Friday, January 30, 2015
Am I right?
It seems like this week has dragged. What are you doing this weekend? I wanted to visit the new Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street (AKA The Walkie-Talkie AKA 90s Cell Phone), but apparently, I missed the boat when it came to booking tickets because you have to reserve waayyy, wa-hayyy in advance. I even tried to book a table for breakfast, lunch, or dinner at one of the building's three restaurants and was sniffily rejected by the online booking system. Fail.
That's one of my frustrations about living in a city like London. There are amazing opportunities for things to do and see on the weekends, but high demand means that you have to plan early. And sometimes, I just feel like being spontaneous. Londonist is great for last minute suggestions, though. Maybe I'll go to this Lego exhibition instead (can't believe I just typed that - I am so sad) and see if John wants to go on a Westfield shopping spree while we're out there (bo-ring).
This was the week of ... flowers.
Like many Londoners, I have my little London secrets: shops, restaurants, coffee shops that I like to keep to myself. Stems on Sicilian Avenue in Holborn is one of these secrets (but oops! I just told you.). I don't know what your experience of buying fresh flowers in London has been, but mine are almost always heinous. Options are:
1) Walk into dark shop with fancy lettering on a black marquee. Smile at shopkeeper who looks up from the glow of her Macbook Air just long enough to scowl at you. Browse selection of "artisan" bouquets priced at upwards of £35. Laugh nervously as your eyes dart around for "cheaper" alternatives, such as daisies, tulips, anything that will keep you from having to use your Boots points for lunch this week. Leave shop and walk into Tesco across the street, purchasing a selection of gerber daisies while ripping off the £10 price tag from the cellophane after you've swiped it through the self-scanning machine.
2) Walk past flower stand outside tube station. Consider the sad, drooping roses which have clearly suffered from fuel-poisoning after sucking up the exhaust pipes of passing London traffic. Avoid making eye contact with the stallholder so he doesn't start pointing out hastily-tied bouquets for "Only £25, darling. It's a bargain." Bargain my ass. Weakly request a bunch of five tulips instead, which will set you back £10. The arrangement looks lame, so you ask for another five, and you're suddenly down £20. Stallholder takes your money and wraps your pink and purple in brown butcher paper. You leave feeling slightly triumphant, but your face falls when your tulips die practically as soon as the sun sets.
To avoid either scenario, I usually head to one of my favorite markets in London on Sundays: Columbia Road Flower Market, where beautiful, ginormous bouquets of all persuasions can be purchased for ridiculously low prices (especially near closing time, which is when I typically go to get the best deal).
Aside from Columbia Road, however, Stems in Holborn is terrific for bouquets that you want to give as a gift. Their beautiful little shop on Sicilian Avenue always has a unique, thoughtfully arranged selection outside and the vibe is incredibly friendly and warm. The bouquets - whether large or small - always evoke a sense of the rustic countryside for me. Definitely not Tesco.
I bought the sweet little purple and yellow arrangement (GO HUSKIES!!! I mean, what?) above for a friend who needed cheering up on Monday (which she loved) and they were only £5! Cheaper than a nice block of chocolate (and flowers last longer, in my experience).
Yesterday, a dear co-worker of mine was retiring after 45 years (yes, really!) and I sent him off with some blue roses from Stems.
So, you see? It *is* possible to find pretty, reasonably-priced flowers in central London. But let's just keep this to ourselves, okay?
Oh, and have a great weekend.
Thursday, January 29, 2015
I love helping Londoners with restaurant recommendations - especially on Twitter. One of the most frequently asked questions is about co-working spaces, or places where freelancers can plug in, settle down, and work for the day, all while enjoying a decent cup of coffee or food. Described on their website as a "social working space", Forge & Co (situated directly opposite the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch) does just this: its canteen and bar area is for socializing and chilling out, while its workspaces provide hot desks for freelancers and small businesses.
On Monday, I went to check out their Canteen and instantly loved the interiors: designed as an entirely open-plan space, the bar area is denoted with soft chairs, low tables, and a beautiful long bar of glittering spirits. The Canteen section housed several long, communal tables and more intimate seating designed for two people, while artwork hung on the walls.
As an American, one of the first thing I notice about restaurants is service. And London can be notorious for bad/indifferent service. But I was greeted warmly as soon as I walked into Forge and effortlessly catered to when I requested cocktails instead of the lovely bottle of red we'd been generously offered.
I asked the bar manager to knock up a "fruity, non-alcoholic" concoction for me as I'm currently participating in Dry January (otherwise known as, OHMYGODSOMEONEPLEASEHANDMEAGLASSNOMAKETHATABOTTLEOFWINENOW) and was presented with this berry beauty:
It tasted like a Starburst. All different kinds of wonderful.
Then we turned our beady eyes to the menu: it's varied (from sharing plates to salads), traditional (corn and herb fed chicken), and even brow-raising (Forge & Co are well known for their Ox heart burger - not for the faint-hearted! See what I did there? Heart ... hea - okay, sorry).
But because we've been missing our Pacific Northwest seafood fix, we plumped for the Dublin Bay prawns with caper butter. And they were ... huge.
The samphire was a great addition - I love a bit of samphire with seafood (except for the time I had samphire at Trullo, which was so over-salted that I gagged, and then was icily lectured by the waitress, "Madam, samphire is naturally salty." Sigh.).
Unfortunately ... the prawns were undercooked. Really undercooked. When they're done, prawns should have a meaty, whitish texture (prawns this big taste almost like lobster). This was transluscent and tasted strongly of the sea (read: fishy). Which was a shame, because we had to actually send them back. And I never send things back because it's embarrassing and I hate kicking up a fuss.
But - but! They were great about it. Our server whipped away our plates and returned, apologizing as the chef agreed the prawns were undercooked. I think this speaks volume about a restaurant: sometimes, it's not so much about the food, but how an awkward situation is dealt with - and Forge & Co definitely handled this with grace. On the rare occasion I've complained (albeit, as politely as possible), I'm used to being blamed (ahem, Trullo). So, I was impressed. We ordered the duck rillettes as a replacement, which came accompanied by some delicious rye toast.
Our main course of 28 day Speydside ribeye with chips (yes, we made the mistake of ordering the same thing again - we're so boring!) was nicely cooked, but slightly underwhelming. John thought his Bearnaise sauce tasted a "bit off" and I didn't love my salsa verde. To be honest, my focus was on the mini brussel sprouts with lardons (which we'd tacked on as a side), which were dee-li-cious. Seriously, I could've eaten another plateful of those on their own! And they were a terrific accompaniment to the steak (I actually prefered it to the salsa verde).
After having a huge hit (the cocktails) and a couple of meh-misses (the prawns and the steak), our dinner was suitably redeemed by this gorgeous chocolate fondant, served with a scoop of chestnut ice cream - a winning combination that you really can't go wrong with. The chocolate was perfectly melted in the middle, and the plating was so pretty, I felt a little bad digging into it.
Just to give you an idea of how pretty the interiors are at Forge & Co (and to show you what an utter creepster I am), take a look at their bathrooms:
THOSE SINKS, THOUGH. Aren't they dreamy? I'd love to have a sink like that in my future home. Can you imagine? I'd wash my face all the time just to stare into that pretty pattern.
