Thursday, July 20, 2017

Fiery Flavors in the Clouds: The New Menu at Hutong, Shard

Food is at the heart of Chinese culture. You may have heard that we often greet each other by asking, "Have you eaten yet?" In my family, we make reservations for lunch at breakfast, and reservations for dinner at lunch. That's just how it works. We carry antacids in our handbags and sip jasmine and oolong tea like nobody's business to aid digestion. So, yeah. Food is pretty high up on the priority list for us.

When I visit relatives in Vancouver or Hong Kong, they'll ask, "Ooh! Do you want to have ... Sichuan cusine?" Like it's a dare. Sichuan Chinese-style cooking is known for its use of chillis and garlic - much more intense on the palate than the light, clean flavours of the Cantonese cuisine that I'm used to. These lunches often leave me spluttering and sweating, much to the amusement of my aunts and uncles, who gleefully watch from across the Lazy Susan, shouting, "You can't handle it, huh?"

Hutong, a nod to the narrow but characterful alleyways found in northern Chinese cities such as Beijing, is  located on the 33rd level (!!!) of the Shard. Primarily renowned for its Northern Chinese cuisine, the restaurant is unveiling its new a la carte menu on the 24th of July, and I had the opportunity to preview the menu last week. With the arrival of its new chef, "Sifu" (or Master, in Chinese) Fei Wang, Hutong's new menu has a decidedly Sichuan influence, with intense, bold flavors and fiery spice. Under Wang Sifu's expertise, the dishes are what Hutong calls, "a refined take on the classic" - a bold statement that was proven during my visit.

While taking in the views (the sun was just setting!), we sipped champagne and sampled steamed tiger prawn and black truffle dumplings, cod and seaweed dumplings, crispy prawn rolls (which had a satisfying crunch, with virtually no oil), and vegetarian spring rolls.

As for Wang Sifu's new items on the menu, as well of some of Hutong's classic dishes, here were the highlights (and my favorites!):

Pan-fried wagyu beef buns

I'm not usually a fan of pan-fried buns (I prefer them steamed or baked), but these delicious buns were so moreish, I found myself blushing as I reached for a second, and then a third. The bun itself is thin enough to allow the flavor of the slightly-sweet (similar to a char siu bao you'd might have at dim sum) wagyu beef filling to sing. The bite-sized buns would be a good choice for lunch, or as an appetizer before dinner.

Scallop and prawn wonton with hot and spicy sauce

Similar to one of my favorite spicy Chinese dishes, hong you chao shou, these scallop and prawn wontons made my list of items-I'd-order-again. Served with Hutong's special chilli oil, I would have liked to see it with a bit more spicy sauce, but otherwise the wontons were fresh, flavorful, and had a wonderful, traditional homemade taste. I'd order them for lunch or dinner.

Roasted Peking duck

I have to be in the right mood for Peking duck (and with a table big enough to share), but the duck at Hutong was so beautifully roasted, I was one of the first to reach for the basket of steaming-hot, thin pancakes. I piled mine high with slices of the wonderfully fatty, crispy duck, before drizzling over the sticky, sweet sauce and selecting long, delicate strands of cucumber and spring onion to add to my miniature wrap. As a child, I loved this create-your-own dish, and secretly loved it when an older member of the family ordered it for the table. This is a super fun dish to share with a group of friends.

Red Star noodles 

At first glance, it looks curious: a red bell pepper, cut and shaped into star, sits suspended in an impressive bowl of noodles and chilli oil-laced Sichuan broth. But when unveiled by the server, each pepper petal is pulled back to reveal a generous portion of steamed halibut, its texture smooth and ever-so-slightly yielding. I slurped my noodles greedily, taking note of its perfectly al dente consistency and the delicious, fragrant broth.  This is a hearty, warming dish that's perfect for autumn and winter. A great sharing dish for two.

Sichaun-style deep fried lobster 

Served with fresh chilli, black bean and dried garlic, this is the dish to order if you're out to impress at Hutong Shard. Lobster is almost always on the menu when I'm dining out, Chinese-style, with my family in the States or Hong Kong, but I'm used to the simple, steamed Cantonese version - made with minced garlic and soy sauce. Wang Sifu's spicy, deep fried version dances on the tongue, heating your lips and showcasing the sweet, tender spirals of lobster meat. In fact, the saltiness and heat (warm enough to make my nose run) of this dish allowed the lobster to taste that much sweeter. A wonderful combination (not to mention, exquisitely presented on the platter).

During the evening, we also tried Chinese asparagus with hula dressing: a thinly sliced, crunchy green vegetable drizzled with a tangy, spicy dressing (think of it as a starter or side salad to complement your meal); ma la (a numbing hot sauce) crispy eel with Sichuan drired chilli and cumin; glistening spears of wok-tossed choy sum (a green Chinese vegetable); and tender aromatic beef rib braised in lotus leaf.

