Thursday, December 15, 2016

My Birthday (Week!)

My birthday was last weekend and - after feeling utterly spoiled with meals out, massages, business class flights, and a beautiful stay at the Taj West End hotel during our visit to India the week before - I asked John to cancel my birthday lunch reservations and instead, I stayed home watching bad Hallmark movies, wrapping Christmas presents, and buying our Christmas tree together. It was perfect.

But then, my college roommate arrived to London the next day and we spent the afternoon together, browsing the Christmas market in Greenwich before enjoying a homemade Sunday roast (thanks to John!), before she presented me with this beautiful birthday present: a jug from Nom Living's blue and white marble collection, which I love.

It looks lovely when displayed next to the rest of our blue and white collection, but it also has a very practical purpose as a water jug on our dinner table.

More importantly, catching up with Deborah was probably one of the best birthday treats I could have had. As we sat chatting and reminiscing about our college days over a lobster roll at The Delaunay, I thought to myself, 'This is a true friend - someone I'll have in my life forever."

But my bittersweet goodbye was short-lived, as I welcomed my parents into our home once again the weekend after Deborah's visit.

The Sunday after they arrived, I had a belated birthday brunch at Berners Tavern. a beautiful restaurant under the direction of Michelin-starred chef, Jason Atherton (of Pollen Street Social, where I had reluctantly cancelled my birthday lunch reservation), in Fitzrovia.

Aren't the interiors gorgeous? I wore head-to-toe Zara, I've just realized - I loved the frills on the sleeves of this dress when I saw it in the store! A fun twist on an otherwise fairly conservative pattern/shape.

At Berners, I was super greedy and ordered a crab omelette and split the Nutella, banana and hazelnut pancakes with Udita. They were sublime.

After our decadent brunch, we headed toward Liberty to see the Christmas decorations (and my tolerance for crowds was severely tested - ugh!) and I couldn't resist taking a snap of the over-Instagrammed flower shop ...

... before heading home to unwrap my presents from Udita and Rebecca, which they both bought for their "Instagram-worthiness". They know me so well.

I actually shrieked when I opened this beautiful box of Maitre Choux pastries, after pining for them for so long. Not only are they (definitely) Instagram-worthy, but I can confirm that they're also insanely tasty. Each choux is filled with a flavored filling (not just cream!) and - had I eaten them fresh that day (oops), instead of waiting for the "perfect light" to photograph them the next - they probably would have tasted even better.

The "Christmas Cheeky Chestnut" was probably my favorite, but my parents and John loved the "Red Love Eclair", which was certainly the prettiest. The "Hazelnut and Milk Chocolate Treasure" looked like a solid block of gold, and the "Persian Pistachio Eclair" had a delicious pistachio filling. The ultimate luxury treats!

I also fell in love with the tiny, delicate trinket dishes Rebecca gave to me from Anthropologie - one of my favorite US stores for clothes, accessories, and homeware (which, thankfully, made its way over to the UK a few years ago). As I've mentioned in past posts, I tend to leave my rings and earrings everywhere, so I put a little dish in every room (and nearly every surface) to keep me from losing expensive jewelry (seriously - don't ever buy me diamond earrings!). I admired the tiny London-themed dish at Rebecca's flat last time I visited, and I think she took note, because I received my very own Parisian-themed bowl.

Finally, I was treated to these beautiful, luxe travel accessories from John and my parents: a pair of Bang & Olufsen "Play" headphones (the earpieces are lambskin, so they've kept my ears nice and toasty this winter, and they also fold in, which make them perfect for stashing away in my bag when I'm not using them) and a gorgeous Smythson travel wallet, which I've had my eye on for quite a while now.

So ... that's how I ended up celebrating my birthday. I intended to do something low-key, but in the end, my friends and family spoiled me silly. With Christmas just around the corner, there'll be plenty more celebrations to come - I can't wait! (I'll probably have party/presents withdrawal in January ...)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Vote For Angloyankophile in the UK Blog Awards 2017!

Friends! A sweet reader has nominated Angloyankophile for the UK Blog Awards 2017 (thank you!). If you have a minute, I'd love to have your vote in the Lifestyle and Travel categories, which you can do here. Voting closes on December 19th, and I was shortlisted a couple years back, so it would be fantastic to have a chance at winning this time (fingers crossed!).