But I digress.
I think that Forge & Co is a great place to meet for a drink with friends, grab a coffee during the day, or even brunch on the weekends. If I ever took this blog full-time (yeah, right - I wish! Could I also win the lottery, please?), I'd definitely consider camping out there.
With the food, I think there's some room for improvement, but we had a fun evening and the staff were just so darn nice, that I walked out thinking that I could walk right back in.
I was generously hosted as a guest by Forge & Co and Zomato UK - thank you so much! All opinions are my own.
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Hey! You! Yes, you! Where are you running to? Don't run away just because you saw "vegan" in the title of this post.
You know, I had the very same thought when Laura of The Whole Ingredient started following me on Twitter. "Vegan | Wholefoods | Foodie | Londoner", her profile said. "Oh boy," I said to myself, and waited for her to unfollow.
I mean, have you seen my Instagram posts? They're about as meaty and carnivorous as you can get! But then I clicked on the link to her website and instantly fell in love with her healthy but delicious recipes: Peanut Butter Pie Granola, Super Protein Kale Caesar Salad, and Pecan, Sage, and Cherry Quinoa Stuffing all spoke to me. To me, readers, a die-hard carnivore.
That kind of says it all.
After gushing about how much I loved her recipes, I found out that Laura and I have quite a bit in common: we both work in publishing, we both love to write, and we both love food.
The reason why I love The Whole Ingredient so much (aside from the beautiful photography, great writing, and mouth-watering recipes) is because it's so accessible to those who aren't necessarily vegan or perhaps are a little too intimidated to try vegan recipes for fear that they'll taste like ... cardboard (yes, my previous experience with a vegan brownie was akin to that of biting into a cereal box). It's a non-judgey, welcoming place for all to try some healthy and nutritious recipes without the use of fancy gadgets (ahem, I still want a spiralizer, though) or crazy ingredients.
I love Laura's approach to cooking and to life, which is why I am honored to share her recipe for Macadamia Goji Bliss Balls - a delicious, good-for-you alternative to chocolate truffles. Enjoy!
The Whole Ingredient - Macadamia Goji Bliss Balls
Are you familiar with ‘bliss balls’? If not, please be assured this is merely the term du jour for truffle. Or healthy raw truffle, to be more accurate. I have no idea where the term came from, but I suspect there is a yoga connection somewhere… Essentially, these Macadamia Goji Bliss Balls are a deliciously healthy and nutritious way to indulge in something sweet, while benefiting from the wonderful superfoods that are all rolled up in lovely coconut.
Have I mentioned yet that a batch of these tasty treats can be yours in just ten minutes? Perfection. Bliss balls really are one of the easiest and most versatile raw snacks you can make – all you need is a food processor and ten minutes.
I like to whip up a batch at the start of the week, ready to be deployed in any number of the following ways:
· with my morning coffee;
· as a delicious addition to my bowl of Healthy Plum & Pecan Granola;
· as a snack at my desk;
· for a no-fuss healthy dessert;
· as a topping for a more extravagant dessert; and
· when I’m out and about and don’t want to be tempted by a less virtuous treat (and everyone’s bag or pocket has space for a teeny tiny tupperware, right?)
My recipe for bliss balls also makes them super-powered: the macadamia nuts alone are a powerhouse of protein, vitamins and minerals (including zinc, copper and potassium), not to mention the added bonus of antioxidants such as selenium, that help to protect us against harmful toxins. Macadamias are also low in cholesterol, meaning they’re great for our hearts! Goji berries are another excellent source of antioxidants and can boost our immunity – which is exactly what we need during these cold months.
Why else should you give these a try? Well, this is a snack that’s refined sugar free and includes raw cacao, which not only tastes delicious but is a fantastic source of B vitamins and, again, antioxidant powers! Chocolate really is good for you. I roll these in desiccated coconut (result = virtuous Bounty bar!), but you could use anything else you love, from chia seeds to matcha powder or more raw cacao. Be creative!
So here’s my recipe for Macadamia Goji Bliss Balls: I hope they are as popular in your house as they are in mine!
o 10 dates, pitted
o 50g ground almonds
o 2 tbsp raw cacao (or cocoa powder)
o 1 tbsp maple syrup
o 2 tsp solid coconut oil
o Pinch Himalayan pink salt
o 30g macadamia nuts, chopped small
o 30g goji berries
o 30g desiccated coconut
1. Put the dates, ground almonds, raw cacao, maple syrup and coconut oil in a food processor and pulse on a slow speed to begin with. The ingredients should start to clump together; once this happens you can increase the speed to create a smooth paste.
2. Combine the mixture in a bowl with the macadamia nuts and goji berries.
3. Roll into small balls and coat with the coconut.
4. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.
Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful recipe, Laura! I can't wait to make these this weekend! I think that they would look great in a mason jar with a ribbon, if you wanted to give them as a gift, don't you think?
For more delicious vegan recipes, check out The Whole Ingredient - prepare to be inspired!
Photos © 2015 Laura Hemmington
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
So, this morning, I jumped on to #ttot (which stands for "Travel Talk On Twitter") - a chance for travel enthusiasts to chat and discuss a short set of questions on Twitter once a week. The theme was "tourist vs. traveller" and one of the questions was along the lines of, "What would you say to a tourist, if you were a traveller, and vice versa?" Someone scoffed, "I'd tell tourists that there's more to travelling than organized tours!"
I chuckled along to myself.
But then I got annoyed.
Before there was Expedia, before there was Tripadvisor or Kayak or Agoda or Hotel.com, before there was Mr. & Mrs. Smith or i-escapes.com or Voyage Prive ... there were phone books. And travel agents (these both still exist, I'm totally aware).
If we wanted to go on vacation, my mom would sit down with a pen and a thick pad of paper, make several phone calls, and write things down like, "$354 round trip, 7 nights". I'd be playing in the other room and hear her murmuring on the phone, beginning questions with, "Okay, and what if ...? Could you tell me one more time ...?" Then, off we'd go - to tour the East Coast, the Canadian Rockies ... on a bus. With a group. Of thirty-something other Chinese tourists.
Yes, I was one of them.
I scoff at the Chinese tourists taking selfies in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, but I was one of them. Right down to the umbrella-wielding tour guide, the group lunches (at Chinese restaurants, of course), the multiple translations (Mandarin and Cantonese - sometimes even three, if Japanese tourists were in our group), and dirty looks from other, non-Chinese tourists.
Yes, I was the recipient (aged 9) of the charming comment, "Here come the chinks," at a McDonald's in New York (uttered, ironically - or not so ironically? - by a black woman), as we all piled out of the bus for an early morning breakfast.
Humiliated, embarrassed, ashamed - didn't even begin to describe how I felt.
I hated the bus tours. I hated getting up at 6:30 in the morning, racing to the bus, dozing off for miles of uncomfortable travel, listening to explanations in Mandarin, Cantonese twice over, being told where to go, when to eat, or where to stand. Most of all, I was so embarrassed.
