Friday, September 22, 2017

Relationship Goals



I can count the number of times I've thrown up in my adult life on one hand.

Really.

Two of those times were in front of John. And both of those times, he held back my hair, stroked my back, and whispered encouragement like, "Oh, you poor thing. Oh, bad luck, sweetie. I'm sorry. I'm sorry, sweetheart. I know. It's just a shock. You'll feel so much better when it's over, I promise," as I vommed chunks into the bathroom sink (because I could never make it in time to the toilet, and also because bending down that extra bit seemed improbable to me in the moment).

And after that - after I spat out the last, bile-filled mouthful and collapsed, face red and tear-streaked on the bathroom floor (because even as an adult, I find throwing up awfully traumatizing) - he was the one who sweeped away my vomit with his bare hands and handed me a glass of water to rinse out my mouth, before fetching another glass of water to mix up a rehydration packet because he didn't want me to wake up with a headache. 

That, my friends, is the definition of relationship goals: someone who will scoop up your vomit with his/her bare hands

Not those sappy, Pinterest-worthy quotes about holding doors open and compliments and long hugs and texting, "Good morning" and "Goodnight" (they're sweet, but not necessarily "goals").

Vomit.

Bare hands.

Because relationship goals is about being there when the shit hits the fan (um, sometimes literally ... Norovirus 2010, is all I have to say) - and loving that person in their most vunerable, humiliating, and lowest moments. And every single time, it's those moments where my husband's true character shines: patience, empathy, kindness - selflessness. 

So, the second time I spewed into the sink, it was about 10 p.m. by the time I finally cleaned myself up and gingerly climbed back into bed.

"Do you want to watch 'The Andes' on BBC iPlayer?" he asked, propping up my pillows for me.

I nodded.

And he held my hand as I watched, heavy-lidded, while puma cubs frolicked in the mountains on the screen in front of us before finally turning onto my side and falling asleep. But he kept it on just a bit longer because he knew that the sound would calm my anxiety and help me fall asleep faster.

But the real reason why I fell asleep so quickly that night was because I felt safe and loved - unconditionally so.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Did You Have a Wedding Registry?


October marks our five-year wedding anniversary. How time flies! I can never quite remember the exact date - whether it's the 5th or the 6th - but it's there, it exists, and photos mounted in silver frames dotted around our home remind me so: me, in a lace blue dress; him, in a dark blue suit; us, against the backdrop of the Great Orme looming behind us.

Although we eloped (you can read our elopement story here), we celebrated with friends and family at two transatlantic receptions - but we didn't have a wedding registry or a honeymoon fund.

In Seattle, we asked our guests not to bring gifts (though friends and family generously slipped checks and crisp bills into congratulatory cards) and in Oxford, we asked that donations be given in lieu of gifts to Trinity Hospice, where John's uncle Chris (who became my dear friend shortly after my move down to London) passed away.

We didn't have a wedding registry for a few reasons. Mostly, we felt a bit funny about the whole thing (though I don't blink twice when ordering a muffin tin or china set for friends' weddings) i.e. having a list of things we wanted and asking (or, rather, expecting) our guests to buy them for us.


Perhaps the biggest reason why we didn't have a wedding registry, was the fact that we'd been moving from flat to flat for years, and still didn't have a place to call our own when we were married, let alone a rental agreement long enough to last more than a year (it was a time when the housing market in London went insane and house prices went £100k+ above the asking price, so our landlords would inevitably sell at the end of our lease) - we simply wouldn't have space for the items we'd longed for.

Finally (and perhaps the biggest reason why I'm glad we didn't have a wedding registry), our tastes have changed so much from five years ago. Of course, I would have loved to have (I think we asked for John Lewis gift cards at Christmas for about three years straight) house-related gifts when we moved into the house we bought two years ago, but even the things I thought worked in our home then, don't really translate into what we know works for us now.

Either way, I don't really care or judge whether friends have a wedding registry/honeymoon fund or not (although a 'thank you' note is always appreciated!) - it just wasn't for us at the time.

How about you? If you're married, did you have a wedding registry or honeymoon fund? Or a chosen charity to donate to? I'd love to know!
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Monday, September 11, 2017

My 5 Favorite TV Shows For When I'm Feeling Sad/Mad/Bad


There's a certain kind of show I like to watch when I'm feeling sad/bad/mad: I've dubbed it The Comfort Show. The Comfort Show contains mild drama to keep me hooked, almost always involves some form of food (whether it's being consumed or cooked), almost always has an element of cheese (whether literal or metaphorical) has zero violence, and is usually shot in a neutral (but cute) and peaceful setting.

In other words, it's safe. It's cozy. And preferably, it's in a series meant to be binge-watched and left on in the background, lest I fall asleep midway through (I've been known to self-soothe during bouts of insomnia with the Gilmore Girls playing on our Samsung Galaxy View, but laying with my back to it, at a volume where I can just about make out Sookie's shrieks. I don't know, it works for me.).

John does not understand my love for The Comfort Show and thinks they're all ridiculous fluff - which they are. That's the point.

