! An American fridge! A PANTRY. An American snack drawer! A DRYER. I could go on and on.

When we visited them in Tunbridge Wells this weekend, Jodi made reservations at The Twenty Six - a test kitchen by Chef Scott Goss with an ever-evolving menu that's different every day. As you know, I'm really excited about seasonal eating, and the winter-warming dishes on Saturday's menu really appealed to me: small plates of beetroot and goats cheese or smoked haddock rarebit served as starters to bigger plates like the venison stew and mash (pictured above).

I wish I'd taken a picture of the interior to show you, as it's really something special. More Scandi ski-lodge than Tunbridge Wells, there are twenty-six seats for twenty-six people (get it?) and the decor is all rustic wood and simple, striped cloth napkins. Scrabble letters spelled out the name of our reservation, and the venison stew was served in a gorgeous, copper pot. It really felt as though we were dining at someone's kitchen table (or chalet!) rather than at a restaurant.

I also wish I'd known that the venison stew would be so delicious, as I ended up picking from John's plate, instead of focusing on my own (which was equally good) cep and pearl barley risotto.

The pearl barley risotto was creamy, rich, and fragrant. The addition of chestnuts was a welcomed surprise, though it also meant that the dish became a little too filling for me (even as I reached over to pick at John's plate ... forcing him to eventually ask, "Do you want to trade?" as I wordlessly took his plate from him. #sorrynotsorry).

As we chatted and watched in delight as Elizabeth gummed away at cucumber slices and pesto pasta (she doesn't have a single tooth yet! Sweetness.), I thought about what a luxury it was to eat in a restaurant that wasn't in London, where we weren't pushed out of our seats after the two-hour allotted time slot, or pushing our way through weekend crowds to where we needed to be. Everything felt simple. Easy. Relaxed.

For dessert, John and I split the rhubarb and ginger fool, which he hadn't expected to be as creamy as it was (John's not a fan of cream - weirdo).

Undeterred, I generously dug in with my spoon, helping myself to the candied ginger pieces on top of the cream, before diving into the rhubarb jelly underneath. It was a delicious, chilled winter dessert - proving that not all cold-weather desserts have to be hot puddings or warm cakes.

Before we left, we swept up pieces of rogue cucumber from the floor and had one more drink for the road before heading back to settle in front of Joe and Jodi's cozy fireplace.

A lovely weekend with friends, and one to keep in mind ahead of another busy week.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Jewellery With Meaning

Happy Friday. The weekend's so close, I can almost taste it. Can you?

I've written about wearing jewellery that's close to my heart before (both here and here), but I'd love to share with you a new(ish) bracelet that I've been wearing on and off lately.

This gold bangle was given to my mom by my dad after he visited Thailand many, many years ago. When I went home for Christmas, my mom said I could have it (on the condition that I took good care of it!) if I wanted to wear it, and because my wrist's so small (I have freakishly small wrists!), it fit me perfectly.

The bracelet depicts the animals of the entire Chinese Zodiac - I wear it so that the ox, tiger, and dragon face upwards, as they remind me of my family (yup, my mom is an actual tiger mom!).

I like having tangible reminders of home and of my family. After receiving emails for events I'd love to go to with my mom recently (a Jo Malone evening or a piano recital at King's Place), I'm feeling a little homesick and sad. Wearing this bracelet reminds me that she's just on the other end of the phone ... or FaceTime, or iMessage, or Instagram, as it seems to be the case these days!

What's a special piece of jewellery that you wear? Is it a family heirloom? I'd love to know.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Just In Time For Valentine's: A ChattyFeet Giveaway!

John and I love our ChattyFeet socks (I steal his Brad Feet socks whenever he's out of town because they look like him!). They're fun, cheerful, and comfortable.

The newest pairing of Danny and Sandy had us both laughing out loud.

Aren't they hilarious? They'd definitely fit right into the Dalston scene. I can see Sandy grabbing a milkshake with girlfriends at The Diner before meeting Danny for a date at Rio Cinema. And best of all, since Danny looks like a plain black sock from the ankle up, John's going to wear them to work (though he did admit to occasionally slipping his shoes off under his desk when he's stressed - ha!).