But without the resources to plan a trip that we have today, it was difficult for my parents (and really, my mom) to organize a self-run trip. Sure, you'll tell me in the comments that you're a product of the 70s or 80s (or earlier) and your parents took you to an amazing trip to Switzerland when you and your brother were just aged three and four, and that you have fond memories of eating cheese sandwiches on the Swiss Alps and losing your favorite donkey keychain souvenir when a passerby knocked it out of your hand - sure. You'll tell me that.
But looking back, I really feel for my parents. They were inexperienced travellers. They were worldly, sophisticated, and had a thirst to travel and explore, but organized trips were so much easier - less stressful, especially with two small children. Letting someone plan your schedule, take care of your food, accommodation and transportation? It was a compromise - and a good one, at that.
Even I get anxious about trip-planning now. I've been shortlisted for the "Travel" category of the UK Blog Awards, but I am one of the most anxious travellers you'll ever meet.
There, I said it.
I hate planning trips. I love exploring new places and I love to travel (and I wouldn't trade the freedom of traveling on your own terms for anything), but the logistics of it all makes me breathe into a paper bag. The real travel pro? John.
Cool-as-a-cucumber, he's used to showering in first class lounges in another time zone upon arriving from a business red eye flight and giving back-to-back presentations within an hour or so of said shower. John is the ultimate travel pro (I actually joke that he's a robot). He never freaks out and is always up for adventure, but he also makes rational, measured decisions.
Want to know what our holiday planning is like? John sits in front of the computer in the kitchen, looking up flights, dates, and searching hotels, while I whirl around him like a dervish, pretending it isn't really happening, offering to look up some Tripadvisor reviews here and there, and saying things like, "That airline totally crashed in 1998. That airline is sooooo sketchy". Go ahead, withdraw my shortlist nomination.
But back to the organized tours.
When I visited the Louvre five years ago, a group of elderly Chinese tourists were, indeed, crowded around - you guessed it - the Mona Lisa. The tour guide patiently began explaining the history of the piece in Mandarin, then Cantonese, speaking into a microphone clipped to her shirt. The group pressed their audio guides to their ears.
A couple lingered on after they had moved on to the next painting, wanting to get a picture. "Move closer, move closer!" the woman said to her husband in Cantonese, waving her hand impatiently at him. I watched from a distance, amused. "Closer! How can I get you in the shot if you're not close enough?" she snapped. Her obedient husband shuffled sightly to the left. He reminded me so much of my deceased grandpa (and the woman, of my grandma), that I smiled. After the picture had been taken, they shuffled off to join the others, and I gazed after them.
And then I thought, so what? So what if an organized tour is how you prefer to travel? At least it get you out and about and exploring the world. At least you haven't let your anxiety or uncertainty or shyness or inexperience (or age!) stop you.
Today, there are smaller, "backdoor" or "off-the-beaten-path" travel groups led by travel experts such as Seattle-native, Rick Steves (whom my parents are very fond of, naturally). These groups seek to give curious travellers (who might not take the plunge of travelling on their own accord) the chance to experience a different culture or travel destination "like the locals do", providing a more authentic experience than en masse bus tour groups do while offering the security of a loose schedule and accompanying local guide.
So, seriously. Next time you pass a group of French, Italian, Spanish, or even Chinese tourists? Try not to judge. It may be their only opportunity to travel - and the only way they know how. (Okay, you can judge a little bit at white socks and sandals, or umbrellas when it's sunny out, or the inability to queue, or ...)
Monday, January 26, 2015
Happy Monday* (*btw, you know you overuse that phrase when your mother-in-law - who reads your blog - starts off an email with, "Happy Monday!"). How was your weekend?
Our sweet little niece, Dorothy, celebrated her first birthday on Saturday. She had all sorts of fun playing with her favorite (and only) Uncle John, hanging upside down, unwrapping presents (and promptly eating the tissue paper), giggling like the silly bean she is, and perfecting her bewildered, deer-in-the-headlights look when we sang "Happy Birthday" to her.
We brought some baby gifts from Alex and Alexa, which is my favorite online children's retailer - they always have a terrific selection of designer baby clothes and unique toys (not to mention, fabulous sale prices!). I chose this sweet sun hat from Petit Bateau to protect her little fair skin, plus these striped leggings and paint-splattered top for a little hipster ensemble. All she needs now is a pair of baby Converse ...
When I got home, it felt like my birthday all over again as I unwrapped this gorgeous wreath that had been made for me by Karen, a talented photographer and writer (and crafter!) who pens the incredibly addictive blog, I Don't Like Peas.
Isn't it stunning? I know that Christmas is over, but I think the vibrant colors transcend any season, don't you think? When I saw Karen's blog post on these beautiful fabric wreaths she'd made for her friends (each has a special story), I left a comment saying how beautiful I thought they were ... I didn't expect her to offer to make me one!
But on Friday, I received this gorgeous wreath in the mail, carefully wrapped in bubble and tissue paper, with a lovely note from Karen, who explained that the wreath had been made of silk and "leftovers from a dress my mum made for me about 16 years ago!" I was so touched.
Thank you, Karen, for brightening up my home, and for being a new friend. Twitter can be a pretty amazing place, sometimes.
Even if you didn't have a birthday to celebrate this weekend, I hope your week is getting off to a restful, restorative start!
Friday, January 23, 2015
So ... you know you just might be a little spoiled by London-city living when you wake up, see an Instagram snap of someone's avocado toast in Australia, crave said toast, roll out of bed and into Holborn Grind on your way to work, and order their smashed avocado on toasted sourdough with feta, chilli, and a squeeze of lemon - all in 40 minutes flat. (And yes, it was damn good.)
I mean, come on. Instant gratification is pretty wonderful.
But it's Friday, and I'm treating myself. I'm wrapped up in a toasty Scott & Scott London cashmere wrap (which are amazing, by the way) and drinking this new tea, which I discovered when I was walking past a health-foods store in Covent Garden (again, the universe - or, specifically, London - seems to be catering to my every need):
Caffeine tends to make me a nervous, twitchy, anxious, borderline psychotic lunatic, so I'm experimenting with caffeine-free teas. That also means that my beloved green tea is out, but a girl can only drink so many cups of peppermint tea per day, if you know what I mean (at some point, you feel like you're turning into a breathmint). What's your favorite caffeine-free beverage?
Yesterday, I swung past Zara (despite steering clear of the sales this winter, in order to "be good") and picked up this little fringed number for a stunning £9.99. What? I'm preparing for spring (even if it's 2 degrees Celsius outside).
Stripes and plaid excite me. Plus, it's inspiring me to plan that vacation I'm supposed to take over Easter ... if you have any destination recommendations, I'd love to know.
So, this is how my Friday's looking. I'm also taking a late lunch to get my hair cut this afternoon - another treat (head massage, anyone?).
However you're treating yourself this Friday, I hope you have a wonderful weekend and I'll be back on Monday with more fun and games.
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Have you ever been to a supper club? I'm kind of an anti-social low-life (slight exaggeration there, but mostly true), so they're not really my thing, but last week I put my anti-social tendencies aside to attend Christabel's Edible Playground with Alexandra of Where2DoWhat (and fellow American, might I add) in North London (truth? The venue was less than a 10-minute walk away from my flat. Score.).