Gilmore Girls

When I was healing from surgery, I watched Gilmore Girls on a loop in our garden, and from bed. It was a nice distraction from the pain, and it also kept me from feeling down, which is a side effect I often experience the weeks following an operation under general anaesthetic. I used to loathe Rory and Lorelei's fast-talking, smart alecky ways (and sometimes, I still do), but after I started watching the show for what it was (a mother and daughter just tryin' to navigate their way through this thing called life), I started to enjoy it a lot more - plus, all the incidental characters that go along with them (e.g. Miss Patty, Kirk, etc.). 

Heartland

It's a TV show about horses set in Alberta, Canada. Need I say more?

Barefoot Contessa

Ina Garten reminds me of my childhood best friend's mom. Her voice is so soothing, and her easy, methodical way of cooking is so calming, I could watch it all day while laying horizontal on the couch with a box of tissues by my side when I've got a bad case of the sniffles. There's something so comforting and soothing about imagining a mom-like figure stirring a big pot of chicken noodle soup in your kitchen ... even if it's happening in your TV instead.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

It's funny, it's clever, and Kimmy's outfits are colorful, it's worth watching just to see what patterned cardigan she'll wear next (and what amazing theatrical vocals Titus Andronicus - yes, really - will bust out). The blink-and-you'll-miss-it pop culture references and witty humor have me howling with laughter every time - it's the ultimate pick-me-up and the imaginary world I wish we all lived in.

Chef's Table


I used to find Chef's Table eye-rolling-ly pretentious, but I recently tuned in and was so moved by some of the chefs' stories (not to mention, the beautiful cinematography), I found myself a little misty-eyed ... and full of admiration. I love the personal stories; the journey from childhood ambition to Michelin-starred kitchen.

What's your ultimate "comfort show"? The series you binge watch when you're reaching for a box of tissues or recovering from a bad break-up? I'd love to know!
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Monday, September 4, 2017

You Before Me


On a recent trip back to Leicester, John triumphantly recovered a box full of childhood memories from his dad's attic: school workbooks; a Thundercats figurine; a well-loved teddy, his ears misshapen and worn from too many nighttime snuggles with a small, fair-haired boy.

I patted the teddy and gave the stuffed owl an affectionate squeeze, but it was John's schoolwork that I pored over extensively. Fascinated by the insight it gave me into the person I knew and loved so much, I delighted in discovering his long, sloping cursive, written in mandatory blue fountain ink. I spent hours in front of the TV, on our couch at home, reading workbook after workbook - smiling at a teacher's encouraging feedback and frowning at grades I thought were unfair.

English workbooks from primary school revealed a sweet boy with a sense of humour and lovely imagination, harshly critiqued by a (possibly?) embittered teacher. I thumbed through pages and pages of physics and chemistry equations - equations that I hadn't even begun to ponder until my final year of high school, which he solved with precision at ages thirteen and fourteen. French conjugations painstakingly written and re-written, again and again.

This part of John - this part of his history - unlocked a part of him to me that I'd never known, but had been eager to meet. 

This was him before me.

At times, I was overwhelmed with emotion, reading these workbooks. I laughed at the silly stories, marvelled at the difficult math problems, but most of all, I saw that he, i.e. the same person he is today, had always been there.

I saw a trajectory from childhood to adulthood that was so much more straightforward than mine, and therefore, interesting. As a child, then teen, then university student, my interests were varied and unfocused. I excelled at everything and nothing at once. John was different: focused, logical, and methodical. Especially talented in math and science. A lover of football. Popular. Fun. Loyal.

The box revealed all these things, and the revelation was amazing. It made me love him even more.

Have you ever wondered what your best friend, partner, or relative was like before you met them?
(My brother plays this great game with my dad after dinner ... we'll be sitting at the table and he'll ask, "Dad ... what were you doing in [inserts year]?" We learned so much about my dad from those stories!)
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Friday, September 1, 2017

The PAUL Picnic Hamper


When my mom came to visit me in London a few years ago, she fell in love with PAUL - PAUL, of course, being the ubiquitous French bakery and cafe on this side of the Channel that makes the closest thing to the perfectly flaky, ever-so-slightly yielding croissants and pain au chocolats found on that side of the Channel. Naturally, she fell for the delicious pastries and cakes, but I've always been a fan of PAUL's tasty baguette sandwiches too.

And just in time to lift my post-Paris-holiday blues (and just in time to catch the last of the warm-ish weather in London), PAUL has launched a summer picnic hamper filled with both sweet and savoury treats, which my friend Alex and I tried last week in Lincoln's Inn Fields.


We unzipped the cool bag that the picnic arrives in, shook out our blanket under a tree, and placed the cute, waterproof chequered table cloth on top (also included).

Priced at £20 for two or £38 for four, the picnic includes either sandwiches, quiche, salads, chips (or "crisps" as they're called here in the UK!), drinks, and - of course - dessert from PAUL's famous patisserie counter.


We tried the vegan sandwich - a beetroot baguette stuffed with grilled peppers, carrots, onions, carrot hummus and spinach - though I think I might have enjoyed the sliced roast beef sandwich more (note to self: order the sandwich boeuf next time!). The beetroot bread itself, however, was very good, and it's good to know that there's a sandwich option for my vegan and veggie friends.

It was a fairly warm day when we had our picnic, and we grazed on PAUL's chardonnay wine vinegar (addictive, with a zing) and sea salt (basic, but essential) crisps while people-watching in the park and catching up on our favorite new-store openings in London (Arket! Weekday!).


