Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Ultimate Waterproof Coat


The number one question I get asked by Londoners as a Seattle-native living in London: "Doesn't it rain a lot in Seattle?" Um, hello - you live in London! It rains a lot here too! In fact, it rained last week in London. And I mean rained. Our garden received a good soaking (yay), and all the snails and slugs came out to play (gross).

It was the kind of rain that made your shoes waterlogged in seconds; your legs soaked and water somehow trickling its way down your sleeve as you struggled to open your umbrella - that kind of rain.

But. I happened to be wearing the Waterproof Parka by Protected Species that week and - let me tell you - it was a game changer, you guys. Even my sister-in-law exclaimed, "You don't even look like you've been outside!" when I walked into their Finsbury Park flat, bone dry (my bag, however, was not).

I couldn't think of a single reason why I love this parka, so I came up with ten instead:

The cut

First of all, this isn't your typical, "outdoor gear" kind of waterproof coat. The design is slimline and flattering (FYI, I ordered a medium, in case you're wondering what size to get - I typically wear a UK size 10), with an internal drawstring to just nip you in at the waist. For someone who tries and consistently fails at the "look at me in my cool, irreverant yellow rain coat" look, the beautiful cut of this coat is a godsend.

The technology

Remember when my sister-in-law said it didn't look like I'd been in the rain, even though I'd walked to her apartment for 10 minutes during an absolute downpour? Protected Species' super special fabric technology meant that I actually put my umbrella away during the walk and went totally hands-free. Of course, my bag got totally soaked, prompting me to tweet Protected Species, begging founders Anne and Rebecca to make bags in the same amazing waterproof fabric so I could be rain-proof for life. They said they'd think about it. But seriously. I had maybe one or two droplets on my sleeve when I reached my destination and the longer sleeves (super long on me, since I'm short) meant that my hands and wrists didn't get wet at all.


The colors

The waterproof coats and jackets, currently available in four styles (the Parka, Mac, City Walker, and Commuter), come in the most beautiful range of chic, sophisticated colors. Hues that are just bright enough to stand out, but pretty enough to wear in even the smartest of situations (if it sounds like I'm gushing, I'm totally gushing, because that's how much I love my Protected Species parka). I picked Cityscape Blue, but I also love the Burnt Horizon Red, which would be flattering on so many different skin tones. 


No noise

You know that annoying swishy swish swish sound that most waterproof jackets make? (Hint: never, ever wear them to the theatre and try to take it off during a tense moment in the play/movie.) It is probably one of the most annoying sounds ever. This coat is silent.

Longer length

If you've ever been treated to diagonal rain, then you'll know what I mean when I say that I hate the feeling of wet jeans on thighs after being outside for, oh, forty seconds or so. The longer length of Protected Species' Parka, Mac, and Commuter meant that the tops of my legs stayed completely dry and warm, so I didn't have to walk over to the radiator as soon as I reached the office.

Breathable

Oh, I forgot to mention: when it rained last year? It was also humid and muggy. Getting on the tube with a trillion other people during rush hour, I was afraid I'd faint from heat stroke while wearing my new parka, but instead, I cooled off pretty quickly and didn't sit there sweating in an awkward heap on the Victoria line.


Crease resistant

I sat on it on the tube during my 45-minute commute and when I got up, there were no tell-tale signs of wrinkling on my butt - which happens to every other coat (especially trench coats) that I own.

Lightweight

It's so luxuriously soft and lightweight, I can easily pack it up into my bag (despite its long length) or throw it in my suitcase last-minute without giving it another thought.

Hidden hood


Because of the lightweight material, there's no unzipping, unrolling, or frantic unfurling of the hidden hood in the coat. Nope - I detached the Velco fastenings along the collar edge (also deliciously quiet - well, as quiet as Velcro can be) and the hood simply, well, fell out. And it was long enough to cover my head (nothing like a hood that doesn't quite reach your forehead) so that my face kept completely dry as well.


Machine washable

What more could you ask for? Unlike beautiful coats that you invest in, only to have to dry clean or treat them with otherwise kid gloves, you can throw this lovely parka in your washing machine and hang it out to dry (which would probably take minutes).

I could probably go on, but I won't. I loved this Protected Species parka from the moment it popped up in my Facebook newsfeed (well done, targeted Facebook advertising) and I wish I'd discovered it about 10 years ago. The upside is that, well, I'll have this one for at least 10 years or more and I don't think I'll ever be buying another rain coat again - it's that good.

Now, if only they could get working on that bag ...

Shop Protected Species here. My Waterproof Parka was provided by Protected Species, a brand that I genuinely love and would buy for myself, my family and friends. All opinions are my own.
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Friday, May 19, 2017

My Mother's Mother



Monday

"I can't take this with me."

I'm peering down at a shopping bag filled to the brim with packets of dried Chinese mushrooms and abalone, which my grandma had brandished as I walked into her Kowloon apartment.

There's a low hum from the air conditioner and, outside, the dull sound of a basketball hitting the court at the high school across the road cuts through the windows. An extra-large photo of my grandpa is propped up on the sideboard amongst photos of the grandchildren - myself included. Draped in a graduation gown, I am smiling winningly at the camera from beneath a mortarboard cap, gripping a diploma in my hands.

"What do you mean, you can't take it with you"? my grandma beseeched.

I shrugged. "I only brought a carry-on with me, grandma," I said, palms up in exasperation. "I didn't check any bags!"

I didn't even say 'thank you'. I didn't even say, 'you shouldn't have gone to the trouble, grandma.' Instead, I sat down and helped myself to the Chinese Swiss roll cake she'd bought for me - the kind she knew I loved.

That night, we took a taxi to a restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui. She'd called ahead to order a special soup for me.