I'm skeptical of supper clubs (ew, strangers), but after being greeted at the door by Christabel herself (who's a dead-ringer for Sienna Miller, btw) with a gorgeous glass of prosecco and purple glitter popcorn, I was sold.
We were instructed to select one item from the fancy dress chest to wear (tiara for me, obvs, and an oversized, sequinned bowtie for Alexandra) and sat down to the adorable place setting above. What's even more impressive was the fact that Christabel cooked and prepared all the food with just one oven (how is that even possible?).
The first course of Snakes 'n Ladders (cheese with chilli honey on rye toast and peppers cut into the shape of snakes) was sweet and perfect for whetting the appetite, but was nothing compared to the main course of "Build Your Own Quinoa Castle and Paint Your Own Chicken".
Yes, you read that correctly. Provided with golden buckets of pink quinoa and purple-dyed eggs, we literally dug in (with mini plastic shovels and rakes) and carefully shaped the foundations of our castles. However, taking a sneak peek at the castle-builders around me, it became quickly apparent that I was one of the few dinner guests unaccustomed to being given artistic licence over their food (that or I have no creative streak whatsoever). Before prizes could be awarded for the best castle, however, I'd already dug in - this time with my fork. Oops.
The chicken, which I ate with relish before a photo could even be snapped, was delicious and served with a chilli sauce, which we were meant to paint on with the paintbrush provided above (halfway through, I got too impatient and just ate the chicken, leaving the sauce on the side!).
But the dessert of Shortbread Jenga, Chocolate Ganache Lego, and Chocolate Mousse was ... legendary.
Doesn't that gold glitter make this dessert look like it's straight out of a fairytale? The spray-gold walnut was supposed to resemble a beetle and, though I'd sacrificed my spoon to heap dollops of the chilli sauce onto my chicken, I easily substituted a piece of shortbread for my spoon, dunking it into the chocolate mousse and not worrying too much if I got some around my mouth - this was an edible playground, after all.
Christabel's whimsical evening definitely brought out my inner child (well, that same reserved, repressed child I actually was - I couldn't bring myself to color outside the lines, for example) and was so, so much fun. When I wasn't busy ogling the children's books carefully placed around the table and (non-edible) lego pieces scattered next to my plate, I tried to take in all the magnificent colors of the food and decorations, which truly created a storybook feel.
If you're up for a similar, magical experience, why not book a place for one of Christabel's upcoming pop-ups, like the Mad Hatter's Brunch (which I've been dying to try) or the slightly more risque Cocktails 'n Crack (yes, really)? Places start at £25 and it's the perfect place to take a date or a group of friends.
Monday, January 19, 2015
How many of you have been in a long-distance relationship (or "LDR", as it's been cringe-worthily renamed)? It doesn't matter if your love transcends state lines, county lines, or international date lines - long distance relationships are hard.
That's it. Just hard.
I haven't talked much about my own long-distance relationship here (even though I talk a lot about my long-distance relationship with my family back in the States). That's mostly because it seems ... well, so far behind me in the past. In fact, as I write this, we celebrate 10 years (10 years!) of being together today.
And yet, it is so much a definition of who I am; of who we are as a couple. Our long-distance relationship, while in the past, continues to influence and shape our future. It's impossible to ignore.
During a recent visit to my childhood home, I went through my boxes and drawers of all my old stuff (as you do). Photographs, ticket stubs, trinkets, and letters all came tumbling out. And then I found these: held together by a thick rubberband, a stack of all-too-familiar-looking train tickets measuring at least two, if not three, inches thick, their orange borders identical to the ones still issued today.
Back then, we were separated only by countries - me in York, studying for an MA, John in Paris, building his career at an international technology company. But even then, I could remember precisely what it felt like to stand at the platform edge at York as his train slowly pulled away from me. I often felt a rising panic; one that would catch at the back of my throat and threaten to overwhelm me if I didn't turn away and head for the bus stop immediately. Or, the reverse: getting on a GNER train (remember those?) at the old King's Cross (remember that?) - a miserable, gritty, canker sore of a train station, with pigeons threatening to shit on your head while you stood with your mouth agape at the departure board and a ring of commuters who stared ahead at the bleak entrance before them, waiting for their trains to be called.
I hated it.
But before that, we'd been separated by an ocean, with me in Massachusetts finishing up my degree and John in Oxford and London, completing his MSc. Which was worse. A lot worse. Back then, I'd run to my college mailbox, excited by the promise of a postcard or letter postmarked "Oxford" or "London" or "Leicester" - and it would never disappoint. Back then, I'd use up all the money I earned during my campus job as a college admissions fellow on phone cards. That mechanic, faux-cheerful voice telling me, "You have (pause) fifty (pause) cents remaining on your card. Please enter your credit card information if you wish to continue this call."
Back then, Skype was very new. Hardly anyone had heard of it before. A friend of a friend of a friend had told John about it and we decided to give it a try.
It was a game-changer.
Over the next few months, we scheduled "movie dates" (complete with popcorn and M&Ms), where we'd pop a DVD in at the same time and keep Skype on so we could chat throughout. We'd keep Skype on all night so we could "sleep" next to each other; our hearts breaking as the connection broke.
"That is, like, so sweet," someone remarked when I told this to them.
No, it fucking wasn't, I wanted to say. It was necessity. That craving for normalcy? That need for open and constant communication as much and as frequently as possible? It wasn't "sweet".
It was a matter of survival.
On my 22nd birthday, John bought me a ticket and I flew from Boston to London for the weekend - Udita drove me to the airport at 3:30 a.m. (and she had a Neuroscience exam at 7:00 a.m. What a friend, eh?). I arrived feeling excited, breathless, nervous, and emotional. The immigration official asked me what I was doing in London and I answered: "To visit my boyfriend, who lives here." Even she was taken by our long-distance love story, remarking on how "romantic" it was that I was there for a flying visit and wishing us well.
But as my whirlwind trip came to a close and we skated around Somerset House one last time (the tickets were a surprise from John), one memory sticks out in my mind more than any other - one that I've never shared with anyone before.
We were in the bedroom of the house he shared with some of his brother's friends in Stoke Newington. The sky was nearly dark and the branches outside his window were withered, brittle, and frail. My plane left the next morning. John had just given me a diamond necklace (which I would never take off, but later lose, only to have it replaced) and I burst into tears. I suddenly felt that gripping panic that had taken hold of me so many times before. I couldn't see how this could possibly work. I gulped for air as he grasped my hands.
"Look at me," he'd said. "Look at my face. You'll watch this face grow old and wrinkly. I promise. Okay?" And I knew then that I would. Because I believed him.
I think belief - self-belief, collective belief - is the key to surviving a long-distance relationship. The doubts that settle in our minds like gremlins gnash their teeth into our consciousness, diminishing and defeating belief like vapors being blown away. I think back to the times we argued, cried, or talked about ending things - and they were all instances of diminished belief, when we couldn't see an end to our long-distance situation.