Of course, I couldn't wait to try the dessert: a slice of PAUL's fruit rouges tart (I made a mental note to buy it for the next office birthday) and a large pistachio macaron, which we managed to split in half with as much grace we could muster.


Too bad for us, we only had an hour or so for lunch, so it wasn't long before we had to pack up our PAUL picnic, fold up our picnic blanket (which had acquired a bit of mud at this point that still hasn't washed out), and reluctantly head back indoors. This portable picnic is perfect for a last-minute al fresco gathering with friends ... or, a romantic lunch/light dinner for two in the garden (which I'd love to do with John!).

Will you be taking advantage of this late-summer picnic weather?

Our summer picnic hamper was provided courtesy of PAUL. All opinions are my own.
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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais, Paris


Pushing open the door to Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais, a grand house-turned-hotel tucked away on a pretty, sun-dappled street of the Marais, I was distracted by a small, wiry ball of black fur regally descending from a back office somewhere as if he himself were the proprietor of the hotel. He paused a short distance away from my feet, tail wagging, looking up with serious eyes, as if to say, "Welcome" or, since we were in Paris, "Bienvenue".

"That's Bobby," said the receptionist, laughing, as I bent down to ruffle him behind the ears. He moved quickly, from me to Udita, eager to greet us both, yet completely soundless - too polite for even a whimper or a bark. (Later during our stay, I'd wonder aloud about Bobby's whereabouts when we returned to the hotel and Udita would joke, "Probably in his office, reading the Financial Times.")


The hotel itself is positioned about a five-minute walk away from Hotel de Ville metro station - a straight shot down Rue de Rivoli, followed by a swift left turn onto Rue Vieille-du-Temple, it's ideal for wandering to the Notre Dame, picnic-ing in the Tuileries, spending an afternoon at the Louvre, or soaking up culture at Centre Pompidou.


Its bright blue facade appears in many Instagram feeds - indeed, I glanced down from our balcony on several occasions to catch passersby standing opposite, poised with iPhone or DSLR in hand.

The hotel has nineteen rooms; small, but perfectly formed (though, by Parisian standards, I found ours on the second floor to be quite spacious!). Within minutes of making Bobby's acquaintance, we were given our room key - no passports to be photocopied, no credit card details to be taken in advance - and allowed to show ourselves to our room, where, upon opening the door, Udita and I collapsed in fits of giggles on the twin beds and shouted, "What is this life?" as we flung open the balcony doors and peered out onto the distinctly Parisian streets below.

Decorated in the 18th-century style, the owner, Monsieur Alain Bigeard, has taken great pains to source antique furniture and the finest quality fabrics to adorn the hotel. The paintings that hang in the rooms and reception area are all original oil paintings, and the framed sheet music extracted from first editions. Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais is, of course, named after Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, who - amongst many other things - was a playwright and musician who authored the Figaro plays, the second of which (The Marriage of Figaro), Mozart based his opera.




We met Alain the next morning, after we'd finished our decadent breakfast and were preparing to head out for our early morning wander around the Marais. In his charming, easy way, he explained the history of the hotel, and I pressed for details on where he sourced all his fabulous antique furniture and art. Waking in the hotel feels, at times, like a cross between waking in a fairytale and a museum - drowsy from a late afternoon nap, I momentarily forgot where I was, and thought I'd been transported to the 18th-century, half-wanting to reach for my powdered wig. Alain's fine attention to detail is a testament to the hotel's ability to evoke this magical feeling.

I'd read previous reviews of Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais' legendary breakfasts (which can either be taken downstairs in the basement or brought up to your room - naturally, we opted for the latter), but nothing quite prepared me for the spread that arrived within minutes of me requesting it from reception (advance notice is not necessary - you simply call when you're hungry!). Nestled in a impossibly French-country chic basket tray was a pot of fresh tea, a pitcher of coffee with warmed milk, jars of pate, kiwis, soft boiled eggs perched in porcelain egg cups, tiny pots of jam, honey, and marmalade, freshly-squeezed orange juice, cheese, and - the piece de resistance - a basket of warm croissants, crusty baguettes, and pain au chocolats. I nearly wept (and definitely swooned when I took my first bite of jam-smothered croissant).


The people at Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais are as pleasing as the attractive decor - the polite, nearly apologetic way staff tend to phrase requests ("We have a habit of keeping room keys at the desk whilst you're out!"), the warmth and personal attention ("Bonjour, good morning! Breakfast to your room? It would be our pleasure!"), and the eagerness to help ("Can we book you a taxi? Or help you with directions to the restaurant?") - all make staying at the hotel a delightful experience; the exact opposite of the cold, sniffy stereotypes that first-time visitors to Paris typically fear (particularly those whose French skills are limited to ordering a maximum of three pastries from a boulangerie).

In fact, it would be the ideal place to stay if you're a first-time visitor: easy to get to, located in a beautiful, but central neighborhood, and wonderfully welcoming. I know my parents love Paris (my dad in particular!) so I can't wait to take them back to Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais on their return to Europe.


