Saturday, May 29, 2010

Not Your Mother's Curry: The Cinnamon Club

Walk past 30 Great Smith Street and you'd almost miss it - the building itself is inconspicuous.  No sign hangs outside announcing its presence; in fact, there is no signage of any sort that would suggest that this is indeed the home of The Cinnamon Club, formerly the Old Westminster Library.  As you timidly approach the stairs to the restaurant, the only assurance you have that you're in the right place is the smiling hostess waiting to take your name and coats.

Having had a great meal with Tom, Cristy and Alison at The Cinnamon Club a couple months ago, I decided to book a table for my parents' visit as well.  Though this restaurant seems more appropriate for business lunches and dinners rather than romantic meals out, the chic ambiance (created by the skylights and shelves of books that still remain on the top floor) create a terrific dining experience.

If you're looking for traditional Indian cuisine, The Cinnamon Club will be too "fusion" for you - however, the flavors never fail to excite (and at times, perplex), which is precisely why it's made it on my list of favorite restaurants to dine at in London.

As I booked through Toptable, we ordered from the set menu (currently priced at £19 for two courses, £22 for three) and were served a Cinnamon Bellini upon arrival, which was delightfully spicy.

To start, I ordered the paneer with yogurt and pomegranate sauce.  Now, when I mentioned "exciting" and "perplexing" flavors above, the presence of pomegranate seeds in the yogurt sauce is a prime example: eaten with the spicy paneer (which had the consistency of firm tofu), the sudden bursts of sweetness and sourness confused my palate, but not necessarily in a bad way.

I wish I had taken a photo of my mom's main course because it certainly did not look as appetizing as mine.  To put it bluntly, she ordered the "venison kebab", not knowing that "kebab" in this country refers to a kofta-style kebab, rather than chunks of meat on a skewer and, well, when her "kebabs" arrived on a bed of unidentifiable gloop, it resembled what could only be described as two stages of that thing your dog does when you take it out for a walk.  While delicious, I couldn't help but gag as the plate was so visually unappealing.  It was so unfortunate for her, as our dishes were delicious: mine (pictured above) was mackerel served with a coriander-infused sauce.

Dessert was an absolutely sublime warm dark chocolate cake with toffee sauce, topped with caramelized bananas and ginger-infused ice cream.  We finished with espresso and a selection of sweets.

A word must be said about the service at The Cinnamon Club, as it's impeccable.  The staff is attentive without being intrusive (which seems to be a difficult balance to strike for many restaurants) and upon learning about my mom's dissatisfaction with her dish (which I politely expressed, despite her protestations), they charged us only for two courses rather than three although she had (mostly) finished the meal (with my dad's help), which was a very kind gesture, in my opinion. 

So if you're in the neighborhood, or have an excuse to dine out, I'd swing by The Cinnamon Club.  Don't bring your meeting notes - just your appetite.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Bargain Hunting: Portobello Road

My parents' imminent arrival today caused John and I to have a re-think about the current furnishings in our flat (read: panic).  Suddenly, everything looked wrong - from the color of the couch to the number of pillows on our window seat.  Yes, that window seat; the window seat everyone heard me gushing about when we first moved in (I was completely sold on the flat as soon as I spied that lovely view into the garden and claimed it as mine).  Yet, the lack of inspiring pillows didn't exactly make the adorable reading nook call out to me every morning and night as I expected it to.

Utterly convinced we needed a "throw" for our couch, John suggested we prowl Portobello Road market and the Notting Hill area for some ideas.  Passing a small stand selling the ubiquitous embroidered prints above, I saw a great deal on for pillowcases: £3 each for the simple ones above (far L and far R) or £4 each for the quilted variety (3rd from L and 3rd from R), plus £1 extra for an actual pillow.  Great deal, no?  And what a change, as you can see above!  I'll be perched up there more often now - probably blogging.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Janet Evanovich: Short, Sweet & Trashy, Just The Way I Like 'Em

It took an English PhD candidate from Worcestershire (Chloe) to introduce me to some of the trashiest - and funniest - reading out there.  But before I tell you why I love Janet Evanovich's books, I've got to tell you a story.