Surveying London from the dizzying heights of Level 33 at the Shard, I felt myself becoming a little misty-eyed. This vibrant, thrumming city has taken a few hard knocks recently, but staring out at it that evening at Hutong made me as grateful and defiant as ever to live in this place I've called home for nearly a decade.

The fire, the passion, and the intensity of the flavors we sampled that evening at Hutong seemed to echo my sentiments, driving forward a metaphor I arrived at as I reflected on the cab ride back to Liverpool Street: the restaurant, perched in the sky, with its bright red lanterns and exquisite cuisine, breathes life into the city; contributing as we all do, to its heart.

Huge thanks to Hutong for hosting me at this delicious preview. All opinions are my own.
Hutong, Level 33, The Shard, 31 Saint Thomas Street, London, SE1 9RY

Monday, July 17, 2017

An Ode to the Emoji

This morning, around 4 a.m., seized by a wave of hayfever, I dangled half-in, half-out of bed as my nose dripped steadily and reached for a box of tissues. I felt around for my phone and, squinting, began to look at that messages that had trickled through in response to my Instagram Stories the night before.

"Your new bathroom looks great!" said one.

"Floor goals!" read another.

"Omg, you must be so excited!" said a third.

With one eye shut, I began to type replies using only my right thumb: heart emoji, I tapped, in response to the first message. Blushing smiley face, I replied to another. Two-raised hands, I answered to the third.

Satisfied that I had conveyed the appropriate level of enthusiasm, I dropped my phone and tried to fall back asleep, sneezing four or five times in the process and causing John to jerk the covers over his head.

Emoji(s)* have become my lazy way of responding to practically anything and anyone. Sometimes, I use them to enhance a message ("Omg just dropped my dinner on the floor noooooo!!!" Followed by five crying emoji(s), five being sufficient to express my current state of distress), but most of the time ... I just use it as my preferred method of communication. Why bother forming a complete, coherent sentence when my exact thoughts and feelings can be summed up in a single, cute graphic? My most overused emoji(s) are:

1) the laughing face with tears streaming out of the eyes

2) the tilted laughing face with tears streaming out of the eyes

3) the see-no-evil monkey

4) the say-no-evil monkey

5) the red heart.

If I could hold up different emoji(s) on signs instead of speaking to people at work, I'd do it. If I could communicate with new people I've recently met at parties solely using emoji(s), I'd love it. I'm anti-social; I dislike talking to people and looking them in the eye. I'd prefer to respond to the question, "And what do you do for a living?" with the flamenco dancer emoji, followed by the poop emoji. No, I don't know what that combination means either, but it would make a great (emoji) conversation starter.

"Grow up," the hate-readers of this blog will say. Actually, I think my over-zealous use of emoji(s) is a particularly mature approach to handling the bazillion messages I receive every day from friends, family members, and followers alike. I want to make sure that I'm responding to every person who takes the time to send me a compliment or question, and, well, emoji(s) are just darn useful for this task.

If you don't believe me, ask American data engineer, Fred Benenson, who was quoted in this article by the Independent, saying: "I've been fascinated with the amount of meaning you can convey with such simple characters. Telling stories, movie recaps, expressing complex emotion – it's partially about the frivolity, but it's also about engaging a part of your brain which uses symbolic and visual thinking, something that I love to do. I also think it has the potential to bridge language barriers."

Ah, that final sentiment about bridging language barriers rings so true: my 92-year-old grandma is a WhatsApp whizz and sends me numerous messages throughout the day from her home in Hong Kong. I may not be able to read the complex string of Chinese attached to her selfie in the mall, but I get the laughing face with tears streaming out of its eyes which follows. This morning, I responded to one such photo with the heart-eye emoji (three, to be exact - it's grandma!).

What about you? Are you an emoji over-user/abuser?

*Note: there is debate over the correct plural form of emoji. Some say "emoji", some say "emojis". I'll leave this up to you to bicker over.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Breakfast at Sketch, Mayfair

Sunday was my dear friend (and fellow blogger!) Runawaykiwi's birthday. She'd been going on about having afternoon tea with me at Sketch (in that pink room), but it hasn't happened yet, since you have to book that like, months in advance. Undeterred, I decided to take her there for breakfast instead - without telling her where we were going.

We met, bright and early on Sunday morning, outside & Other Stories on Argyll Street, and wandered down Regent Street, turning right on Conduit Street, before Rebecca started shouting, "Are we going there? Are we going there?" as we approached Sketch.