Of course, practicalities are everything. Belief can't stand on its own if you have no concrete plans (or attempts at plans) to be together at some stage. Timelines are helpful. Planning visits during a visit is helpful. But at the bottom of it, belief (even if it's sometimes false), can carry you through - for just long enough.
Have you been in a long-distance relationship? Are you in one now? How are you dealing with it? I'd love to know. And if you're struggling through a long-distance relationship at the moment, hang in there!
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Since its opening in April 2014, Nordic-influenced INK has received a mixed reception online. Not knowing what to expect, I visited the restaurant's Bethnal Green premises last night with an open mind (and, thankfully, John's superior sense of navigation, as I almost got lost in Mile End's Milennium Park, careening off paths and nearly into Regent's Canal).
But what you really need to know is that the food is incredible and - granted it's a little tricky to find - the restaurant is very much worth a visit.
I'm impressed by any restaurant that sources fresh produce locally. At INK, the ingredients are so fresh, Chef Martyn Meid has done away with the traditional ala carte menu (which, perhaps misleadingly, can still be found on the website) and opted instead for a 5-course tasting menu, with wine pairing (currently priced at £50 per person, though you can also choose three courses instead for £30), visiting London's markets as early as 3 a.m. to source fresh fish and seasonal vegetables.
On the evening of our visit, the menu had been decided and printed at 5:45 p.m. - fifteen minutes before the doors of the restaurant were due to open. Apparently, Meid had been unhappy with the quality of fish at Billingsgate that morning and, refusing to serve frozen fish, decided to select the best cuts of meat from Smithfields instead. See? Impressive. That fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants mentality is both exciting and nail-biting at the same time. Diners don't know what's on the menu until they arrive, which may deter some, but not me, given that one of my beloved/favorite pop-up restaurants (PipsDish - which ended its temporary stint in Covent Garden last year) operated on a similar model.
But as the food started arriving to our table from the kitchen, it became very clear that this was no spontaneous "accident": every combination, pairing, and inclusion had been well-thought out, expertly executed, and artistically displayed. And yet - and this is important to note - not for the sake of being "creative". When I told a colleague that I was trying out a new restaurant specialising in "experimental" cuisine, he stifled a laugh and asked if drinks would be served in test tubes. "I'll find out," I replied drily, as the elevator doors closed.
Not a test tube in sight. Instead, we were served a crisp, strong Chardonnay with the first and second courses and a spicy, vanilla-scented glass of red (which I sadly didn't catch the name of) with a silky smooth finish to accompany the third and fourth courses.
The first course (and John's favorite, which he embarrassingly exclaimed over and over again after polishing his second glass of wine, and some of mine, since I surreptitiously swapped glasses with him) of baby gem, black cabbage, soft egg, matcha yogurt (yes, really), and tomato powder was an ingenious plate to warm up our palates. The egg was of perfect consistency and the black cabbage, which almost tasted like crunchy seaweed, offered a lovely, crisp contrast to the warm baby gem lettuce. The tomato powder gave just a hint - not more - of sharpness; a necessary detail to a dish of simple, clean flavors.
The pork belly, served with pickled radish, oyster mushrooms, oyster jus, and crispy barley, was a study in textures - and my favorite. My knife slid through the tender pork belly easily; the meat was reminscent of the Middle White I'd previously sampled at St. John. The smooth ribbons of pickled radish, paired with the crispy barley and soft oyster mushrooms were a revelation. The sensation of these four different textures was what prompted, for me, an initial reaction of incredulity, followed by amazement.
The lamb chop came beautifully plated, atop a bed of new potatoes and served with burnt onion and sheep yoghurt (which I had incorrectly assumed was sour cream). It was tender and flavorful (if only very slightly undercooked to my unsophisticated, heathen taste) and the sheep yoghurt worked wonderfully well, its subtle tang allowing the marinade of the lamb to shine through. Though I'd long forgotten what the menu had said (especially as I was well into my second glass of wine), I found that one of the delights of dining at INK is attempting to identify flavors: they may seem familiar on the tongue, but I couldn't quite pin them down. I loved this contrast of familiarity and innovation.
The fourth and final savoury course, the beef cheek with heritage carrots and chocolate (not pictured) was perhaps our least favorite (having said that - all of the courses were very nearly our favorites, we just ranked this one at the bottom, not that we didn't enjoy it! Though John had been previously traumatized by a bad experience in Sicily concerning chocolate and wild boar) as we both felt that the bitterness of the chocolate did more to detract than enhance the beef check. The heritage carrots were slightly saltier than I'd prefer, which then didn't allow the sweetness to shine through. Still, I thought it was a good dish to include on a tasting menu.
The dessert (which doesn't look like much, I know) was a triumph, and stole the show for us. The menu, however was a little misleading in its description of simply, "soft cheese, crumble, egg snow" - and surely sold itself short. In reality, the dessert tasted similar to crushed meringue and biscuit over a delicious bit of cheesecake. Even John (who is a notorious cheese-hater) sang his praises (but not after singing his praises for the fourth or fifth time about the first course. To which I responded, "Yes, I know you really liked the baby gem lettuce. Yes, I know it was so delicious. I had it too.").
A single espresso and drunken Uber taxi ride later (where we engaged in a "lively" conversation about food snobbery), we were back at home, happily enconced in our Islington flat and re-living our gastronomic adventure of an evening.
Look. I loved this restaurant. But it's not easy to come across and I'm worried about their footfall - only because I really, really respect what Chef Martyn Meid is doing. Aside from one other table of two (who arrived later than and left before us), we were the only ones in the restaurant. Great for us (we had lovely chats with our host) but not so much for INK. In the summer, the layout works perfectly: a private balcony outside overlooking the park and the canal makes it an ideal location to relax, consume a
Despite the meal being partly subsidized by Zomato UK, I would have easily paid more than the £50 charge stated for the tasting menu - £60 or even £70 perhaps.
Could this restaurant be a game-changer? Try it for yourself and let me know.
I was generously hosted by INK and Zomato UK. All opinions are my own.
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Here at Angloyankophile headquarters (made up of me, sitting in a dirty fleece-robe with day-old hair in front of a non-Apple laptop, eating candy corn straight out of the bag, with Real Housewives of New Jersey on in the background), I like to know what you think. And, usually, you tell me in the comments sections - which is great!
But I'd like to know what you think, specifically, about Angloyankophile and how I can write more posts that interest you (although, the priority is me here - let's be realistic. I'M KIDDING. But not really).
So, would you mind taking this quick survey to let me know? (Except for you, Mom - I don't think you need to take it. Thanks.)
Thank you so much.
(Yeah, Mom - please. Don't take the survey. You'll just skew the results.)
Saturday. 6 a.m. I blinked awake. An email from my mother whooshed into my inbox and I opened it.
Message: "When you were home and you signed me up for Instagram, you only had 322 followers. Now you have 332. Where did all these new followers come from? Are they strangers? Do you know them? Does this mean they can see all your pictures? I thought you said it was for private viewing only."
I groaned and rolled over on my side, covering my head with the duvet and dropping my phone on the floor in the process.
Let me back up a bit.