On our last morning at Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais, we had no time for the glorious breakfast spread, instead stuffing the last of our belongings and newly-purchased candles into our bags and creeping downstairs at an unsociable hour, wistfully hoping for one last glimpse of Bobby, before stepping out onto the quiet Marais street to await our taxi to Gare du Nord. The sun hadn't yet risen, but a fresh copy of The New York Times and Le Monde had been swapped for yesterday's old news in reception, and we were bade farewell as warmly as we'd been greeted.

Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais, I'll be back. For sure.

Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais, 12 Rue Vieille du Temple, 75004, Paris, France. We stayed at Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais at a press rate; all opinions are my own.
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Monday, August 21, 2017

Snapshots From Paris


Saturday evening: rain. Correction: foreboding clouds that gave way to a downpour. But we didn't care. Au Bourguignon du Marais was a mere 2-minute walk from our hotel's reception, and with heated lamps overhead, we chose a table outside, overlooking the street in true Parisian style.

One order of fresh green beans, supreme de poulet jaune and boeuf bourguignon later, we were truly under the spell of Paris: that heady, giggly feeling akin to sipping a glass of wine too quickly, even though neither of us had touched a drop.


A pair of profiteroles melting in a sea of hot chocolate sauce sent us into a dizzying spiral of foodie bliss, and, after paying the bill, we ended up strolling to Pont Louis Philippe for a night-time view of the Seine, spotting the teasing twinkle of the Eiffel Tower's searchlight in the distance.

Too excited to sleep that night, we drifted off around midnight ... dreaming of the day ahead.


On Sunday, we woke early, and I flung open the balcony doors before pulling the covers back up under my chin. I called down to reception to have our breakfast brought up to our room (fancy!) and we nibbled on a feast of jams, butter, fresh pain, pain au chocolat, and croissants, along with eggs, fresh juice, fruit, and more ... before taking our time to get ready for exploring Le Marais.


We peered into shops and snapped photos in front of storefronts and boulangeries. It was magnificently quiet. Except for a group of German tourists that suddendly descended on the street we were standing on, few people were up sipping coffee al fresco at that time of the morning.

I paused to take in the beautiful light; the shade from a pink-blossomed tree; a former hammam-turned-COS-store.


We meandered towards the Place des Vosges, a beautiful green square lined with park benches and four burbling fountains. We sat down to take it all in - and to wonder aloud about our trajectory from meeting at a small college in rural Massachusetts, to living in London and travelling to Paris together.

Stopping into a jewellery store that had just opened, we ogled sparkly rings and chandelier earrings before jumping on the Metro to the Tuileries, where we breezily waltzed into Angelina and ordered the house speciality: thick, molten hot chocolate.


We shared probably the most delicious club sandwich I've ever had, and went for a stroll in the now-humming Tuileries Garden ... choosing the quieter path between trees.



Feeling strangely sluggish and exhausted, we headed back to the darling Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais for ... a nap. And woke an hour later, famished for crepes.

We tucked into the Nutella and banana-stuffed pancakes before exclaiming, "What's that amazing smell?" and ducking into Estaban, before each carefully selecting a candle to take home.

After a so-so dinner at Chez Julien, we wandered to the bridge we'd visited the night before ... and somehow ended up wandering to the Notre Dame.


The setting sun had cast a beautiful wash of egg-yolk orange over the riverbank, the Seine, and all the pretty buildings lining the river. Spanish guitarists strummed melodies under bridges and trees ... another duo had attracted quite a crowd with Simon and Garfunkel's 'The Sound of Silence'. As the sun began to fade into the distance, Udita turned to me and asked, "Should we just go? To the bridge? Should we get an Uber and just go?" She meant Pont de Bir-Hakeim, where we'd planned to visit earlier in the day but had opted for a nap instead.

"Yes," I said decisively, and we marched over to await our Mercedes chariot outside a Subway.

"Are you going on a boat?" the driver asked, helpfully, en route.

"No, just the bridge!" we replied, giggling.

Because it was the view from the bridge that we'd gotten into the car for:


Watching dusk turn into night, we turned away from the tower, before glancing back and noticing that it was now illuminated. We ran to our positions again to snap photo after photo - with only five or so other people doing the same.

That night, we packed our bags and set our alarms, not wanting dawn to arrive. But it did - within what felt like a few minutes of closing our eyes - and we blearily trudged downstairs to await a cab to Gare du Nord, leaving our Parisian weekend trailing behind us like dream we never fully woke from.
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Friday, August 11, 2017

Interior Inspiration: Dressing Table Goals


This is where I spend a lot of my time in our house, but I've never featured it on the blog before, so I thought I'd share it with you today!

My dressing table is where I begin every day - often with a cup of tea while I'm waiting for the curling iron to warm up (I curl my pin-straight, medium-length hair on most days). Depending what time I wake, my routine is either rushed and slapdash, or ritualistic and considered. Often, I like to put on a YouTube tutorial (usually by Lisa Eldridge) or vlog (by Estee Lalonde) while I get ready ... there's something comforting about having someone chat to me as I do my own make-up!

It's also where I end my day: where I swipe on toner, pat on serums and oils, and critically examine my slowly-aging face before I climb into bed (from where John usually complains, "What's taking you so long?").