"No, sorry!" I said. "They were full - we're heading up the street a little further." Of course, this was followed by me swivelling on my heel and shouting, "PSYCH!!!" in her face.

We're super mature.

I resisted taking too many photos, as I didn't want to detract from the birthday girl's celebrations, but I couldn't help sharing photos of the beautiful room we dined in ... we were the first ones there (before the rest of the breakfast crew begun trickling in), so I managed to get a few quick snaps before the room filled up.

From the tufts of yarn made to resemble grass on the rug; to the red laser "fireflies" that darted about the room; to the plush, purple velvet chairs; to the extraordinarily detailed walls, dining in the Glade at Sketch is very much like living in a page out of a storybook. I also felt as though we'd been plucked off the street and deposited on a film/theater set. At any moment, I half-expected actors to burst in and perform a soliloquy from A Midsummer Night's Dream. A neon pink player piano sat at the door, performing everything from Chopin to covers of pop songs, and we perused the menu while sipping a flat white (for Rebecca) and a chocolate peanut butter smoothie (for me).

Since I originally published this post, the artist, stylist, and designer Carolyn Quartermaine reached out to me on Instagram to tell me more about the design process behind the Glade - a room she created with artist Didier Mahieu. Carolyn said: "We glued over 35,000 pieces [of découpages paper] to create. All the fabrics are hand-painted too. A lot of love has gone into the Glade ... the bar shelves are [made from] 200-year-old oak, hand-sanded and shaped ... I wanted a magical flower garden."

Isn't that special? The result is a fully immersive experience, where the guest is invited to dine in another world - one that very much resembles Carolyn's vision of a "magical flower garden".

On to the food: somewhat disappointingly, there weren't stacks of crepes or French toast to order (although there are a wide range of pastries to choose from), but Rebecca and I both chose the parmesan scrambled eggs with mushrooms, with sides of bacon and sourdough toast.

I especially loved the quirky crockery (which is available to purchase at reception - in case you're in the market for a house-warming gift!).

Breakfast at Sketch isn't cheap, but it's not crazily priced either (although, I did have a dream the night before that our bill came to £577). Our eggs, toast, and drinks came to roughly £45, which is just about right for a once-in-a-blue-moon, decadent, birthday breakfast.

It's crazy; it's theatrical; it's over the top. But it's done so well. Not a single detail is omitted nor a corner neglected. 

And what I liked most about our experience is that we never felt rushed (although I've heard a different story when it comes to afternoon tea next door); staff were friendly, polite, and attentive.

Have you been to Sketch? What did you think? I'd love to go back - if just for another glimpse of that pink room (and the famous bathroom, of course!).

Monday, July 10, 2017

So, I'm Dating Again

... John, that is.

I'm dating my husband.

Did you have a near heart-attack when reading that post title?! I know it sounds weird, but I love going on dates with John, even though we've been together for twelve years, and married for (nearly) five. A movie night, tickets to the Globe, Tate lates, sushi at the train station before heading home - they all seem so special when we spend the week rushing around each other, flying in and out of the house at lightning speeds.

John gets up around 5:30 every morning for work, so sometimes I don't even wake up until after he's gone (that's how deeply I sleep!), so it feels extra special to spend time with him at the end of the day. On rare occasions, we'll meet for lunch at a point mid-way between our offices, but even that feels rushed and distracted.

Our favorite place to go is this little French-Italian restaurant that's nearly on our doorstep. I like to dress up if we're going there - even though it's less than a 10-minute walk away! The tables are candlelit, with white tablecloths and roses, so it feels just fancy enough for a date - but not so fancy that we can't totally relax. The staff recognize us and know my favorite dessert (it's this insane, hot  toffee crumble served with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, so it all melts together in a delicious sweet and gooey mess), and we walk home afterwards, arm-in-arm, when the sun is setting (summer) or when the stars are out (winter). We always take our parents there when they visit and they love it too! It feels really special.

Last weekend, friends of ours couldn't make it to a performance of The Tempest at the Barbican, so we took their tickets. Going "into town" (AKA Central London) on a Saturday night is rare for us (we'd much prefer cooking/ordering take-out and watching a movie on the couch, or grabbing drinks and hot dogs at our local brewery), but we made a date out of it by doing a little shopping beforehand (and buying a new wedding ring for John - his THIRD one, folks. THIRD), sitting down for a quick bite to eat at Gaucho, and buying candy during intermission. It felt romantic and fun, and later (because it was still warm out), we walked back to the tube station and I loved every minute of it.

The next morning, I was in a great mood, and we ended up playing frisbee in our garden and just having a great day together. It's been a little stressful lately with the bathroom works going on at home (I've had to return literally every single item I bought for the bathroom I'm in charge of designing, while John's loft shower room is basically beautiful and perfect) and decisions needing to be made about our trip to Japan and Hong Kong in December, but I've found that going out out has allowed us to be a little more carefree and playful at home.