Technology has connected us in ways we never thought possible. And as an expat, it's been a lifesaver. I can now talk to my dad on Sundays "across the dinner table" ... except, he's eating breakfast and I'm cooking dinner. I can email a photo of a dress I'm not sure of to my mom in the confines of a dressing room cubicle and then call her (for free) to ask for her opinion.
Then there was that time last summer when I sat sobbing in a restaurant as a lump in my throat prevented me from eating my "final" farewell dim sum lunch with my parents before they took me to the airport.
"I-I-I ... miss youuuuu," I hiccuped. My dad looked at me with a mixture of pity and disgust (he doesn't do well with crying). "Stop crying," he ordered. "Jeez. You kids have it easy. In my time, when your mom and I came to this country for college? Calls were so expensive! I called Yeh Yeh [my grandpa] once a month! Heck, now you have FaceTime, Skype, all this stuff."
He paused to wrinkle his brow at me. "Now stop crying. Your face looks like a mess." I laugh-cried even harder.
When I started writing this blog, I intended to use it to help me decide whether I wanted to live in the US or UK. I highlighted all the cultural differences I could think of, while sprinkling in my two cents on a show I'd been to or a restaurant I'd tried.
Unintentionally, it's also become a way for my
"You'll regret that," came a tweet from another Twitter user.
"Be careful what you wish for," advised another.
But a few days after Christmas, I took control of my parents' respective iPads and opened Instagram accounts for each of them.
"Look!" I said to my dad, who was peering curiously over my shoulder. "Now you can see all the pictures of my food, where I've been, and what I'm doing."
"Yuck!" he said, pointing to a black and white selfie. "Who's that?"
"What's wrong with your chin there? That dark mark? Is that a zit? I don't want to see that."
I sighed and slammed the cover of his iPad shut. "Just check it regularly," I instructed. "I update it often."
Apparently, I'm not the only one whose parents now use social media to keep up with their expat children. Runawaykiwi's mother follows her on Pinterest and Facebook (rumour has it, she even reads Angloyankophile - HI REBECCA'S MOM! YOUR DAUGHTER IS AWESOME!).
"I had to have a steak at Mrs. Turner's [a local restaurant] last night because I saw your steak on Instagram," my mom wrote in her email this morning. "It was mouth-watering. See what you did to me by signing me up on Instagram?"
Of course, it hasn't always been smooth sailing: after I initially set my mom up on Instagram, I went to take a shower, only to come out of the bathroom to see that she'd left a garbled, unintelligible comment (comp@@lte with @typ@s) under a photo I'd taken of the shoes she'd bought me, claiming that my photo had not done them justice. She then accosted me FOUR different times that evening (and the next day) to protest the photo, insisting I take another. "I'm so mad at you," she'd huff. "Take a better photo!"
Or, there was her insistence that another Instagram user was "copying me" with her food shots.
"No one's copying me, mom," I sighed. "Everyone takes their photos like that."
"Hmph," she said in the corner, poking away at the screen. "Yours are better. Your pictures are so ... so ... enticing. They really make me want to eat the dish." (We won't get into the email exchange we had where she compared a blogger/journalist's writing to mine as "the difference between cheap and expensive cashmere". Oh, moms. They always have our backs.)
All jokes aside, I'm really, really glad my parents are on Instagram now and that they can see what I'm up to. I think (and I hope) that it makes them feel better connected to me, especially on a daily basis, and that my photos give them a glimpse into what my life is like here in London - particularly when it feels (and is) so far away.
And I'm proud of them for adapting and embracing new technology (although, yesterday I had a conversation with my dad on FaceTime that went like this: "Hey Dad, have you seen my Instagram photos?" "No ..." "Have a look at them now." "How do I do that?" "Open the app." "Oh, hahaha! Dorothy is so cute! And what is the steak? What is the apple thing?" "Okay, right, now return to FaceTime, Dad." "How do I do that?" "Touch the green bar at the top." "I'm touching it, it isn't doing anything." "Just press it once." "I'm rubbing it! It's not doing anything!" And so on, and so forth).
I'm working on Twitter and Facebook (I'm just afraid my mom may inadvertently get herself involved in a Twitter maelstrom).
Are you friends with your parents on Facebook? Do they follow you on social media?
Monday, January 12, 2015
Hey. How was your weekend? I had just the right balance (for once!) of socializing and lazing around, catching up with friends and Netflix (any thoughts on House of Cards?) at the same time.
On Sunday, we went over to Tom and Cristy's as we hadn't seen each other since our respective Christmas trips to the US (us) and Australia (them). It was also a great excuse to play with baby Dorothy, of course, who was on her usual cuteness-overload form yesterday. What is it with baby feet and baby bottoms? So darned adorable.
I helped peel some veggies (so, really, sous chef territory), but Tom whipped up this amazing chicken roast with lemon, thyme, and garlic - it was perfection. There's something about sitting around a table together, sharing a bottle (or two - sore head this morning!) of wine and catching up with delicious food that's just so comforting - the smell of chicken roasting in the oven when you walk into a house is one of my favorite aromas in the world (next to the smell of one of my mom's soups simmering on the stove!).
For dessert, we had this ridiculously delicious apple tart (also made by Tom) that looked relatively easy to make (says she, who watched from the sidelines) but tasted positively heavenly with a fat dollop of creme fraiche on top:
One of these days, I'll try it out for myself (substituting the creme fraiche for an ice-cold scoop of vanilla ice cream - yum). I'm just amazed at anyone who has the ability or energy to make a dessert from scratch after cooking and organizing an entire roast!
Now that January's in full swing, it was nice to ease into the new year before our calendars become frantic and full again, which always seem to be the case for city-living.
How are you getting back into the "swing of things"?
Thursday, January 8, 2015
Two weeks before Alice died, I had a feeling that something bad was about to happen. And no matter how much time passed, it wouldn't go away.
Something just didn't sit right with me. I'd be on the bus on my way home from work, watching the rain collect on the windows and worrying. I worried about John, I worried about my family, I worried about my friends, and - occasionally - I worried about myself.
I became anxious and jumpy. The dread was the worst. I'd cling to John a little longer in the morning when he kissed me goodbye before heading off to work. I'd text him while I was on the bus to make sure he made it safely to work on his bike. I obsessively checked in with my parents and my brother. I messaged friends who were feeling unwell or seemed down lately.
Then I had a crazy idea: maybe I could keep my loved ones safe from this unknown, terrifying feeling in the pit of my stomach by performing as many random acts of kindness as possible, thus "boosting" my karma and "protecting" those around me.
It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. But when you're feeling desperate, superstitious, and a little crazy like me, you'll try anything.
I let people to step in front of me in line at the grocery store. I actively sought out anyone who looked like they needed a seat on the bus and gave it to them. I stopped to help someone who needed directions. I donated to charity.
Don't get me wrong - I try to do all of the above as much as possible anyway. But this time - this time, there was a purpose.
And then one night, on my way back from rehearsing the Britten War Requiem in Angel, I squinted into the darkness and saw an elderly woman slowly making her way down the street with a cane in one hand and a full bag of groceries in another. From where I stood, I could just about make out the shape of a stooped figure in a black coat and fur-lined hat.