Years of renting in small apartments meant that I'd clutter up bathrooms and living room mirrors with rows of makeup and skincare products - it's a luxury to have a dedicated space for getting ready in the morning, and winding down at night.


Recently, I took clippings of fragrant wild flowers from our garden - calamintha nepeta 'Blue Cloud', lavender, and geranium - and put them in this beautiful vase from Dartington Crystal. The 'Blue Cloud' smells like mint, and I love the scent of fresh lavender, so having the smokey-hued vase on my dressing table is a beautiful way to start and end each day. Every piece from Dartington Crystal is handmade, and I just found out that you can watch the artisans in action at the Dartington Crystal factory in North Devon.

This floral arrangement also motivates me to keep my dressing table tidy. I'm pretty unorganized - in fact, my room is perpetually messy! It's awful, I know. I have a hard time putting things back immediately and as a result, my make-up is usually scattered all over the place. Having a tidy dressing table, with my brushes in their places and my lipsticks hidden away in well-labelled trays, helps focus my mind for the day ahead.


Now, I just need to work on that pile of clothes on the chair ...

Where do you get ready in the morning? Do you have a dressing table? Or a slightly more improvised set up? I'd love to know!

p.s. my favorite thing to do when I go over to a friend's house, is poke around their dressing table - and my friends do the same when they come over! I pick up perfume bottles and sniff them, and test lipsticks on the back of my hand (with their permission, of course!) - ha!

Vase provided courtesy of Dartington Crystal. All opinions are my own.
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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Unpopular Opinion: I Like The Food in England Better


A few weeks ago, John and I went out for dinner at our local pub and had the most amazing dinner (not pictured). Simple, but fantastic. It was a warm, summer's evening (ha! ha! We won't be seeing much of those again here in London) and we sat outside on rickety wooden picnic tables, that followed the slope of the sidewalk. The pub's windows were flung open and, on the table opposite, two families sat with their young children. The sun was just setting, and the glow cast a warmth on my shoulders as John went inside to order our drinks.

I studied the menu for a while before my eyes landed on the clam linguine, tossed with white wine, garlic, cherry tomatoes, parsley, and a dash of red chilli. John settled for the pulled beef salad with barley, greens, and pomegranate seeds.

A pint of soda water and lime (for me) and bitter (for John) later, our food arrived and I eagerly dug in: easily one of the best meals I'd had in a while, hands down. The ingredients were fresh, simple, and tasty. The tiny clams were sweet, plentiful, and the shells soon piled high on my plate.

Mid-way through the meal, we traded plates (as we often do) and I tucked into John's light, refreshing summer salad: lovely, clean flavors that begged to be savoured and enjoyed.

Then, I thought back to my recent trip to America and wondered: where could I find this simple, yet delicious cooking in the States?


And then, I realized: I haven't. At least, not yet.

Don't get me wrong: I love my American sandwiches. Served with a cold, crunchy pickle on the side, with chips (that's crisps, for you Brits), a soup or salad, and stuffed with magical combinations (think: turkey breast, cream cheese, and cranberry sauce, or shrimp on a fluffy white baguette with shredded lettuce, mayo and a layer of melted cheese, or ham, turkey, and pastrami with provolone on a thick sliced bloomer) - American sandwiches are the best. Bar none.

And the milkshakes: thick, creamy, ice cold, in damn tasty flavor combinations (peanut butter Oreo, anyone?) ... perfection.

But that's where my love of American "food" kind of stops. I even have issues with eating out at restaurants - proper, "good" restaurants that charge, say, $80 for a steak (yes, really) topped with crabmeat.

It's always a little ... too much. Too much cheese. Too much seasoning. Too much butter. Too much everything. The flavors become confused; the essence of the dish is lost along the way.

And I'm not the only one who thinks so: I penned a tentative tweet about this months ago (lest my head be ripped off by all-or-nothing American food lovers) and a few fellow Americans agreed with enthusiastic virtual nods-of-the-head (one British person sent me a private message that read: "Are you f*cking kidding me?").


I think back to a recent experience I had at a popular waterfront restaurant on the Puget Sound, in Washington state. Having ordered the "Rockin' Rockfish Tacos" and a side of the restaurant's famous chowder, I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into a fresh fish taco with, what I imagined to be, a fresh squeeze of lime, plenty of cilantro, and some kind of cabbage concoction. What I received was a strange melted-cheese thing with a jarring sweet Thai marinade that tasted a bit like licking a Jolly Rancher alongside a portion of fish and chips. The chowder, in all is salty glory, made my head ache - I couldn't finish it, let alone taste the clams. And, you know, I wasn't even disappointed because I had a bad meal, I was disappointed because it was the lunch that I'd wanted to treat my family to, and it was, frankly, undeserving of this event.

And then there was this article that was recently published in Insider about the "8 Unhealthiest Restaurant Meals in America", which made me think ... why? Why the need for a Manchego, cheddar, pepperoni and sausage stuffed pizza topped with MORE pepperoni, sausage, bacon, marinara, mozzerella and Parmesan cheese? Calories, fat, and sodium content aside ... is that even enjoyable? (I don't know, I haven't tried it - maybe it's mind-blowing.)