Although we both love being at home, I've realized that no matter how good and comforting being within those four walls feels, rediscovering our mutual interest in art, music, theatre, and eating out has only strengthened our relationship. Dating reminded me of the couple we were when we first met - when we were curious about each others' opinions and likes/dislikes. I loved hearing what he thought of Prospero in The Tempest, for example, more than I loved hearing what he thought of the mind-numbingly boring paint colors I was holding in my hand at Homebase last week ("BUT IS IT TOO DUSKY PINK? OR IS IT MORE OF A PINKY PINK?" I was overheard shrieking in Aisle 4).

We're off to see Andrew Scott  (AKA Moriarty from Sherlock) in Hamlet in a few weeks, and I can't wait.

How about you? If you're in a relationship, do you take time to date, or are you naturally homebodies like we are? I'm curious to know!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Skincare for the Stars: Erno Laszlo

I've always suffered from problematic skin: from ezcema when I was young, which left dry, scaly red patches on the apples of my cheeks, to hormonal cystic acne, which plagued me as a teen and well into adulthood. At the moment, I'm the not-so-proud owner of classic combination skin: oily in the T-zone and dry everywhere else.

The kind folks over at Erno Laszlo (the famed skincare brand beloved by Hollywood celebrities like Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe) caught wind of my skincare drama and sent over a collection of products for me to try, which was super exciting for me, as I've been a long-time admirer of the brand, having seen it stocked at Harrods and Harvey Nichols. 

Dr. Laszlo is perhaps most well known for his "double cleanse" method. The two-piece oil and soap bar sets target different skincare concerns and I tried the Hydra-Therapy duo to "hydrate and nourish". Unlike other cleansing oils, this one doesn't emulsify into a milky substance. Instead, you're supposed to massage the oil onto dry skin first, then - wet the bar of soap - and directly apply the bar to your face.

It felt a little strange to do this at first, but Dr. Laszlo clearly knew what he was doing, because together, the oil and soap are the magic combination - leaving my skin soft and cleansed, ready for the next step.

Of course, by day four of my Erno Laszlo trial, I was feeling lazy and wanted to skip the cleansing in favor of a quick swipe of hot-water-on-a-cloth, but was immediately reminded of Dr. Laszlo's stern adage, "Beautiful skin requires commitment, not a miracle." Which I found both cutting and highly amusing. It reminded of that time I went to get a facial and the aesthetician asked me how many glasses of water I drank and how many "leafy green vegetables" I consumed per day and I mumbled something like, "1, 2 ... like, I mean, I eat salad and stuff ... sometimes ..." and she barked, "How can you expect to improve the outside if you're not helping the inside?" before I shrank into the treatment room like a crab disappearing under a rock.

But I digress.

After a full week of using the double cleanse method, I noticed that my skin stopped getting so oily in the afternoon and dry in the evenings. It looked and felt more balanced.

But for me, the real winner was the Hydra-Therapy Refresh Infusion Serum - a light, non-sticky (it's almost like water) serum that claims to "work on three levels to restore and preserve precious moisture". I typically apply serums and facial oils after my toner and before my moisturiser, so I tried this shortly after cleansing and, you know what? My face felt incredibly smooth and lasted that way for the whole day (definitely just touched my cheeks right now to test it out again). I typically use one pump of this in the morning, but it's something I'll definitely be purchasing when I run out.

Lastly, I've been using the Hydra-Therapy Memory Sleep Mask at night to help give me that extra moisture boost I need at the end of the day. I'm a huge fan of sleep masks (as long as I give them a minute or two to sink in, they don't leave any residue on my pillow and I wake up with nourished, glowing skin) and this one, though a little less effective than the one I normally use, was a great alternative to have on hand. My skin drank it up and I still woke with some dry patches in the morning, so I might need to work on drinking more water towards the end of the day (probably) and perhaps use a bit more product, as I've been a little conservative in my application.

An important lesson I learned when I was in my twenties was that investing in good, quality skincare is worth it - whether it's one dedicated set of products you return to again and again with no parabens or phthalates, or a range of cleansers, moisturisers and mists on rotation that just work for you.

What's your skincare routine like? I'd love to know! My mom has amazing skin ... and she just washes with a hot flannel and uses cold cream after! I wish mine was as low-maintenance, but alas ... I didn't inherit her glow.