"Teacher!" the restaurant staff greeted my grandma, a retired school headmistress, as she stepped regally into the restaurant. "Teacher, it's wonderful to see you here again!" they chimed.

She gave a small wave, as if she were the Queen.

"This," she proclaimed, with a sweep of her hand and a nod in my direction, to anyone who would listen (including the restaurant manager). "... is my granddaughter. She was born in the States and lives in England. And she came here just to visit me!"

The staff nodded politely and released a refrain of practised responses:

"Teacher, she really is so beautiful!"
"Teacher, how could you possibly have a granddaughter who is so grown-up?" (My grandma's ninety-one.)
"Teacher, isn't that nice!"

Afterwards, we headed back to my hotel, where my mother had suggested my grandma stay with me for the night, so we wouldn't have to worry about each other getting home safely.

At first, I resented this. Ever since my grandpa died, my grandma slept with the lights on - a fact I'd forgotten, along with my eye-shade.

"I'm going to try to get some sleep," I announced, turning away from her.

"Go on, then," she said, responding to WhatsApp messages at 12:00 a.m.

I listened for the sound of her soft snoring, before dropping off to fitful bouts of sleep myself. We both woke an hour later, laughing and chatting until 3 a.m.

"You should really get some sleep now, grandma," I said, flicking off the light switch.

Tuesday

The next morning, we walked to a nearby Hong Kong-style cafe, also known as a cha chaan teng. I ordered my favorite set breakfast, Set Menu A: macaroni in broth with thin slices of luncheon meat and abalone, a fried egg and thin slice of ham with toast, and a hot cup of Hong Kong style milk tea, plus a warm pineapple bun with a thick chunk of butter wedged in the middle, which gradually melted as you ate the sweet, pillowy pastry.

My grandma beamed as I devoured my breakfast, snapping photos of me and WhatsApping them to my mother. I posed with the bun in my hand. I posed with my macaroni-filled spoon in mid-air. I posed while pretending to take a sip of the milk tea.

When we finished, I made half-hearted attempts to pay the bill, but didn't protest when she waved me off.

Back at the hotel, she took photos of me checking out at the front desk; of me by the pool; of me standing in the lobby.

"I'll call you before I come over tonight," I said, disappearing down the steps of Yau Ma Tei MTR station.

When I returned to the hotel after spending the afternoon with my uncle, I had four voice messages and eight texts from my grandma: "Where are you? Are you back at the hotel yet? Why haven't you called me?" they read. Panicked, frantic. I rolled my eyes and stepped into the shower, taking my time to call her later.

"I want to take you to have fried pork cutlets," she said that evening. "I actually love them, but no one will eat them with me!"

We took a cab to Jordan - at least a twenty minute drive from her apartment.

The Malaysian restaurant was simple, no-frills. The sour-faced waitress tossed a single menu on our table and, when my grandma asked politely for a second one, the waitress ignored her, purposely turning her back.

Rage bubbled within, but I didn't know what to do.

"Maybe we should go somewhere else," I whispered to my grandma, who looked crestfallen.

"No," she said, determined, flagging down a different waitress. "I came here for the pork cutlet, and I'm going to have it!"

I chose Hainan chicken rice for my dinner, while my grandma got her much-desired pork cutlets, which were admittedly delicious.

As we gradually cleared our plates, I checked my watch under the table. 8 p.m. I wanted to head back to my hotel for some sleep.

"Do you want dessert?" my grandma asked.

I shook my head. "No thanks, I'm not really hungry."

"Oh, okay," she said, deflating a little.

"I love Chinese desserts, though," I said. "Especially the milk desserts at Yee Shun."

At this, my grandma practically leapt out of her seat in the booth, visibly brightening. "Let's go there! There's a branch in Yau Ma Tei! Then I can take a taxi home from there!"

A lump formed in my throat.

"I really miss you," I said quietly, the tears falling as I fumbled for some tissues.

"Well," my grandma said, her voice cracking. "Come back soon, and stay longer next time! Now stop crying," she said, wiping at her eyes.

Thursday

"Grandma, I don't know how to tell you this, but ... you know those two packets of abalone I packed in my carry-on? I don't think I'll be able to take them with me. The sauce itself exceeds the liquid limit for planes!"

We were at Maxim's restaurant in Hong Kong International Airport, baskets of dim sum steaming tantalisingly before us. I skewered a har gau into my mouth.

"Well, why don't you just take one pack? And if they confiscate it, then so be it!" she declared, helping herself to a Chinese meatball.

"I'll go ask," I said, pushing back my chair and grabbing my small rolling suitcase.

I returned breathlessly, fifteen minutes later, having confirmed with security staff that the abalone sauce indeed, exceeded the liquid allowance, and checking in my suitcase into the plane's hold.

"The crab claws I ordered never came!" she complained. "Do you think I should say something?"

"No," I said, emphatically. Selfishly, I imagined the long, drawn-out scene that might unfold.

"You're right," she said, sitting back in her seat with a tsk. "But I had so wanted you to try them; to just see them!"

"Forget it, grandma," I said, busying myself with re-packing my now over-full second carry-on bag. But guilt tugged at me - and not for the first time that week. She'd ordered the dish so that I could try it - what harm would it do if we said something?

But it was time to go. This time, I really tried to get the bill, emphatically mouthing, "Give it to me," to the waitress, who nodded and gave me the thumbs up before scurrying away to produce it.

Of course, my grandma snatched it out of the girl's hand when it arrived, and I pleaded - no, begged - that she give it to me instead.

I was unsuccessful.

I walked her back to the Airport Express train, slowly, at a snail's pace.

"The one thing I despise about getting old," she had said to me earlier that week, "is how slowly I walk! I hate it!" And I had smiled, patiently joining her slow, deliberate steps.

"Well, I suppose I could get this train," my grandma said at the open doors of the Airport Express.