It'd been raining for days and the leaves piling up on the sidewalks made walking dangerously slippery (even for me). Because of this, she was walking in the middle of the road to avoid the leaves and I was worried that a car might hit her in the darkness.
I only lived a street over from where she was slowly shuffling along, but I hesitated before approaching her - what if she was insulted by my offer to help? What if she thought I was trying to scam her? I kept walking determinedly towards my street until I stopped, sighed, and ran after her.
"Excuse me," I said brightly, as I approached her side, not wanting to startle her. "May I help you carry these home?" I gestured to her groceries.
She looked at me uncertainly. "Yeah?" she asked, skeptically.
"Yes, absolutely," I said. "I don't live far." I told her the name of my street for reassurance.
"Oh, that would be wonderful," she said. She spoke in a thick, Irish accent, and my heart broke at the sight of her cold fingers, made purple by the heavy bag. "Do you know? It's taken me an hour and a half by bus just to get here from Highbury and Islington! Traffic is terrible. And it's so quiet at night here! You're the first soul I've seen all evening!"
I nodded in agreement.
We chatted for a little while as we made our way to her flat nearby. Her name was Anne and she'd lived in Islington for over 40 years, but now lived alone after her husband passed away 15 years ago.
"But I've got to get out every day," she said. "You can't stay cooped up in your house. You've got to go out and meet people. Otherwise you won't see anyone!"
She took my arm as we crossed the street and my heart melted just a little more.
But as we reached the steps leading down to her ground floor flat, I was shocked to see that she didn't have sufficient lighting next to the steps, or even the door to her flat - very dangerous. It was completely pitch black!
"I've written to the council so many times about this," she said, searching for her keys. "But they never do anything about it."
A lump formed in my throat as I told her to be careful, and to watch out for herself. I thought about trying to set up a weekly grocery trip or organizing better lighting for her, but I didn't want to let her down (in case I couldn't deliver on my promise) and time was ticking as we stood there awkwardly in the doorway.
"You're always welcome to come by for a cup of tea," she said. "You're always welcome. You're a good girl. Your hubby is a lucky man." I laughed at this.
Reluctantly, I waved goodbye and headed back in the direction of home.
I didn't take up Anne's offer in the end because, well, a few days passed and I didn't think she would remember me. But I thought of her often (I still do). And I also thought, shamefully, embarrasingly, wrongly - and I feel as though I can tell you this and you won't judge me (or I trust you not to judge me, at least, not too harshly) - that I had done a good deed. And that, wasn't this enough to ward off the darkness that was about to occur?
So I said - I said to whoever is "up there" - I said, 'You see? You see what I've done, what I've been doing? Now you've got to keep up your side of the bargain. You've got to protect the ones I love."
But there was no bargain.
There never was.
Seven days later, I woke up to a series of horrible messages on Facebook about Alice's death. A few days after that, my brother was involved in a car accident (but thankfully, not injured, though his car was written off). My mom became ill with a severe chest infection that I was terrified would turn into pneumonia.
Which was the terrible thing that my heart had been waiting for? I didn't know. But I was angry.
I was so angry.
So I asked - I asked whoever is "up there" - I asked, 'How could you punish me like this? After all the good that I've done this week when I first had That Bad Feeling? How could you?"
And then it dawned on me: this isn't how life works. It isn't even how "up there" works. Because why would what happened to Charlie Hebdo this week have happened? Why does anything bad in the world that happens, happen? It is certainly not for the shortage of "good deeds" that are done the world over.
So, with that in mind, I ask you to tread carefully into 2015 - to perform random acts of kindness for strangers because you want to be kind, not because you want to be reimbursed for your kindness. That kind of thinking - that "karma points" thing?
It's bullshit and it's wrong.
Heck yes, I brag to my UK friends about The Dollar Tree back home all the damn time. Betty Crocker kitchen accessories? No probs, the dollar store has it. Gift bags, tissue paper, ribbons, and cards? As much as your heart desires. Pregnancy test? Got it. Marijuana drug test? Stocked next to the pregnancy tests (for reals).
Ev-ery-thing is $1. Not like, if-you-look-closer-at-certain-items-they're-actually-$4.50 kind of $1, but $1 = $1.
Poundland in the UK, on the other hand, is more of a #wompwomp disappointment. It's good for cleaning supplies and the occasional toiletry, but other than that, I wouldn't make a special effort to go and grab myself a bargain - simply because the products that are sold there aren't all that nice.
But, but, but ... Japan has a store to kick The Dollar Tree's b-u-t-t and it's called Daiso. Ever heard of it? There are stores in the US, Canada, Australia/NZ, the Middle East, and Africa, but there's not a single store in Europe (though Tiger comes close), which is hugely disappointing.
Around 95% (that's my estimate) of the items at Daiso's Canadian locations are $2 - including these two pretty trinket bowls pictured above (well, they're actually sauce bowls, but I'm using them as trinket bowls) that I found in the kitchenware section - easily something I'd see for three times the price at Anthropologie.
Daiso has everything. Things you didn't even know you needed - like, if you wear tall boots in the winter like me, Daiso has pretty-patterned boot inserts to help them keep their shape (and make them look nice and orderly in your room/hallway/closet). For $2. I just looked up a pair on Amazon.co.uk and they cost £5. Can we say rip-off?
Also, it's insanely good for Japanese beauty products. I always stock up on oil-blotting sheets when I'm there and, while I wouldn't necessarily purchase their make-up (I'm a little discerning when it comes to the quality of my make-up), their beauty tools and accessories are kind of amazing. So you might find yourself walking out with a weird haul like this:
What do BerryCarnival Pocky sticks, Daiso's own version of Breathe Right nasal strips (YES, in case you were wondering, apparently I SNORE - John threatened to write a "guest blog post" about this but I've beat him to it, obvs), pore strips (continuing the list of glamorous products I picked up), and oil-blotting sheets have in common? All items that made their way into my Daiso shopping bag.
Even John, who is usually the most far-removed from the word "shopaholic" you can get (he might be "shop-phobic", in fact) went a little bit crazy during our most recent visit to Daiso (it was his first time). Kitchen tongs for cooking (5 styles and 10 colors to choose from - with silicone and non-silicone options), clips for appliance cords, bakeware ... by the time I found him in the gardening section, his eyes were a little glazed over and he was holding a variety of mismatched objects in his hands. "We need these," he said in a robotic voice. I gave him a strange look, put the items in my basket, and gently suggested he "take a break" from Daiso by grabbing a smoothie in the Food Court instead.
Our best purchase? A set of gorgeous earthenware tea cups and bowls with delicate red and blue stripes, which my mom painstakingly bubble-wrapped to put in my carry-on luggage. Each bowl and cup cost $2, whereas they'd easily go for £10 per item here in London's expensive furniture shops. I even splurged on a beautiful $2 sake carafe which I'm planning to re-purpose as a small vase.
So, yeah. Daiso. Amazing stuff.
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
So, yesterday I went to get the battery in my watch replaced and, when the shopkeeper told me my total, I handed over a $20 bill without blinking. Like, I had three twenties in my wallet in three different currencies (because I've been too distracted to remove them or put them in the right pockets in my wallet) and of all of them, my brain decided that the one depicting President Andrew Jackson (versus Her Majesty the Queen) was the most sensible one to pick in this situation.