All products provided courtesy of Erno Laszlo, a brand I love and use. All opinions are my own. Shop Erno Laszlo in the UK here.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Teamaster's Choice Afternoon Tea at Mandarin Oriental, With Truly Experiences

Two years ago, something amazing happened that irrevocably changed the way I felt about living abroad in London: my best friend, Udita, finished her PhD and decided to settle in London too. Twelve years after meeting in college, there's a kind of silliness that still pervades our friendship - one that instigates lists and lists of "hilarious things" that only seem to happen to us when we're together, which we rehash in emails written to each other with exuberant subject headings like, "MEMORIES!!!"

In August, we're spending a weekend in Paris together - our plan is to shop, sip coffee, attempt to order macarons in French (with horrible American accents), and take a bazillion photos in front of the Eiffel Tower. This, of course, takes in-depth planning, so the amazing concierges at Truly Experiences (the same company that organized this wonderful date night for me and John a few months back) planned a fabulous afternoon tea for two in the Rosebery Lounge at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park: The Rosebery Teamaster's Choice Afternoon Tea, where we could plan our Parisian getaway to our hearts' content.

Dazed from our hot and muggy journeys on the London Underground, we were ushered into the Rosebery Lounge upon arrival: a beautiful, expansive room filled with plush green seats, fresh flowers, floor-to-ceiling mirrors, and a dazzling oversized chandelier that dominated the space in front of a striking, colorful mural.

With a dizzying selection of over 40 teas to choose from and a whopping 14 other beverages served on request (from "Barista Specials" like creamy matcha shakes made with ice and almond milk to Valrhona hot chocolate - which is so fancy, I don't even really know what it is!), the Rosebery Lounge's tea menu alone gave new meaning to the phrase, "spoiled for choice".

The Teamaster, Chiara, patiently took us through the menu and suggested a light, white tea to begin with, before asking the magic words, "Shall I serve it on the rocks?" Turns out any of the asterisked teas on the menu (Jasmine Pearls, Sweet Lemon, Lychee Strawberry, and Mango Black Tea, for example) can be served hot or iced - perfect for a hot summer's day (and especially perfect for me, since I was parched after my tiring, muggy trek across London on the tube).

Although we were inside, it felt very much like dining in an enchanted garden. The cushions were adorned with embroidered flowers and antique brass branches hung over the tables, from which a two-tiered "bird cage" of finger sandwiches and homemade cakes was suspended! It was extraordinary (in fact, I think the takeaway "memory" from that afternoon was me practically shouting, "Oh, it hangs!" after I'd hastily cleared space on our table just for the attendant to effortlessly perch the birdcage inches from my head).

For me, the definition of "luxury", is being able to have what you want, when you want - which is the hallmark of the Rosebery Teamaster's Choice Afternoon Tea. We began with the apricot iced white tea, to sip with the sandwiches, before moving on to the stronger Mandarin breakfast blend and Chai tea to have with our cakes.

While I typically rush through sandwiches in order to get to the cakes at an afternoon tea, it was actually the sandwiches that I enjoyed most at The Rosebery Lounge: highlights included the Portland crab, crayfish, curry mayonaise, with coriander and carrot, and the smoked salmon tartare with granny smith apple, horseradish, and creme fraiche. But the Cotswold egg, white asparagus and black truffle stole the show. Luxurious in name and equally luxurious in flavor, when asked if we'd like seconds, we couldn't help nodding yes.

Feeling emboldened, I got into the spirit of the Teamaster's Choice Afternoon Tea, and requested a matcha latte to enjoy with our freshly baked scones. A few minutes later, it appeared: milky and frothy, in a double-walled glass cup. Delighted, I took a sip and marvelled the light, but sweetened taste. I alternated between sips of this and Udita's astonishingly delicious Chai latte, which Chiara had brewed herself.

And so, over numerous cups of tea and bottomless cakes and sandwiches, Udita and I chatted, gossiped, conspired, and - of course - laughed our way through the afternoon.

Truly's motto is, "Experiences for people who collect memories, not stuff" - and it couldn't be a better way to describe the friendship that Udita and I have. Although we love exchanging knick-knacks and buying each other small gifts, the greatest gift (and I get a bit choked up writing this) from my friendship with her are memories of the raucous, rollicking times we have together - crystallised by inside jokes we'll share forever.

Huge, huge thanks to the talented team over at Truly for arranging this sweet, perfect afternoon for two friends who crossed the pond - and made it. I can't think of a better way to create more "MEMORIES!!!" with friends than with this ultimate afternoon tea experience. If you're interested in booking this (or a similar) event, find more tea and coffee-tasting experiences from Truly here.