"Bye, grandma," I said, hugging her to me, my brows automatically knitting; my eyes welling with tears.

She gave a small wave and found a seat, as I watched her from the other side of the glass, both of our faces crumpling at the sight of the other's.

I willed the doors to close. Hurry. I couldn't stand to see her face, so much smaller and so much older than I had remembered, seizing with quiet sobs.

The train pulled away and we waved, and waved, and waved.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Yum Cha, Hong Kong


The week before I left for Hong Kong, I stalked tons of Hong Kong-based food bloggers on Instagram, scouring their accounts for fun, tasty and - not gonna lie - Instagrammable restaurants to try.

But who was I kidding? With only two full days there, and most meals already lined up with family members at "proper" restaurants, the odds of me escaping to find some random place with cotton-candy topped ice-cream floats in the shape of panda bears (this actually exists, folks) seemed unlikely.

Enter my cousin: fellow food enthusiastic and a sucker for anything cute. I told her about this restaurant I'd seen on Instagram called Yum Cha, which served baskets of "puking" molten custard buns and char siu bao shaped like tiny piglets. And, as someone who can't resist a good gimmick - I was immediately sold. I sent the link to my cousin who suggested we head over to Yum Cha for dessert, after surprising her parents (my aunt and uncle, who didn't know I was in Hong Kong!) for lunch at a Chiu Chow restaurant in Wan Chai.



In Cantonese, 'yum cha' literally means "drink tea" but it can also refer to the event of eating dim sum. Going to yum cha is a real treat. It's something to be enjoyed over a long, leisurely brunch/lunch at a round table with friends and family.

Despite the playful, modern twist (something I'm sure my parents would frown upon!), the restaurant itself evokes the true sentiment of yum cha. Situated on the top floor of Nan Fung Place in Central (there's Kowloon location in Tsim Sha Tsui), the interior of Yum Cha features floor-to-ceiling windows, marble-top tables, and beautiful crockery and glassware that demand to be admired.


Because we'd already had lunch, we ordered sweet dim sum for dessert - specifically, the hot custard buns, molten matcha buns, the pineapple pastry puffs shaped like birds (and served in a bird cage!), plus a few BBQ "piggy buns" for good measure.

The pineapple pastry puff birds arrived first, with desiccated coconut dusting the bottom of the bird cage like sawdust - such a sweet detail!

I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but the pastry of the bite-sized birds was crisp, light and not too dry. The pineapple filling (similar to a paste or a ganache) tasted almost candy-like - a little on the sweet side, but very enjoyable as a dessert.


When the buns arrived, I was surprised at the generous portion size - I'd expected them to be much smaller, for some reason. So, at HK$49 for a portion of hot custard buns (3 pieces), it wasn't too crazily priced.



I was so full from lunch, I had to stop after eating a molten matcha bun (we had fun trying to poke a mouth-shaped hole in the bun with our chopsticks to make it "puke" in just the right place - next time, I'll request a sharp knife), but boxed up the custard bun and the BBQ bun for later (tip: don't do this if it can be helped, unless you've got access to a microwave at your hotel, as the buns are best enjoyed while piping hot!).

After tentatively biting into the buns, my cousin and I both agreed that Yum Cha delivered in terms of quality as well as presentation: the buns were soft and served piping hot; the fillings rich in flavor and natural in taste.


Aside from Instagram-friendly dim sum, Yum Cha also serves more traditional, savoury Chinese dishes (with a little twist), such as beetroot with salted fish and fried rice, ox tail braised in red wine, and Singapore vermicelli served in a fresh pineapple. I'm sure my parents would disapprove of this type of "fusion" cuisine, but hey - isn't it fun to experiment with different flavors and textures?

I'm dying to go back to Yum Cha already for some of the savoury dishes and the actual desserts (they look amazing!)! If you're heading to Hong Kong anytime soon, I'd highly recommend making a pit stop here for some steamed baskets of "puking" buns and glasses of chrysanthemum tea.

Huge thanks to my gorgeous cousin, May Po, for treating me to this delicious afternoon yum cha!

Yum Cha is located at 2/F Nan Fung Place, 173 Des Voeux Central, Hong Kong or 3/F, 20-22 Granville Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon
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Monday, May 15, 2017

Hong Kong: A Homecoming


It is 10 p.m. Over the din of our washing machine's furious spin cycle, I am staring at the street view image of my maternal grandma's apartment in Kowloon on Google maps. My small, battered suitcase is open in the corner of our living room, scattering evidence of a whirlwind, 4-day visit to Hong Kong onto the floor: a business card from Carrianna Chiu Chow Restaurant in Wan Chai; two packs of abalone given to me by my grandma; Hermes toiletries from a brief hotel stay.

I am having difficulty processing it all, which is why I'm staring at this image. The last four days seemed like a dream and yet, they weren't, for memories are stronger than dreams: the sticky humidity that made my dress cling to the backs of my legs as I wandered Victoria Peak with my uncle; my careful pronunciation of "Homantin" to the driver as I crawled into the cool air-conditioned backseat of a Hong Kong red taxi cab; spoonfuls of a cold egg custard dessert savoured on a late Tuesday evening. The trams that signalled with a familiar ding! ding! and a sign plate that changed to Happy Valley - my heart pulling out of my chest every time I saw the name, home to the apartment my father grew up in, the apartment I would never see again; sold to the highest bidder, chopped up and subdivided into individual, smaller flats.


Despite the humidity and the heat, I did not move with the slow, hindered performance that occurs when one is stuck in the fug of a dream. I navigated the corridors of MTR stations as if they were in the London Underground: briskly and purposefully. I pretended to know where I was going - even if I didn't. I studied no one's face, even if they were studying mine and I could feel it.