After living in Europe for 10 years, my tastebuds have regressed, perhaps - regressed to a place where I find rustic charcuterie boards (with a smattering of cured meats and perhaps two or three cheeses, with a gherkin or handful of grapes thrown in for good measure) enticing; crusty baguettes smeared with a dollop of French mustard and a single but thick slice of salty ham enough; and linguine tossed with baby clams, white wine, garlic, parsley, cherry tomatoes, and a dash of chilli - divine.

I'm sure it's just me.
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Friday, August 4, 2017

Travel Link-Up: Travel Anxiety


There I am, on Instagram: tilting my head back, mid-laugh with a drink in my hand in Singapore, as the sun sets behind me at a rooftop bar. And, there's me: smiling astride a camel in a Moroccan sand dune, khakis rolled up to the ankle and the sun beating down on my shoulders. And, again: striking Triangle Pose at My Son Sanctuary in Vietnam, wearing shorts and a Breton tee as if I'd just been plucked from a picnic on Hampstead Heath, instead of exploring a UNESCO world heritage site.

I look at these photos and think, 'Who is this person?' Because it certainly doesn't seem like me - the person who carefully looked up the dress code not once, but twice for that Singaporean roof top bar; the person who overpacked for the camel-camping desert excursion (but failed to bring hand sanitizer, for which I suffered the utmost consequence after being struck by a stomach bug shortly after); the woman who spent the first 2 hours in Hanoi nearly crying from the chaos that came with mopeds clipping dangerously close to her heels with no paved sidewalk to escape to.

In short, I'm the world's most anxious traveler.

In fact, I'm not even sure I enjoy traveling.

There, I said it.

I mean, of course I love discovering new places, but getting to the airport? That, in itself, requires a CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)-lesson-in-practice for me. Lots of deep breathing and such. I still print every single travel-related document and bring it along with me on the trip: proof of my travel insurance; our hotel confirmation; our flight confirmation; in fact, anything with "CONFIRMATION" in the subject line.

My husband, on the other hand, is the Cool Hand Luke of travel (particularly, aviation travel). Slinking into the airport an hour (at most) before his flight takes off, brandishing his passport at First Class check-in and waltzing through Fast Track security with the grace of a seasoned Strictly Come Dancing-professional, he is cool, calm and collected from the minute he leaves our house to the second he disembarks the plane at his destination. Completing 3-4 long-haul international flights per year for work (plus numerous other short-haul trips scattered inbetween) helps, not to mention that Gold Loung access, but frankly? He's always been this chilled out about travel before his job required him to whip around the world faster than you can say, "Doors to manual".

When we travel together, everything is golden. I fret, sure, but I unload my anxieties onto him and he sweeps them away like a genie granting wishes. "What are you worried about?" he'll ask, noticing my furrowed brow on the ride to the airport. "What if ... what if the taxi guy doesn't show up and we're stuck in Marrakech and we don't know any local cab numbers and I forgot the hotel number and what is the airport like and what if I need to go to the bathroom but there's no time or ..." and he'll listen patiently and have an answer for everything. And I'll sit back, satisfied, in my seat, the seatbelt tugging at my chest.


I think I inherited my parents' travel anxieties: road trips to Vancouver and the Oregon Coast wouldn't be complete with my mom and dad checking not once, not twice, but nearly three times they had turned off the stove, locked the door, and switched on the home alarm. Passports were checked, re-checked and counted for all to see in the car - and this was all before we'd even backed out of the driveway.

Further trips abroad - to the East Coast, the Rocky Mountains, and Japan, for example - were left to the professionals to organize; Chinese tour companies with guides who waved brightly colored flags and umbrellas, our smallish group attracting contempt and disdain from locals and tourists alike wherever we went.

When I'm travel-ling, I'm constantly on edge. Where is the bathroom? (Can you tell I have a pre-occupation with my pea-sized bladder?) Where will we eat? How will we get there? I have a headache. AM I DYING? It all gets a little bit out of control.

But lately, when I've panicked on a trip, I observe John, silently, and watch how he deals with a stressful situation. Severe and sudden snowfall, for example, meant that several accidents blocked the road to the airport in Reykjavik on our way out. We also hadn't put the coordinates for the car rental place into the GPS. Already, my imagination was going into overdrive: we would miss the plane. We'd never get to the airport. We wouldn't be able to find the car rental place. Our own car would skid off the road.


OBVIOUSLY, we made it to the car rental place in one piece, with plenty of time to spare. The car was checked in smoothly and a shuttle took us a few yards to the airport.

Later, when we were sitting on the plane, preparing for takeoff, I whispered to John, "How did you know where to drop the car off?"

He shrugged. "I didn't, really. I mean, I knew it was just a few feet from the airport, for goodness' sake, so how far could it be?" He opened War and Peace on his iPad and was, at once, deep in concentration. Shoes already off and tucked under his seat. That guy.

But I've learned something so valuable from him - John, my preferred travel companion. I've learned how to stop catastrophizing; how to stop predicting the worst. And when the worst strikes, how to problem-solve - not stress.

Do you suffer from travel anxiety too? Or are you great at dealing with anything unexpected that comes your way? I'd love to know (plus, any tips or tricks you might find useful!).

This post is part of this month's Travel Link-Up series on "travel fears and scares". Head over to Angie's, Polly's, Emma's, and Maggie's blogs for more posts on this theme!
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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Angloyankophile Shortlisted For The #BloggersBlogAwards!