Thanks so much.


Thursday, December 8, 2016

It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: 10 Things I Love About Christmas

1. Bad Hallmark movies on Netflix. All the bad Hallmark movies.

They all seem to involve secret princes and princesses from made-up countries like Montsaurai ('Once Upon a Holiday') and Cordinia ('A Royal Christmas'), but they're perfect for putting on in the background while decorating the tree or wrapping presents.

2. Buying a Christmas tree.

In my head, there's something incredibly romantic about picking out a tree and carrying it home with a significant other - one of you at the front end and the other in the back, wearing mittens and wool hats, as snow begins to fall and everything looks like a scene out of Stars Hollow (Gilmore Girls reference there for those of you who don't watch the show).

In reality, John and I argued about which tree's needles looked "droopier", while I expressed concern that the squat little variations available in London were so wide around the bottom, they resembled a boat before shouting across the garden center parking lot, "Fine. Just pay. Just pay!" And then we took about 5 breaks during our 7-minute walk home with the tree, while John sang, "Chestnuts roasting on the open fire / black frost nipping at your nose," and I had to correct him by explaining that it was "Jack Frost. Not black frost. Black frost sounds like something out of the Mighty Boosh and probably means you'd lose your nose, if black frost got to it."

It was still romantic.

3. Decorating the Christmas tree. 

This also involves arguing about color scheme ("The pink is too close to the red; what is WRONG with you?") and placement of the lights ("The bottom of the tree looks like a blackout." "Well, why don't you fix it, then? I told you we needed longer lights."), but when it's done and the presents are placed under the tree, it looks so, so good.

4. A wreath on the door. 

A wreath on the door signifies, "Hello! Joy here!" or "Hello and welcome to my humble abode of ULTIMATE FESTIVE CHEER!" No Christmas is complete without a fresh wreath on the door - ours is due to arrive tomorrow, and I can't wait.

5. Sequinned party wear.

FYI, I have zero parties to attend this year (besides a work Christmas party, of course) but I am still immediately attracted to anything that's remotely shimmery or bejewelled or decked out with sequins. Sequinned trousers, sequinned tops, sequinned blazers ... throw it at me, and I'll wear it. Promise. Christmas is basically the only time where it's semi-socially acceptable to dress like a giant piece of tinsel and no one will blink an eye (sort of).

6. Christmas songs.

On full-blast from 1 December onwards. From Bing to Mariah to S Club 7 ... if it's on Spotify, we'll play it in our house. Last year, I woke up on Christmas morning and snuck into the room where my brother was sleeping and snuck a bluetooth speaker under his bed before blasting him with "Last Christmas" at the highest decibel-level possible for a mini JBL portable speaker. My parents were in the next room and were so confused: "What was all that noise this morning?" my dad asked at the breakfast table, seriously concerned. Siblings will be siblings, dad.

7. Christmas markets.

This year, I'm heading to Amsterdam (with a day trip to Cologne in between) with John and my parents and I'm super excited to see both cities in all their Christmas-sy glory - particularly Cologne, since it's known for its Christmas markets. There are seven. Seven. I think we'll get to three, if we walk quickly. I'm keeping an eye out for a suitable tree topper, since we don't have one.

8. Christmas decorations.

London is pretty magical at this time of year. Some of my favorite places to visit for Christmas decorations include the Duke of York Square, St. Christopher's Place, Covent Garden, and, of course, Oxford Street and Regent Street.

9. Christmas morning.

All the fanfare leading up to Christmas Day is almost more enjoyable than the day itself. Almost. As an American, I love all the British traditions: pulling Christmas crackers open and reading the jokes inside, wearing the paper crowns, dousing the Christmas pudding with alcohol and lighting it on fire (yep), putting on a pair of wellies and having a post-Christmas lunch country walk ... it all feels so festive.

10. Family time.

If I haven't mentioned it about a gazillion times already, my parents are arriving on Saturday and I'm so terrified excited. I act like an over-excited puppy when they're here, jumping from parent to parent, demanding attention and love while simultaneously worrying about whether they're sufficiently entertained, warm, and fed. Unfortunately, my brother isn't able to join us this year, but I will somehow get "Last Christmas" blasting in his ear from afar ...