Our experience at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park was complimentary. All opinions are my own. Book your own unique and truly unforgettable Truly experience here.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Interior Inspiration: 5 Buys To Prettify Your Home For Under £25

We're knee deep in bathroom renovations at the moment and I could not be more excited for these transformations. In fact, I turned to John today and said, "I'm SO glad it's Sunday, because it means the builders will be back tomorrow and they can get on with the rest of the tiling!" He smiled, but also looked at me like I'd grown two heads. I feel like all I have room for in my brain right now is the name of our bathroom fans (the Airflow Icon15, if you're interested) and the delivery date of my Fired Earth tiles (St. Ives Frost for the floor and Boho Soho for the walls, FYI).

Still, it hasn't stopped me from picking up a few bits and pieces to prettify the rest of our home in the run-up to the builders' arrival last week, so I thought I'd do a little round-up on the blog, since these purchases were all under £25!

First, I found this amazing bracelet bar at Target when I went home to the US two weeks ago. The gold hardware and linen bar give it a luxe feel, and it works beautifully well on top of my dresser.

And before you go complaining "but there's no Target here!", I found a similar one for you for £6.97 here. You're welcome.

I'd also been scoping out eBay for some pretty, vintage ice cream bowls and struck gold when I found these rose-colored Depression-era glass bowls on the eBay US site:

You can find very similar ones here on the eBay UK site (I just liked these because they have a sweet little handle on the side) for less than £15. I filled them with vanilla ice cream topped with Washington state strawberries, bought at the local fruit stand near my parents' house. They look beautiful - imagine serving your guests ice cream in these bowls!

I'm always combing Etsy for great wall art. I recently discovered this artist, Erisha of AThingCreated, who happens to live in Seattle, and instantly fell in love with her fashion and travel-inspired watercolors. I bought two tiny 5 x 7 prints and framed them in these brushed gold frames that I found at Target (again - for $11.99!) but sadly, one of the frames didn't survive the journey in my suitcase, so I'll need to get it repaired at my local frame shop. I'm planning to buy another print for our first floor bathroom, and I've got a larger print of hers to frame as well for our gallery wall (which is still not quite there yet). These print start at only £13.82!

I stopped into West Elm a few weeks ago to pick up a gift card for my brother-in-law and his partner, who moved to Walthamstow recently with my adorable little niece and nephew. While staff scrambled to find an envelope for the gift card, I browsed the clearance section (no shame in my game) and found this beautiful knit cushion cover for just £19.99. It looks great with our Secret Linen Store linen and White Company XXL decorative pillows.

Speaking of The White Company, between the builders' arrival and the heat wave we'd experienced a few weeks back, our house seemed to develop a ... summer stinky smell. I don't know how else to describe it. Musty, stale, and unpleasant, when throwing open the windows didn't seem to help, I marched over to The White Company during my lunch hour and splurged on a three-wick candle and this diffuser. At £27, it's a little over £25, but worth it for the lovely scent that wafts over when I'm typing up a blog post in front of Netflix.

So. What do you think of my recent purchases? Have you made any great (bargain) home-buys lately? Tell me!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Recipe: Rose-Infused Lemonade Iced Tea

One thing I miss the most about living in the US is the abundance and variety of iced teas - both in stores and in restaurants. It's the ultimate, thirst-quenching summer drink. Fortnum & Mason recently published three of their tastiest "teatail" recipes - cocktails made with their world-famous tea: the fragrant Rose Negroni, the refreshing Earl Grey Aperol, and the zingy Jasmine Sour.

Though I've been alcohol-free for almost a year now, this didn't stop me from whipping up my own, non-alcoholic "teatail". Inspired by Fortnum & Mason's Rose Negroni, I made a batch of rose lemonade iced tea yesterday, using Fortnum's Rose Pouchong tea. The delicate notes of rose add just an extra little oomph to this popular summer drink - making it the ideal aperitif to serve at summer garden parties.

I estimated the measurements for most of my ingredients (isn't that what summer's all about? Being a bit slapdash and carefree? No? Just me, then), but to make this recipe, you'll need (give or take):

- 1 lemon and 1 cup of granulated sugar (for the sugar rim)

- 5 - 6 teaspoons of Fortnum & Mason's Rose Pouchong loose leaf tea

- lemonade (either from concentrate, homemade, or store-bought - I was in a rush, so I cheated and used store-bought!)

- ice cubes (as many as you'd like, though if your tea is especially strong, you might want more to dilute the drink as they melt)

Zest your lemon, combining the zest with the sugar in a bowl. Run a wedge of lemon along the rim of your glass and dip it in the zest and sugar mixture, before setting it to one side (feel free to skip this step if you're not a fan of sugar-rimmed glasses!). Meanwhile, make your tea! Heap the teaspoons into your pitcher and fill it halfway with hot water (just-boiled) water. Let it steep for 3-4 minutes before filling the rest with cold water, leaving it to sit at room temperature and popping it into the fridge for half an hour or so. When it's ready, pour the tea into another pitcher, straining the tea leaves with a sieve. Drop 2-3 large ice cubes (or as many as you'd like) into your glasses and fill the glasses two-thirds of the way with the tea, and top it up with a lemonade of your choice (I bought sparkling lemonade, which was delicious!). Stir well. Serve with a slice of lemon, and a rose petal, if you so desire!