I had scheduled a completely different post to be published today, but ...

Last night, I came home, made myself this breakfast casserole for dinner, put Jane The Virgin on Netflix, and happily served myself seconds and thirds of this delicious said-casserole before idly checking my phone.

Scrolling through my Twitter notifications, it slowly dawned on me that I'd been shortlisted for not one, not two, but THREE categories in the #BloggersBlogAwards!

I laughed.

I cried.

I ate more breakfast casserole. (And then I had some cake, because - well, cake.)

Founded by Hayley of Tea Party Beauty, the #BloggersBlogAwards seeks to celebrate (in Hayley's words) "the small to medium bloggers who are overlooked and overshadowed"; to "show some appreciation for the hard work [we] all put in, and to celebrate the community we have all made, together."

I have to admit: I've thought of throwing in the towel on this blog more than once this year. With a demanding full-time job and freelance writing commitments, plus the ever-insistent pressure on Instagram to "grow" an organic following while grappling with an impossible and frustrating algorithm, I felt - I feel - exhausted. Like I can't keep up.

So, I slowed down a little. Which, was better for me mentally, but tricky as I didn't feel great about it.

Still, I plodded along. But that's all it was (and is, at the moment): plodding.

And, just when I didn't think anyone was noticing, I got these nominations and - I felt so overwhelmed.

I've been shortlisted in three categories:

Best Use of Photography

Best Instagrammer 

Blogger of the Year

And to think that I've been nominated alongside so many "big" bloggers ... my mind's blown.

So, this shortlist has pretty much made my year already. I'm done.

But if you'd like (and only if you'd like to!), the next round of voting is open and you can vote here until 10th September 2017.

Thank you. Thank you for sticking with me, for reading, for voting.

Thank you for always being there.

For being here.

xo
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Friday, July 28, 2017

The Test Kitchen, Soho



When friends or family ask for restaurant recommendations, I wave them in the general direction of Soho and Covent Garden. Soho, in particular, seems to play host to some of London's trendiest restaurants and cafés: from liquid nitrogen ice cream bars to Nikkei cuisine (Japanese-Peruvian cuisine); from grilled Greek skewers and stuffed pittas to French fine dining - Soho has it all.

The Test Kitchen, a pop-up by twice Michelin-awarded Chef Adam Simmonds, opened a few weeks ago and has taken up residency at 54 Frith Street in Soho until March 2018. I went with my friend Alex to try it last week for lunch and, well, our minds were blown.


The premise is this: in preparation for Chef Simmonds' first permanent restaurant in London next year, the menu at The Test Kitchen (as the name suggests) changes weekly - dishes are swapped out for others, according to diners' feedback.

"What's some of the more unusual feedback you've ever received?" I asked. "You won't believe the number of requests we get for fried chicken," came the response, drily. I laughed. I also couldn't see how fried chicken could possibly compete with 80-day aged sirloin of beef, topped with bone marrow, white onion and jus, for example.

We ordered from the a la carte menu: 6 sharing plates grouped by "veg", "fish", and "meat".


The pearl barley, cauliflower Romanesque, truffle and heritage tomatoes, burrata, olive and courgette were the first to arrive. For some reason, we had expected the pearl barley to be served cold, but instead, we dipped our forks in some of the creamiest, most heavenly fragrant risotto I'd ever tried. "WOW," escaped our lips more than once after that first bite. "I could eat this all day!" Alex exclaimed. And I agreed.

The heritage tomatoes, sweet and plump, tasted like a summer's day when we scooped bitefuls onto our forks, along with the burrata and slivers of courgette.

Next, we ordered scallop ceviche with green asparagus, avocado and almonds and cured red mullet with green tomatoes, rocket, and fresh almonds for the "fish" course.



The cured red mullet had a similar texture to sashimi - subtle, yet sweet, it reminded me of walking past fishmongers on the Cornish coast, when the shock of the icy granita touched the tip of my tongue.

Alex described the scallop ceviche as "melt-in-the-mouth" - and it was! These are two gorgeous, fresh dishes for summer (I'd highly recommend sitting outside, if the weather's good, like we did, and washing it all down with a glass of white, if you drink!).

But, the piece de résistance was the 80-day aged sirloin of beef, topped with tiny cubes of bone marrow and soft white onion and drizzled with jus. Although the lamb we ordered was also delicious, we couldn't stop gushing about the beef.


It tasted as sublime as it looks. Unbelievably tender and rich, it was the kind of plate that made me want to throw down my napkin and tell the world about (I texted John right then and there - he answered grumpily, as he was at work and not enjoying a fancy four-course meal like me in the middle of the day).

Now, about the desserts ... I'll admit that my eye skipped straight to the dessert options as soon as we sat down because I caught sight of the matcha tea custard with poached English cherries and red wine syrup.



Chef Simmonds emerged from the restaurant and presented these beautiful plates to us himself, which was such an honor! I think I devoured my matcha custard in a record 3 minutes or so ... I tried to savour it, but to no avail. It was just too delicious: the sharpness of the poached cherries cutting through the slight, familiar bitterness of the matcha, and the sweetness of the red wine syrup balancing it all out on the palate.