At restaurants, shops, and hotels, I made use of my rusty Cantonese, substituting certain words for English when I couldn't recall them quickly and giving myself a mental pat-on-the-back when I could. Chestnut cake. May I ask you a question? The metal gate on the left, please. People were patient and kind. They did not smirk or switch to English when I forgot the Cantonese phrase for "cash".

I retraced steps I'd made eleven years ago in Times Square, at Admiralty station, in Yau Ma Tei. Like a neglected Tamagotchi, discovered years after cleaning out a shoebox of childhood memories, Hong Kong was alive and breathing, just the way I had left it. Vibrant, noisy, and bustling, with densely positioned skyscrapers jutting out from beneath the Peak like stalagmites, pale and strange in the smoggy haze. I blew my nose and soot appeared on the tissue.


It's now 11:00 p.m. in London. My laundry's done. A buzz from my phone illuminates a WhatsApp message from my grandma: 'You've arrived?' it reads in Chinese. 'Are you tire?' asks the next sentence in English. I return a photo of myself waving.

"Your eyes look tired," comes the reply. "Get some rest! Take care!"

I hang my wet laundry and lull myself to a swift sleep, dreaming of Hong Kong that night; the one I remembered as a child merging with the version I visited last week. In my dream, I returned to the place I once belonged and reclaimed it for myself. I pressed the buzzer of a fifth floor flat in Causeway Bay and crossed the wooden floor in bare feet, entering a small room where my paternal grandma's ancestral tablet laid. I clasped a joss stick in my hands while tears blurred my vision and told her that I was here; that I was back. I told her I missed her; I thanked her for making me brave.

But this is a memory - not a dream.

I will forever orbit these three continents; I will watch my plane's journey on the in-flight entertainment system as it moves from London to Seattle, from Seattle to Hong Kong. Because in that moment, in the strange flat converted into a Buddhist temple, against a backdrop of prayers, recitations and chants, I understood why I had chosen London - or why it had chosen me. My heart - pulled in opposite directions, one east and the other west - was always destined to remain firmly planted in the middle.

This was my homecoming. And at once, I understood.
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Saturday, May 6, 2017

How To: Travel in Style


As I write this post, I'm running back and forth between bedrooms trying to "curate" essentials for my last-minute trip to Hong Kong next week. I can't believe I'm actually going! John's heading there for work and I got all jealous (even though he asked me months ago if I wanted to come along, to which I answered with a non-committal grunt), so we managed to find tickets a few days ago.

My parents are originally from Hong Kong (I'm fluent in Cantonese!) and most of my relatives still live there, including my dear grandma, who's in her nineties now. It's been over a decade since I returned to the majestic city, and I'm so nervous/anxious/excited to go on my own and experience it with John. I spent most of Monday alternating between screaming in excitement and crying in anticipation of seeing my grandma/re-living so many childhood memories.

I'm only going for four days (I know), so I'm packing light and taking a carry-on. Ambitious? Sure. Impossible? Not at all.

Although the style in Hong Kong is generally pretty casual, I'll be staying at the Mandarin Oriental for most of the trip and we'll be dining out with my relatives, so my mom advised me to "dress smart".

So, here's what I'll be wearing on the plane (does anyone else plan their "plane outfit", or is it just me? My best friend and I could spend hours discussing this topic before our trips!):



This 100% cashmere travel wrap from Charli London

Cashmere wraps are my secret weapon when it comes to long-haul flights (that and a travel-sized version of Avene's thermal water mist). After being boiling hot before take-off, the plane inevitably becomes freezing cold - just as I want to nod off for a snooze. This wrap from Charli London acts as a blanket, a scarf, a pillow and looks so flattering and chic when casually draped around your shoulders (I basically do this at work too, when my outfit's looking too "casual" for a meeting I'd forgotten i.e. throw this cashmere wrap around my shoulders and fish out a pair of heels from under my desk). The pretty, deep burgundy shade works well for summer and winter outfits. Plus, I'm thinking it'll keep the chill off in Hong Kong restaurants, as they really crank up the air con over there (I have fond memories of shivering through dim sum lunches and lobster dinners with my family when I was little) but I can easily tuck it into my bag while traipsing around the hot and humid city.


A comfortable, long-line blazer

Thrown over black skinny jeans on the plane - thrown over a little black dress for evenings out. Sorted.

Almost-like-leggings black skinny jeans

'Cause they suck everything in and always look great. Plus, they're comfortable to boot. 

Black slip-on mules

Easy to slip off when I'm in my seat and easy to slip on during my 1,000,000 trips to the airplane bathroom.



My 'grown-up' handbag

I've been reaching for my new Coach Rogue bag a lot lately - especially when I head off to work. I'm used to carrying slouchy black leather totes and Longchamp Le Pliage bags (because they can fit EVERYTHING inside), but somehow, the structured design of the Rogue makes me feel a little more put-together - a little more like an adult. Even John commented on how "smart" it looked, when we met at the station to go home together.


I'm under no illusion that my dressier "plane outfit" will help me score an upgrade to Business or First (been there, tried that), but it'll at least put me in the right frame of mind for my exciting, spontaneous holiday!

What's your go-to "plane outfit"? (John has a hilarious combination when he travels for work: his suit jacket on top of a t-shirt and sweatpants!)

Great news! Angloyankophile readers can receive £40 off all luxurious cashmere travel wraps at Charli - shop it here and use the code JAIME40TW until May 31st. Happy shopping!

Cashmere travel wrap c/o Charli. Rogue handbag c/o Coach. All opinions are my own.

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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Travel Link-Up: The Ultimate Travel Menu


So, this month's travel link-up topic was pretty creative: we were asked to create the ultimate "travel menu", consisting of a "starter" (a short-haul destination), a "main" (a long-haul location), and a "dessert" ("a place with a lasting impression").