Just in time for Valentine's Day, ChattyFeet is giving away 10 pairs of his 'n hers socks: 5 pairs of Danny & Sandy sets and 5 pairs of Commander Awesome & Venus sets. To enter, click on this link and follow the instructions. Which pair would you choose?

Giveaway ends on February 7th, and the winner will be selected on February 8th. Good luck!

Danny & Sandy were generously provided to us by ChattyFeet Socks, whose socks I genuinely love. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Angloyankophile!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Travel Link-Up: The Unexpected Benefits of Blogging


I started writing this blog in 2010, but I didn't start "promoting" it until, maybe, a year or so ago.

What do I mean by "promote"? Well, I mean doing things like: tweeting links to posts, creating a Facebook page for my blog where people could effectively subscribe to and "like" my posts, signing up to Bloglovin' (another subscription platform), and joining blogger communities like Zomato, where I could meet other food-obsessed bloggers like me.

At that point, I was only very barely beginning to think of myself as a blogger. Before then, I'd shyly describe it as a "you know, a sort of thing, that I've got going on the side." Isn't that crazy? I wrote for four solid years and never thought of it as legit blogging.

I sat in a roomful of bloggers last weekend who've been blogging for 6 months, 1 year, or 2 years (at most) and not a single one of them hesitated to describe themselves as bloggers when introducing themselves. Yet, I did.

What was my hestitation?

I so wanted to be taken seriously. I still do. Truthfully? I was embarrassed by the "blogger" label. I thought that it'd incite a lot of eye-rolling and dismissive hand-waving. Because, you know, nowadays ... everyone has a blog, right?

And then there's my "real" job. I really like my job in publishing, and I'm so grateful for it - I know that hundreds of other applicants would love to be in my position and to have had the career trajectory that I've had. I know that I'm lucky to have gotten where I am without having to do a single stint of unpaid work experience or internship.

But maybe you've guessed from reading this blog that maybe - just maybe - my day job isn't everything.

And once I allowed myself to accept that?


I became a blogger.

I started writing posts like these, and made myself more vulnerable to my audience. In doing so, I started to build my readership, which inadvertently began a dialogue in the comments section of my posts.

And let me tell you: that's been one of the most rewarding benefits of blogging. I've told you time and time again: reading your comments makes my day. Hearing about your personal experiences, or how my story has reminded you of yours is a phenomenal bonus I receive from blogging.

And when I started following, chatting and conversing with other bloggers, well, then, I hit the jackpot. The blogging community is incredibly supportive. I've met some terrific bloggers that I'm now lucky to call friends. You know, when I was lying awake in bed at my parents' house this past winter break, mentally preparing myself for staring at the seat in front of me on the plane 72 hours later, my heart sank at the thought of leaving the comforting surroundings of my family home and returning to a grey, cold, and unfriendly London. But then I remembered that I had brunch planned with Rebecca of Runawaykiwi and that Robin, who pens the beautifully-written Second Floor Flat, was just on the other end of an email if I wanted to talk, talk.

And my heart lifted a bit. It lifted a lot, actually.

So that's definitely one of the most surprising benefits I've discovered about blogging: I didn't expect to make so many new friends. Friends who are incredibly generous with their time and friends who are incredibly generous with their knowledge. Friends who are incredibly generous with their kindness.

The free meals, products, and PR parties? That's all icing on the cake, for sure. I'd be lying if I didn't say I enjoyed those "benefits" very, very much. But the friendships?

Just ... amazing.

Becoming a blogger has been a humbling experience. It's made me realize that, while my experience may be unique, there are thousands of other writers out there expressing the very same things I've strived to express in a thousand, beautiful different ways: love, heartache, wonder, worry, amazement, and excitement.

And yeah. I'm a blogger.

Photo by Emily Tapp, taken at About Time Magazine's SETSessions. Check out other bloggers' inspiring stories about the unexpected benefits of blogging on Emma, Kelly, and Rebecca's blogs.
© angloyankophile

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