What are your favorite things about this time of the year? It doesn't have to be Christmas-related, if you're more of the bah-humbug type! Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Become a Master of Dim Sum @ Chinese Cricket Club

When I was little, I'd watch my parents make wontons on weekends. Methodically, quickly, and deftly, they'd smear a dollop of pork and prawn filling onto a wonton wrapper, dip their finger into the small bowl of water on the table, and fold it into a little parcel - placing them into rows on a wax paper-lined tray. I'd peer over the edge of the table at the neat little parcels, lined up like pilgrims waiting to enter a church to pray, with their peaked "hats" folded into corners at the top and tied like a kerchief under their chins. Occasionally, my mom or dad would help me make one and I'd inevitably use too much filling, or not enough water, causing the sides to gape and burst. So, I kind of left them to it.

I had a vivid flashback of time spent watching my parents make these wontons when, mesmerized, I stood at the helm of Chef Ken Wang's table at Chinese Cricket Club Restaurant, watching as he and dim sum chef Mai Lan effortlessly rolled, tucked, and folded wrappers into place to make perfect examples of egg rolls, siu mai and other popular dim sum dumplings.

My egg roll didn't fare too badly, and I smugly dropped it into the bamboo basket to be steamed, but my siu mai was rather lacking in flair and when I sent a screenshot to my mom, she exclaimed, "Ai ya! You overstuffed!" Typical.

Previously, I'd popped those bad boys (i.e. har gao, siu mai, and other favorites) into my mouth at our favorite Chinese restaurants in Seattle, Vancouver, and Hong Kong without the slightest thought at the effort that went into making them. I left Chinese Cricket Club that evening red-faced and sheepish, much more appreciative of the skill it takes to be a dim sum chef. If you want to have a go at becoming a dim sum master, you totally can - Chinese Cricket Club is running masterclasses which can be booked here.

After feeling suitably embarrassed at my lack of dim sum-making skills, I sat down with a table full of foodies to sample Chinese Cricket Club's Sichuan cuisine - their speciality.

Since my family's originally from Hong Kong, I've always leaned toward Cantonese flavors and styles of cooking. Sichuan cuisine, known for its seven "key flavours" (hot, spicy, sweet, sour, savoury, bitter, and aromatic - which to me, just translates to spicy, spicy, spicy, spicy, spicy, spicy and um, spicy), is something I don't eat that often.

So, what to order? Well, standout dishes at Chinese Cricket Club included the slow-braised pork belly (cooked for five hours and served with rice and gravy), which was all sorts of melt-in-your-mouth good. Of course, the popular crispy duck with pancakes was a favorite across the table and even I tucked into seconds. And thirds. (And maybe a fourth.)

The spicy sea bass (which is part of Chef Ken Wang's Tasting Menu) tested my spicy pain threshold, but it was surprisingly bearable and - dare I admit - incredibly addictive and delicious.

My parents arrive in London on Saturday and I'm curious to see what they think of Chef Ken Wang's impressive menu - I struggle to find a good Chinese restaurant in London, so I was thrilled to discover the proper Sichuan cuisine at Chinese Cricket Club.

I was a guest of Chinese Cricket Club, Crowne Plaza London – The City, 19 New Bridge Street, London, EC4V 6DB. All opinions are my own.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Metropolitan Police Christmas Tree Project

Last weekend, I celebrated my birthday by buying our Christmas tree with John, decorating it with my college roommate who was visiting from the States, and wrapping presents to put under the tree (NB - totally awesome tree in the photo above is from a restaurant in Bruges last year and sadly, not the one we have in our house!). It was so much fun.

I love, love, love seeing the tree in situ - it looks like it always belongs in that corner of our living room and I remember thinking the same thing last year! It's also making me very excited for my parents' imminent arrival this weekend - I haven't seen them since May!

If you live in London, I'd encourage you to take part in the Metropolitan Police's Christmas Tree Project. It's not too widely publicized, but you can pick a borough closest to you and be matched with a child to purchase a present for this Christmas - a child that might not otherwise have any gifts to open on Christmas Day.

Last year, I was paired with a newborn girl - which was pretty heartbreaking. I chose a sweet, fleece onesie from M&S and delivered it to Islington Police Station, hoping that it would keep her warm throughout the winter months. This year, I have a 13-year-old boy and I'm totally stumped. I'm so not down with the cool kids. Any ideas?
© angloyankophile

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