I've been fantasizing taking this sort of extended vacation long before this travel link-up topic had been suggested, so it was perfect timing to create my ultimate travel itinerary.

But.

I'm greedy. I'm the type of person who quickly scans the menu at a restaurant and wants to go for everything. So, I'm adapting this topic a little bit and adding an amuse bouche (because my imagined, metaphorical travel-restaurant is totally fancy-pants), plus petits fours - because I'm that extra.

Menu du jour 


Amuse bouche
of
A weekend in Amsterdam


Amsterdam is my ideal city-break location: small enough to handle, large enough to explore, laid-back enough to kick back and relax if you want to (you'll begin to notice a theme to this menu shortly, with an emphasis on relaxation), but with plenty of options to keep you entertained. 

I'd spend a weekend sleeping in (preferably at The Hoxton on Herengracht), before stuffing my face with pancakes at Pancakes Amsterdam and Instagramming all the canals. I'd go for a spot of boutique-browsing in De 9 Straatjes (The 9 Streets) and pick up souvenirs for our home, before getting lost at the Rijksmuseum and grabbing dinner in the fashionable Jordaan neighborhood. 


Appetizer
of
Four days in Iceland

A soak in the private lagoon at The Blue Lagoon's Silica Hotel; a seafood feast in Reykjavik; a roadside stop to pet Icelandic ponies - a four-day break in Iceland would be a wonderful way to "whet" anyone's globe-trotting appetite.

We fell in love with the country's beautiful, natural landscape: the ice-blue waterfalls, the moss-covered lava rocks, and the mountains in the distance. Away from the popular tourist trail of the "Golden Circle", it's so quiet, you can hear yourself think. Walks become therapeautic; the bracing winds, strangely healing.

I'd return to this Airbnb and barbecue expensive meats on the deck if it's summer (because everything is expensive in Iceland - except for the free views) and gaze wistfully up at the night sky for the Northern Lights in winter.



Main course
of
Two weeks in Sri Lanka

The day we left Sri Lanka, I wept. And I'm not the only one - others have been known to cry after parting with their guides in this wonderful, wonderful place. 

Here, I'd eat crab curry at sunset outside our suite at Apa Villas, get pummelled into a state of utter relaxation by the excellent masseusses at Amangalla in Galle Fort, watch monkeys swing from tree-to-tree overhead while lounging poolside at The River House, and explore any other parts of this incredible island that we missed on our last visit.

Sri Lanka has it all: fantastic hospitality, great weather (when it isn't monsoon season, of course), amazing food, beautiful scenery, and a truly adventurous vibe.



Dessert
of
One week in Bordeaux 


On returning from our trip to Bordeaux last year, I found myself Googling "work permits in France for non-EU citizens". If that doesn't constitute a "lasting impression", then I don't know what does!

From the green vineyards and the stately chateaus to the city's food and antique markets, Bordeaux is a city for indulgent living. I felt downright hedonistic when I was there: accepting caramel-filled cookies for dessert, buying a whole rotisserie chicken for dinner, slurping oysters from their shells!

I'd love to return to Arcachon Bay when the sun's shining to run down the Dune du Pilat, before shaking off the sand for a Premier Cru facial at Les Sources de Caudalie.

Then, I'd hunt down the best flea markets for vintage glass medicine bottles (perfect for displaying single blooms), antique maps, and vintage furniture before collapsing in a heap at Wine More Time for a cheese-plate, glass of champagne, and a bit of people-watching.



Petits fours
of
A long weekend at home, in London


Because - when I was in Morocco - I got homesick. We were sitting in a restaurant, eating another so-so meal, in a city I didn't love, and all I could think about was our living room: the feeling of the rug under my bare feet; the light streaming in through the windows on a (rare) sunny morning; the sight of my bookshelves, on which I'd carefully arranged my collection of books, photographs, and magazines; the view of our garden through the dining room ... and I got a little teary. 

I have never. ever experienced that feeling of homesickness on vacation. Ever. But all I wanted to do, in that instant, was to be home - to feel the warm, friendly walls of our house around me, enveloping me in a sort of spatial hug. 

It sounds crazy. It probably is. But visiting a place we both didn't enjoy made us realize just how much we love our home and being at home. Ending our travels with a luxurious long-weekend in our house would be like that first sip of espresso at the end of a meal.

What would your ultimate travel menu look like? I'd love to know!

This post was written as a part of the travel link-up hosted by Polly, Emma, Angie, and Binny. Head over to their blogs to read about more wanderlust-inducing travel "menus"!
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Friday, April 28, 2017

Dropping the Ball



This week, I've been feeling sluggish and down. Short-tempered and sad. Dragging my heels over every little thing - from making the smallest decisions to getting work done.

My friend Kara sent me a wonderful email last night, with this little anecdote that I thought we could all relate to:

"On Tuesday night, I took a walk and there were several baseball games going on. Walking past the maybe-seven-year-olds, a ball was hit to right field and the young kid fielded the ball and stood there. All the kids and parents were yelling at him, “Throw it to second. Throw it to second. Throw it to second!!!” The kid dropped the ball and threw his hands in the air! shook his head. I laughed. Don’t you feel like that sometimes??? Like everyone is telling you to do this ONE thing and you can’t. You just throw your hands in the air and shake your head? The humility and simple reminder to be - just be yourself. Be in the moment. Eventually he put his glove back on and picked up the ball and threw it to second. Sometimes we all need a little time."

I loved this.

It was a reminder that, once in a while, we should give ourselves permission to drop the ball and throw our hands in the air - but also to (eventually) pick it up and throw it to second. In our own time.

So, here's to dropping the ball.
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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Interior Inspiration: 3 Ways To Use Glass Accents In Your Home


I was so inspired by our stay in this beautiful timber house in Iceland, I came home and wanted to change everything in our house to look just like it. (Seriously, I now go from store to store, lifting up random objects and asking John, "Timber house? Or not?")