He stared it for a while then said, in a kind voice, "That's a dollar, love."
I turned red and babbled incoherently about still being in holiday mode, jet lag, etc. I then felt the need to assure him that I've lived in this country for 8 years, that I was fully aware that I reside in England, not the United States, and that I was just very, very tired. He nodded sympathetically.
But, I mean, come on. Dollars? It's like that American who walked into a Starbucks here (this was a while ago, when I still drank Starbucks) and said very loudly to the cashier, "DO YOU TAKE DOLLARS?"
How do you deal with jet lag? Do you struggle through, succumb to sleep, or are you not affected by it at all (like some robots I know AKA my husband)?
(p.s. if you don't get the reference in the title of this post, watch this video. Great reminder of my childhood.)
Tuesday, January 6, 2015
It's officially 2015. Out with the old and in with the new, right? And yet, I can't shake the fact that 2014 was an amazing year of travel for me.
Last year, I ate dark chocolate and pistachio gelato sandwiched in brioche in Sicily, toured the Prado in Madrid, went shopping Confessions-of-a-Shopaholic-style on Fifth Avenue in New York, and strolled the sun-drenched canals of Amsterdam in the spring.
These mini-trips all made up for the fact that John and I weren't able to take a long-haul, winter sun vacation last year (in the past, we've been beach bums in Thailand and Vietnam during the darkest months of the year), so this year, it's all about a tropical vacation again. Soon.
On my wishlist this year are a few local and far-flung destinations ...
I still haven't been. And I'm desperate to dip my toe into a thermal spring! Please, 2015, make this happen for me.
Coast Starlight from Seattle to L.A.
I've been wanting to tour the West Coast (starting in my nearly-hometown of Seattle, Washington) on Amtrak's Coast Starlight ever since I saw a picture of the train's incredible Sightseer Lounge Car, which features HUGE windows with seats facing the scenery whooshing past. As someone who loves trains (and regularly professes her love for British trains - see this post from my baby blogging days, way back in 2010!), this would be a dream come true for me.
It's a tropical island with clear blue waters, white sand, and lush green vegetation. ENOUGH SAID.
I've promised my grandma that I'd visit every time I talk to her on the phone ... and let her down every year. For a travel destination that I used to visit once a year between the ages of 1 to 17, it's one that I haven't returned to for a long while. I need to go back soon.
In the same vein, I'd love to visit Japan again. The last time I was there, I was 14, but I could still appreciate the beauty of the countryside and the crowded, neon-lit city of Tokyo - a place I dubbed Micro Machines City, after those miniature toy car cities we played with as kids. I long to order fresh sashimi from a window on the street, sleep on tatami mats, drink matcha tea, and slurp ramen with the locals.
I was supposed to go last year with my three best friends, but we failed miserably at making it happen ... I've heard enough fabulous travel stories to induce serious wanderlust envy, so I hope I'll be making my way there soon.
Until then, I'm already looking forward to a short, girly trip to Brussels in February with my best friend, Udita, where we'll be staying at the beautiful Dominican Hotel (and eating lots of waffles and chocolate!).
What are your travel plans for 2015? Be sure to check out the destinations other bloggers have lined up in this month's travel link-up on Emma, Kelly, and Rebecca's blogs.
Monday, January 5, 2015
It's the first day back at work for a lot of us (me included) and I'm finding it just ever-so-slightly ... painful. Like, as in, I couldn't really open my eyes this morning and then, when I did, they hurt.
With this in mind, I'd like to rewind. Back before the clock struck midnight on New Year's Eve, back before presents were ripped open on Christmas Day, back even before this whole concept of taking a break from London even began ... to somewhere between after I put my out-of-office on at work but before I stepped on BA Flight #53 to Seattle.
The day before we took off to the US, John and I were invited to his cousin's beautiful house in Boston Manor for a Christmas party, which happened to be not too far from Heathrow. Since we had a morning flight the next day, we decided to make the most of it by booking an airport hotel nearby. And since John left me in charge of choosing the hotel ... well, I searched for one with a spa.
Specifically, the Hilton at Heathrow Terminal 5. Easily the smartest travel decision I've ever made.
And folks, I can't recommend it enough - essentially, staying at an airport hotel is like starting your vacation early. With very little stress the next day. Vital point: very little stress. We went from our sleepy warm beds to that glass of champagne pictured above in the BA Gold Lounge (one of the perks of being married to a frequent - and I mean, FREQUENT - flier) in about 20 minutes flat. No joke.
Saturday night was mostly spent here:
I took full advantage of the steam room, sauna, and salt grotto (where salts are released into the air in the chamber, claiming to help ease migraines, headaches, and anxiety - perfect for those with pre-flight jitters like me) while John - being John - went a little crazy in the hydrotherapy pool and managed to injure his foot on a step (my level of sympathy for him varied between, "I'll go make you an ice-pack" to admonishments like, "I can't believe you did this. We haven't even started our vacation yet. This is so irresponsible. Why did you have to flop around like a dolphin in there? Why?").
Despite the minor first-world problem of injuring his foot in a spa (I repeat, in a spa), John and I had a positively luxurious evening chilling out and washing away the worries of London life, preparing instead for the holiday ahead.
After our spa excursion, John managed to limp to dinner at Mr. Todiwala's Kitchen - a delicious Indian restaurant named after its award-winning founder and chef, Cyrus Todiwala. Admittedly, I arrived at the restaurant expecting the same, soulless-bordering-on-tacky dining environment of many airport hotel restaurants but was quickly proven wrong when we were seated in the bustling, chic, and smartly decorated restaurant - complete with a superb view of the kitchen.
When I'm on vacation, I give myself a licence to (with limitations, of course!) basically do/eat/see whatever I want. And on this particular evening, I didn't want a standard curry with rice, so I went a little off-piste and decided to order off the menu (vegetable samosas, which were delicious), plus requested that the starter of scallops and peshwari naan arrive all at once, as my main course. Queen. For. A. Day (or all the time, depending on whom you talk to!).
After dinner, we walk/limped to our room, where the most comfortable king-sized bed (with big, fluffy pillows) awaited us and watched TV for an hour or so before dozing off. I must have been in a truly relaxed state, because when our alarm went off the next morning at 5:45 a.m. (which isn't even that early for me, and is considered "normal" or even late for John), I jumped out of bed and proceeded to wildly pace the room while not really accomplishing anything for about 10 minutes or so.
Soon, however, we quickly got our acts together and made it to the airport shuttle, which whisked us to Terminal 5 in a matter of minutes. There, we were (thankfully) fast-tracked through check-in and security to the lounge, where we enjoyed a hot breakfast, a glass of champagne, and John indulged in an Elemis facial - temporarily forgetting about his spa-injury.
It was honestly one of the best ways I've ever spent an evening pre-flight and something I'll definitely consider doing again next time we've got a morning flight (p.s. and the room was a lot cheaper than you'd think!).
A word of advice though? Don't hurt yourself in the spa. Please.