I reached over and took spoonfuls of Alex's delicately arranged lemon posset as well. Thick, creamy, and sweet, it lingered on the tongue long after the mouthful disappeared.

The restaurant has 23 covers, but you can book in advance, online! (I'm only excited for this because there's nothing more I hate than showing up to a restaurant I really, really want to try, hangry, and having to wait in line.) There's a 4-course set menu for £29.50, if you'd like, and - if you book online - this is reduced to £27.50, including a complimentary glass of wine. Amazing value for the quality of food you're getting (I've already urged John to take clients there) and the experience of sitting at the open kitchen, watching Chef Simmonds and his team work their magic.


I have to say, I always feel like a bit of a jerk reviewing restaurants as a "blogger" - especially restaurants of The Test Kitchen's calibre. Who am I to give my opinion on what's being placed in front of me by someone with the expertise and talent of chefs like Adam Simmonds? I'm not a trained food critic or restaurant reviewer or food journalist or a "foodie", even. I eat something I like, go "MMMM!", take a picture of it, slap a filter on it, and post it here for you to read and say, "There."

So, I suppose what I loved most about The Test Kitchen was the earnest - truly earnest - emphasis on the customer's (that's regular ol' Joe like me) experience of the food, and placing this at the forefront of the restaurant. "I want you to be part of the development process - something that's usually hidden away behind closed doors - and make your mark on the menu," Chef Simmonds urges in a note attached to the menu, that begins, "Welcome!"

At The Test Kitchen, I ate, I thought a lot about what I was eating, and I gushed with Alex over what we liked (the creamy burrata), what we loved (the velvety pearl barley), and what we could have passed on (the intense black garlic and anchovy) and, you know, as I filled out my feedback form at the end of the meal, I thought, "Oh! It does matter what I think." And I left with a spring in my step because here (for the first time in a long while) was a restaurant that wasn't saying, "Aren't you lucky to eat here!" but instead, made me feel wanted. And that's always a good feeling.

Thank you to The Test Kitchen and to Chef Adam Simmonds for hosting us! Our lunch was complimentary but all opinions are my own.

The Test Kitchen, 54 Frith Street, London, W1D 4SL, +(44) 020 7734 8487

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Siblings



I have a brother named Justin - a little brother, named Justin. We're four and a half years apart, and today's his birthday.

But most people don't know that because I don't talk about him a lot - both in person, or on this blog. Friends will ask, "How's Justin?" And I'll go, "He's good!" Vaguely.

That's not to say that we're not close - quite the opposite. We're four and a half years apart, but from the moment he was born, I loved him. I was also jealous of the attention he received as the youngest (check!) boy (check!) of a Chinese family (check!); attention that was lavished on him when we went to visit our relatives in Hong Kong - the fawning, the cooing, the adoration , which would make me shrink into myself a little bit.

But, I adored him. I always have. 



We're very different. Justin is laid back, introspective, logical, but wildly creative (he still draws Mother's Day cards for my mom). I'm fiery, high-strung, over-achieving, and a constant worrier.

Even so, my parents had unwittingly created the perfect set of cohorts: a sibling duo snickering at inside jokes; sharing music stands in summer orchestra and snacks in the back seat of the car on long road trips; bringing the other up when one was down. 

Well, I went home a few weeks ago and found my brother had turned into a little adult. Actually, a full-grown adult. And it threw me a bit. A lot. It made me misty-eyed and proud and sad and nostalgic all at the same time. I thought of this tiny 6 year-old who would quietly push open my bedroom door in the morning and climb into my bed for cuddles; who would hear me practicing Vivaldi's 'Spring' on the violin in my room and listen for me to stop, only to play it in the minor key on his violin in his room; who grew out his bangs so that they covered his eyes in junior high and who once played guitar in a band.

So, anyway, there we were: sitting on the sofa watching the new season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix. I looked over at his ridiculously wide, flipper feet and a kind of sob caught in my chest because I just realized just how much I loved him.

And, along with that, the guilt. The guilt of leaving him behind when I went off to the East Coast for college, right when he was navigating the final years of high school - years that had been brutal even for me, with my Type A personality. Then I went further: to England. While he worked through finding his place in college, I was too busy being distracted by my new life and career in London to be there for him when he needed me.


As a result, I never felt like I've been there for my little brother. Not truly.

But he's always been there for me, counselling me through some of the hardest moments of my life, always knowing what to say, offering a shining beacon of perspective when the walls of my world feel like they're closing in on me. Saying, "Don't worry, Jaime - everything's going to be okay" or, more importantly, "I love you, sister!"

And now, with our parents getting older, he's stepped up in ways I couldn't have imagined him doing before as a scrappy little 6 year-old. Now, I find myself calling him for advice on matters concerning their health and well-being: me, 5,000 miles away and hysterical on WhatsApp audio and him, calm, reasoned, yet decisive on the other end of the line.

It's an incredible feeling, being on the same team.

One of the hardest things about living abroad is the inability to be physically present when you feel that you are needed. I owe it to my brother for looking out for (and after) our parents, and for never, ever making me feel guilty for not "being there".

So, Justin, if you're reading this, I love you, and I'm so proud of you. Forever and always.

Happy birthday. 
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