But then I remembered that we didn't live in a cozy timber house overlooking a bay with a cluster of Icelandic ponies at the top of a driveway perched at the foot of an impressive, snow-capped mountain. No, we're in a terraced, 1930s house in a London suburb with an aquatic-scene toilet seat left by the previous owners (more on that later) and our garden overlooks ... our neighbors' gardens.

Still, I scrutinized my photos of the timber house to try to identify what elements made it look so incredibly pulled together. There was the blue-grey palette that made the rooms deliciously dark and moody; the sheepskin rugs and pile of neatly stacked logs in the bedroom that screamed hygge; and the chandeliers that set it all off and stopped the whole look from being too matchy-matchy.

But ultimately, it was the use of natural materials and fibres that really gave the house its sophisticated, yet cozy vibe: linen bedsheets, a rustic wooden dinner table, and marble countertops were all sympathetic to Iceland's stunning, natural landscape.

Glass was one item that featured heavily in the timber house. From the antique glass cabinet in the bathroom (and the emtpy vintage glass perfume bottles that sat within it) to the glass lamp shade we slept under at night, this material allowed natural light to permeate the house, creating a sense of lightness, fluidity, and clarity.

Here are three ways you can use glass accents in your space that will make it look pretty, bright, and - dare I say - vaguely Icelandic:

1. As a lampshade.

 
The first item of glass we bought this year was this lampshade from Heal's for our living room. The previous owners had installed a trio of spotlight-style lights on a track, which we immediately removed when we got keys to the house - we hated it that much!

For a year, we lived with a gaping hole over our heads before heading to the furniture stores on Tottenham Court Road to find the perfect replacement. After hours in Habitat, John Lewis, and Heal's (and after bringing home another lampshade that just didn't work), we returned to Heal's with a clear vision of what we wanted: a bell-like glass shade that would allow the eye to travel from one room to another, without the eyeline being disrupted.

Our amazing electrician fitted it for us (something to do with the brass fitting it came with and the size of the hole in the ceiling created by the previous light installation made it a little tricky) and I was so, so happy with the result.

2. As an XXL vase.


Recycled glass is a very affordable way to add glass to your homeware collection. I typically look for recycled glass jugs (for serving water at the dinner table) and vases which allow bouquets to truly stand out in a room.

This extra-large, 'Elegant Recycled Glass Vase' is from Cox & Cox, a homeware and furniture that I love. Admittedly, I wasn't really paying attention when I ordered it because I thought it'd be about half this size, but as soon as I said to myself, "What am I going to do with this?", I spied our giant monstera plant (that's going all sorts of crazy despite me forgetting to water it for about a month at a time) and clipped one of the stems to display in the vase.

And, you know, it just kind of worked.


By "worked", I mean John came home and said, "Oh! That's nice," which is basically the equivalent of being presented with an interior design award.

Cox & Cox has no shortage of beautiful glass (and non-glass) vases, including this one and this one, but I also get distracted whenever I'm on their site with the gorgeous array of mirrors and textiles.

I've been dying to fill a glass vase or two with eucalyptus stems, which I've been seeing in numerous Instagram posts. I lugged a bunch home with me yesterday after hesitating over the price (£6.95, if you must know) and felt like a huge yuppie with a load of overpriced leaves in my arms.

But it was worth it, as they look beautiful in the Cox & Cox vase, and I'm hoping they'll last a long time too!

3. As a centerpiece.


Yeah, so I'm getting my money's worth from these eucalyptus stems - I stuck the ones that were too short for my Cox & Cox vase into these smaller vases (the tall one is actually a carafe for water, but no matter) and placed them in the center of our (glass!) dinner table. It's a nice change from having colorful flowers on the table and I'm kind of embracing this minimal look for spring!

Do glass accents feature in your home? What would you do with an XXL vase like the one we just got from Cox & Cox? A friend of mine sells long branches of cotton, which I think would look great in it too.

Elegant Recycled Glass Vase provided courtesy of Cox & Cox. All opinions my own. Shop Cox & Cox vases here.
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Monday, April 24, 2017

Shopping Second-Hand


Second-hand shopping has always been a huge part of my (shopaholic) life. Long before it was "cool" to do so, my mom and I would raid Value Village (a large second-hand store in my hometown) on "99 cent Mondays" and return with bagfuls of clothes and books, much to my dad's horror (because we never seemed to get rid of anything either).

Although living in London has changed my style, it hasn't changed my shopping habits (though I'm still trying to change the way I spend my money because of this dreaded spreadsheet). And while I enjoy the thrill of a Zara purchase (or four) as much as the next person, and you'll regularly find me in COS admiring soft pleats and boxy shifts, approximately 20% of my wardrobe is purchased second-hand, via a mix of eBay, consignment stores, and our local community sell or swap Facebook group.

With glamorous social media accounts enticing us to "buy, buy, buy!" and want "more, more, more!" (guilty as charged), it's too easy to fall into a habit of constant consumerism - buying into the newest trend (for me, it's oversized sleeves and off-the-shoulder frills, at the moment) or aspirational item (I am stupidly obsessed with that Gucci belt in everyone's Instagram feed).


For me, shopping second-hand achieves two things: 1) I can buy labels I'm reluctant to pay full price for (like the cashmere Equipment sweater I'm wearing above or my Muubaa leather jacket) at a fraction of the price; and 2) I'm recycling clothing, which is better for the environment. I also like knowing that I'm giving a piece of clothing a new life. I encourage my friends to "shop in my closet", as my best friend calls it. Friends who visit often leave with a handful of clothes including French Connection shorts (remember those, Rebecca?) or Gap dresses.