What do you think of this "teatail"-inspired summery drink? I'm looking forward to making it for guests this summer!

Picnic hamper, tea towel, glasses, straws, and Rose Pouchong tea provided courtesy of Fortnum & Mason. All opinions are my own. Shop Fortnum & Mason's delicious blend of teas here.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Lately, I've Been Wearing ...

Whenever I go home to the States, I get a little ... shopping crazy. Partly because the prices can be so good (I always, always buy my Nike/Adidas sneakers there) but also because ... well, my parents still give me spending money when I go home!

I know, I know - I'm way too old for that. But my mom hands me bills before we go shopping like it's Monopoly money and then my dad asks me if I have enough and I'm like, "IT'S NOT EVEN MY MONEY!" and, yeah. It's pretty embarrassing, but extremely endearing, and I'm very lucky!

Another reason why I love browsing the racks in the US is because of all the different stores and brands that aren't available here in the UK. Before I went, I had some items shipped to my parents' house from Oak + Fort - a Vancouver-based brand specialising in accessories and apparel with a distinctly minimal/normcore aesthetic (think COS).

Since I've been back in London, I've been wearing some of my new purchases, namely:

This eye-catching orange top from Madewell (J. Crew's sister brand, which now ships to the UK!), which caught my eye when I visited their University Village store in Seattle with my brother last week. I loved the knot detail in the back and the flattering cut so much, I bought it in a size large, because it was the only size left! I've been pairing it with a pair of extra-wide-leg striped culottes from J. Crew, which I scored on the clearance rack, and which my brother recoiled in horror at as I lifted them from the rail to show him. Whatevs, I'm a fan (please excuse the butt-wrinkles). Oh! And the bright blue beaded tassel earrings in the first photo are from J. Crew too. They're fun.

 This leather city tote from the Coach outlet store (it was $100!) in barely-there grey. It's perfect for summer (if I don't inevitably drip ketchup and mustard all over it at Shake Shack) and holds all the junk I cart with me back and forth to work everyday. I also invested in a new pair of Adidas Stan Smith in the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale, which go with practically everything and are super comfy for traipsing around London in.

This bracelet stack - again, from J. Crew and Madewell - along with my Welly Merck watch, which I've blogged about before and which you can get a 20% discount on if you use my code "ANGLOYANK20". You're welcome.

This buttery soft leather Oak + Fort crossbody, which my brother noted, "looks like a sideways CD case". Thanks, yet again, little bro. On the rare occasion I don't have to carry a bazillion things with me (eye drops, hayfever pills, tissues, etc.), I love to go hands free. I've also been loving this knitted tank which I found at, of all places, Old Navy, for a bargain price of something like $17.

Still, despite all the alluring retail opportunities, I have to think hard about whether something I buy in the States will actually translate to the style I typically end up wearing in London. More often than not, I return with a handful of dresses and tops that get shoved to the back of my closet and end up going to the charity or consignment store. I was a little more discerning with my purchases this time, so I think they'll have lasting power!

By the way, if you're ever interested in shopping any of the items in my Instagram feed or on my blog, I believe you can do so directly from the widget at the bottom of this page, or any post in my Instagram feed with the icon in the bottom right corner ... from Instagram, you can simply screenshot or "like" the photo to shop the exact items I've tagged in the app! (I'm a total fashion stalker, so I definitely buy things that I like on other people via this app.)

Let me know what you think about my new purchases down below and feel free to add your two cents about the CD case/bag ... (insert laughing emoji here).

Thursday, June 22, 2017

1022 South J

If you're ever in Seattle, drive about half an hour south and you'll find yourself in the city of Tacoma, a port city situated on the Puget Sound.

People flock to Tacoma for all sorts of reasons: art (the Museum of Glass and the Tacoma Art Museum are known for their collections of both international and Pacific Northwest artists' works, including Dale Chihuly's), culture (the nearby Pantages and Rialto theaters host concerts and dance performances), delicious waterfront dining, antique shops, indie boutiques, and - of course - a Northwest favorite, coffee. And, if you want, you can take a ferry to the beautiful Vashon Island - a tranquil, atmospheric island lined with evergreens, light houses, strawberry farms, and fantastic views of Mount Rainier. It's one of my favorite places in Washington state.

A lot has changed in Tacoma since I left fifteen years ago: new restaurants have opened, yoga studios have taken up residence in former unused buildings, and more people than ever are moving into the charming Craftsman-style houses. If I had to move back? I'd head to Tacoma.