I'm not professing to be perfect; to be the "conscious" shopper. Far from it. I regularly find myself walking up to the H&M till like a robot, handing over my card like an automated machine and walking out with some slip of a polyester thing, without having any recollection of how or why I bought it in the first place (thank goodness for return policies).

But for me, the thrill of a new, store-bought purchase is equivalent to the swell of joy I feel when I become the new owner of an item that has significant or sentimental value.


Recently, I bought an amazing, vintage Levi's jacket (with actual, authentic distressing that appeared naturally over time) from a woman in our local sell or swap Facebook group. Approximately nine minutes after her post appeared in my Facebook feed, I typed as quickly as possible to secure my place in line. The lady ahead of me ended up passing because of the holes in the sleeves, but I punctuated my reply with two exclamation points as I wrote, "Yes, please!! For the holes!!" The seller, a lovely woman who met me with the jacket at the tube station's gate so I wouldn't have to trek to her house, lamented parting with an item that had seen her through countless concerts and parties in the 80s, but now no longer fit. I assured her that the jacket would be given a new, much-loved life - and it has. I've barely taken it off since I got it!

The reverse can happen too: we recently sold an indoor/outdoor coffee table through the same Facebook group - a table that John had painstakingly sanded and varnished himself when we bought it together for our first flat over 7 years ago. I was sad to see it go, but we didn't have room for it. When the man who bought it arrived to collect it, I was pleased that he was around our age, seemed really nice, and that he had planned to put it in his newly remodelled garden. I mean, not that any of this mattered (it's just a table!), but I loved knowing that a piece of furniture that we had once loved and cherished was going to someone who would really enjoy it (having said that, I saw it for sale a few weeks later as it didn't quite work for the new owners - oh well!).

I guess what I'm trying to say is that, our possessions are a part of us. They carry memories of the person we were at the time we bought it (the denim jacket) and the thoughts, feelings, and events we experienced when we owned them (the coffee table). They're reflections of our personality and taste. And that's why shopping second-hand can be such a special experience.

Have you ever bought a second-hand item? What was it? I'd love to know!
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Friday, April 21, 2017

A Four-Course Provencal Dinner at Cigalon, with Truly Experiences



On the busy, dusty streets of Marrakech, we would often pass doorways leading to beautiful riads with stunning courtyards filled with lush, tropical plants and fountains. And every time I stole a peek at these courtyards as we hurried past, escaping the call and beckon of an interested souk stallholder, I'd be surprised by this sudden and magnificent display of light and greenery.

The exact same feeling struck me as I arrived at Cigalon restaurant on Chancery Lane the other night for our 4-course Provencal dinner experience, organised for us by Truly Experiences, a company specializing in authentic, curated gift experiences - from wine tastings to spa days.

From the street, the restaurant's exterior seemed unremarkable, but after shedding my coat at the door and being led into the stunning dining room, I understood why the team at Truly had pronounced this dinner as a gastronomic "experience" rather than, well, just another meal out.



Natural light pours in from the greenhouse-like ceiling, meaning the space requires almost no lamps or spotlights when daylight is available (which happens to be at 6:00 pm and onward at the moment, with British Summer Time). Guests dine under gigantic banana leaves and hanging plants, creating the illusion of sitting in a garden. The interior decor is a combination of modern rustic: sophisticated in its color palette of taupes, pale purples and greys, but remaining true to its Provencal roots with bleached wood accents and a natural stone bar.  As daylight fades, the tables are lit with candles and decorated with pots of succulents, rather than fussy floral arrangements, making the Cigalon one of the most Instagram-friendly restaurants around. And although Truly offers a variety of French dining experiences, this one in particular is rather special because of that dining room.

But what I loved the most were the spacious semi-circle booths in the center of the room - perfect for two people or more. Strategically placed in opposite directions, it felt like dining in a semi-private space, which felt so special!


We began our Provencal-themed dinner with a delicious cocktail and a potato terrine with peas and baby gem lettuce, which both John and I loved. It tasted like French country cooking: hearty and rich. The peas were slightly underdone (which I assume was intentional), so they popped in the mouth with a little crunch - a great contrast to the layered potato terrine.

To follow, I had the spring vegetables and seaweed cocotte while stealing bites from John's soft poached egg with bacon, tomato and pickled mushrooms. I loved the sourness of the mushrooms coupled with the runny egg yolk and salty bacon.


We both ordered the crispy lamb belly with Borlotti beans and wild garlic, but were so amateurishly defeated by this point, we could only finish about half of it!


In truth, I'd been holding out for the amaretti and lemon cheesecake dessert, which our waitress couldn't hide her enthusiasm for: "It's amazing," she enthused. "And, so cute!" she added, conspiratorially. When our desserts arrived (John had opted for the dark chocolate Moelleux and rhubarb sorbet), I saw that the cheesecake was indeed very "cute": in keeping with the rustic theme, it was served layered in a sweet little jar, with a tiny dessert spoon on the side. Polishing it off in no time, I snuck bites from John's plate, and ended up finishing his dark chocolate Moelleux, which was filled with wonderfully gooey, yet light, chocolate cake.



We left the restaurant arm-in-arm on our way to the tube station, and I thought how nice it was to have a date night at a restaurant other than somewhere local, for once. I love the pubs and restaurants near our home, but this dining experience felt like something a little out of the ordinary; a breaking of habit.

Thanks to the wonderful and friendly team at Truly Experiences for organising such a unique and unforgettable evening for us. I've now added Cigalon to my list of hidden gems in London - and I wouldn't hesitate to take my family or friends back for a memorable lunch or dinner.

Our Truly experience at Cigalon restaurant was complimentary. All opinions are my own. Book your own unique and unforgettable Truly experience here

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What to Pack for Morocco in Spring



My "What to Pack for Iceland in Winter" post proved to be popular, so I thought I'd write a similar post for Morocco in spring. Right after we booked our trip, I scoured the internet (the "internet"? Who calls it that anymore? Am I 90? Actually. my 90-year-old grandma uses WhatsApp, so I shouldn't laugh ...) for blogs and articles on what to wear and what to pack, but ... didn't come up with a lot.

So. Here's my advice - I've been to Morocco and back, and this is what I think you should wear/bring/pack:

A lovely, thick-gauge cotton sweater (or sweatshirt)

I did not bring this. I WISH I HAD. You'll be grateful for it to keep off the early morning (and late evening) chill, especially in windy cities in Essaouira. If you have one with a high collar, it's a bonus - that way, you won't even have to worry about throwing on a scarf.

A pair of khakis and black/navy trousers

I practically lived in the Gap khakis I bought right before our trip (I even slept in them on our overnight camping stay in a Berber tent ... but that's a story for another time). They were comfortable, flattering to wear with sandals and sneakers, and made me feel less self-conscious when venturing out of our riad and into the souks.

A knee-length (or midi-length) shirt dress

In general, it's a pretty good idea to cover up in Morocco. It's respectful and also (mostly) keeps unwanted attention at bay. I felt much more comfortable when I wore long pants and kept my arms/shoulders covered with a scarf when we navigated the souks and sights of Marrakech, but I'd heard that Essaouira was a little more relaxed in terms of dress code, so I whipped out a few of my knee-length dresses there (although I saw plenty of female tourists wearing shorts and strappy tops which ... probably wasn't a great idea, but hey, their call). I liked this Zara shirt dress because the sleeves could be worn long or rolled up, and it was just an easy, floaty dress to wear in the heat.



A denim jacket

I recently bought an amazing, distressed vintage Levi's jacket in our local sell or swap Facebook group and have been wearing it non-stop on my "off-duty" days in London. I took it with me to Morocco and was so glad that I did - the perfect weight for keeping off wind and casual enough for strolls on the beach in Essaouira and wandering the souks of Marrakech. I brought along a black bomber jacket in the evenings which was a little smarter, but a denim jacket will see you through all sorts of situations in Morocco (including a 3-hour camel trek).

A hat

I also did not bring this. ALL THE REGRETS. I ended up ashamedly borrowing John's cap emblazoned with "GREAT BRITAIN" on it (a souvenir from the London 2012 Olympics - don't ask) a few times just to stop my face from burning on our camel-ride and when we were lounging on the roof terrace of Riad Dar Maya. John, however, had a jaunty straw hat that he wore intermittently and accused me of "eyeing up to steal" (which I kind of was, tbh).

A kaftan and flip-flops

For pool-side lounging, if your riad or resort has a pool.

A large, lightweight scarf

Perfect for throwing around your shoulders or draping over dresses/tops, as needed - or keeping the chill off your neck on camel rides.


Sneakers

For walking. The souks and streets can be dusty, wet, and - if you venture to the fishing port in Essaouira - strewn with fish guts. Yup. So, packing a pair of sneakers might be a good idea. I wore Supergas on my trip, which were fine for short walks and light enough to throw in my bag/suitcase when I wasn't using them. I also brought along a pair of Toms (aptly named) 'Moroccan Crochet' slip-ons, which were perfect for popping out for lunch or walks on the beach.

Have you been to Morocco? What did you bring and what would you have packed differently, if you had known?
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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Breakfast at The Kitty Hawk, City


With a full-time job and freelance writing work on top of this blog, I've been pretty hard to pin down lately. But I had two breakfast meetings last week and they worked so well for my schedule. I'm an early riser anyway, so getting up at 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. before heading out for a 8:00 a.m. breakfast isn't an issue for me and, as long as it's on my way in to work, I'm at my desk at the same time I'd normally be in. 

One of my breakfast meet-ups was at The Kitty Hawk in the City, with Claire Menary, a photographer and blogger with the most beautiful Instagram feed. I love meeting fellow bloggers and creatives, especially those whose work I love and find inspiring. 

We met for a delicious breakfast spread at The Kitty Hawk's restaurant last week (not to be confused with its smaller, coffee bar and patisserie next door, which is perfect for a grab-and-go breakfast) amongst its modern industrial interiors (and gorgeous tiled entrance) and large, floor-to-ceiling windows. Despite its location in the City, The Kitty Hawk doesn't feel too impersonal or corporate (despite the presence of suited-and-booted businessmen taking a table in the corner). The pretty, floral crockery helped too, along with the simple thistle and cow parsley arrangements on the table, which added a soft, homely touch to the restaurant. 


They've got a range of delicious hot breakfast fare on the menu, with highlights such as eggs benedict, poached smoked haddock, scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and soft-boiled eggs with "soldiers" (i.e. long-thin sliced pieces of toast, for non-British readers). Had it been a little later (say, brunch hours), I probably would have ordered the eggs, but it seemed a little heavy for me at that time in the morning and I was craving something sweet, so I decided to try the toasted pecan and banana flatbread, which was basically like a sweet calzone!

An ingenious idea, and one that could only have been improved with a slathering of Nutella. Drizzled with local London honey and topped with pomegranate seeds and fresh mint, it was a delicious and filling way to start my day - without being too heavy. 

Claire's fresh fruit salad and granola looked equally tasty (not to mention, healthy), and it was great to chat to someone who shares so many of the same blogging highs and lows as I often experience!


I've always had a little trouble coming up with restaurant ideas in the City (I return time and time again to my favorite, Duck & Waffle, but sometimes I'm after something a little more ... low-key than panoramic views of London), but I've now added The Kitty Hawk to my arsenal of restaurant recommendations, should anyone ask. 

Before I left, I had to take a snap of the tiles at the entrance:


Thanks for the delicious breakfast and wonderful company, Claire!
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