1022 South J is one of the places I'd hang out at a lot if I moved to Tacoma. Helmed by talented chef Riley Morgan, who brings his Southern roots to the menu (think big bowls of grits, mac 'n cheese, oyster-stuffed po'boy sandwiches, and fried chicken with slaw and aioli), this cocktail bar and restaurant had the same vibe as the pubs in our old neighborhood of Dalston (and, I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'd miss the pubs the most if I ever moved back to the States!).

We visited the bar on a Thursday, where the seats filled quickly - even at 6 pm. Those who couldn't get a table perched at the bar and it was clear that it's the place to go to for an after-work drink and catch-up with friends.

We began our dinner with aperitifs and a generously-portioned charcuterie board, followed by mains of grits and po'boys.

My blackened-shrimp po'boy was fantastic, with meaty shrimp spilling onto my plate and the crispy lettuce giving it a deliciously fresh crunch, but it was my brother's bowl of cheesey grits with prawns and vegetables that I kept reaching over to dip my fork into: it nearly tasted like a risotto! Rich, creamy, and hearty, its savoury flavors made my tastebuds sing.

I loved visiting this little bar and restaurant for an evening out with my family, and it was great to meet Riley too, who's been friends with my brother for years.

So, if you ever find yourself in Tacoma (or if you live in the area and haven't been in yet) stop by 1022 South J for some delicious comfort food with a cool, relaxed atmosphere.

Oh, and the name? It's a little more than a nod to the restaurant's location: 1022 South J Street, Tacoma, WA 98405. Clever, right?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

What to See in Seattle: Chihuly Garden and Glass

Last week, while I was back in the US, my brother and I took the commuter train from our parents' house in Sumner up to Seattle so I could spend the day doing all kinds of touristy things (but mostly shopping and eating). One place I'd been dying to visit (after seeing photos on Instagram, naturally) was Chihuly Garden and Glass - Dale Chihuly's long-term exhibition located at the base of the Space Needle, which opened in 2012.

I'd grown up seeing the American glass sculptor's work around town (he even came to my elementary school for a demonstration and painted all our shoes!) but didn't take too much notice of it. I ran into his work again recently in London (his Rotunda Chandelier sits in the V&A) and it immediately reminded me of home.

This particular exhibition features eight galleries of his work, with the Glasshouse - a 40-foot tall glass and steel structure inspired by garden conservatories around the world, but especially Kew Gardens here in London - taking centerstage. In the garden, Chihuly's sculptures are interspersed within a magnificent display of trees, plants, and flowers.

Born in Tacoma, Washington, Chihuly is known for his beautiful, colorful and often larger-than-life hand-blown glass sculptures. I love his work because it is unmistakeable: the particular shapes, colors, and patterns he creates are undeniably his, and the incredible scale of some of his sculptures make me pause in wonder. 

The galleries also feature items from Chihuly's personal collection, like these stunning Pendleton trade blankets, textiles that were directly influenced by traditional Native American Navajo design:

I don't want to spoil it by sharing too many photos (as it would ruin the surprise and enjoyment of visiting Chihuly Garden and Glass in person), but there's a magnificent gallery featuring a glass ceiling display which makes you feel as though you're underwater, looking up. It's simply amazing:

Gallery staff even encourage you to lie on the floor if you wish (but beware of being trampled by over-enthusiastic tourists!) and I would have loved to do that for hours!

Chihuly Garden and Glass is so very special - one of the most magical exhibitions I've seen in a long while. I loved that the garden had spaces for seating (and a café), so we could sit and truly take it all in.

But most of all, I loved sharing the memory of my visit with my little brother (who treated me to tickets!), who's not so little anymore. It was fun discussing our favorite pieces and sharing our reactions to particularly stand-out installations.

He also has a great eye for Instagram, as evidenced by this shot:

Tip: if you're planning to visit Chihuly Garden and Glass, go early! Doors open at 8:30, and tickets are discounted by $10 if you visit before 10:00 a.m. We raced up to Seattle (much to my brother's chagrin, since he'd been looking forward to sleeping in that morning) first thing, but it was worth it to be able to enjoy the Glasshouse and the other galleries in peace. The gallery also hosts free, short (about 3-minutes in length) talks by gallery staff as well as glass-blowing demonstrations, so it's worth checking ahead of time if these are being offered on the day of your visit.

Have you ever been to Seattle? What did you think? I grew up just south of the city and have always loved it!

Chihuly Garden and Glass is located at 305 Harrison Street, Seattle, Washington, 98109. Tickets can be (easily!) purchased at the machines by the door, or in-person at the ticket counter in the exhibition.
© angloyankophile

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