The summer after I turned 13, my mom thought it would be a brilliant idea to supplement my junior high education (remember, this is the summer before I entered 7th grade) with a course at our local community college (that's a two-year "university" for continuing students, mature students, and non-traditional students, for all you Brits out there).  My mother was an advocate of summer home schooling, although she'd never call it that.  Yes, while other kids enjoyed the sun and played in the sprinkler in their backyards, sucking on different flavoured popsicles, my brother and I spent our summers in front of the screen door of our deck at the kitchen table, with our heads propped up with one hand and sweat beading on our foreheads - doing math problems.  Or writing essays (which my mother would grade harshly, by the way).  And not just any math problems - timed ones.  Yes, she'd put the egg timer on and we'd have approximately 15 minutes to finish an entire booklet of arithmetic.  Every summer, before we entered into a new grade, she'd hand us a thick booklet of math problems for the grade above.  "But what's the point if I'm ahead?" I whined.  "I'll be bored."  "That's exactly the point," my mother snapped.  "You'll whizz through what the other kids are doing."  (For the record, by the time we got to high school, she had lost all control on us and I ended up scoring a big fat 1 (the lowest grade is 0) on the AP Calculus exam and a C- in my college Calculus class.)  To hone any semblance of writing skills I could have possibly possessed at that age, she insisted I produce one, formulaic, three paragraph essay arguing the finer points of topics she came up herself, such as, "Should the death penalty be abolished?  Explain." at the top of my notebook in red ink and she graded from a scale of A-F (if it was a C or below, I had to re-do - listen, I couldn't even make this up if I tried).  And you wonder why I have anxiety issues ...

But I digress.

So my mother marched me to the office of the Dean of Admissions at Pierce College that summer and requested that I be enrolled in an English 101 course.  The Dean peered over her desk at my purple-rimmed glasses, spotty face, and braces.  She smiled and said sweetly, "Name an author you enjoy reading."  "Um ..." I stuttered, trying to think.  "Well, I really enjoy Agatha Christie ... and ... um ... Mary Higgins Clark."  She sniffed condescendingly:  "Well, Mary Higgins Clark is really airport literature.  I'm not sure you'd be ready for a class here.  She'll have to take an entrance exam, you know," she said to my mother, who only nodded excitedly.  Great.  Another fantastic way to spend my summer vacation.  In a sweaty room with overachieving high school "Running Start" students who rolled their eyes at me and some over enthusiastic 40-year-olds with two kids looking for a fresh start in life.  So I sat there and filled in bubbles for about an hour and a half, then dutifully stood by as the administrator scanned my answers through a machine.  10 minutes later, we were called back into the Dean's office.  "Well," she said, huffily.  "It seems as though your daughter is qualified to take our English 200 course."  My mother smiled.  "But," she continued.  "I'm not sure she'd be ready for the subject material - we do have to deal with some ... ahem, adult themes."  My mother shrugged.  She was willing to overlook this despite not allowing me to watch MTV at home. 

Anyway, that summer came and went and I actually had a great time in that class with a hearing impaired professor to whom I penned my own version of Oedipus Rex (and she promptly displayed on her office door), as I found it completely silly at the time.  I had my first introduction to some of the greatest poets and prose writers that I would continue to study later in high school and college. 

But that's a long way of explaining what the term "airport literature" reminds me of today - the Dean's upturned snootiness in response to my pubescent innocence (think she had expected me to cite Horace and Shakespeare instead).  And Janet Evanovich's writing fits my definition of airport literature - that is, books you can kick back and relax with, giggle over and allow to lazily float in and out of your brain without any effort at all.  Hers was the book Chloe grabbed off her shelf when I complained my brain was being mashed into oblivion by our frequent graduate seminars - not Webster, not Marlowe, but Evanovich - mastermind of a sassy, spunky, and sexy character named Stephanie Plum. 

I'm not ashamed.

Because I'd rather read about Stephanie's New Jersey bounty-hunting adventures and tangled web of love interests (not to mention pages that are chock-full of totally un-PC references, like Lula's terrible "black"-speak, for example and other casual racism that I let slide because I'm enjoying myself so much) than dissect Foucault on a plane, personally.  And yes, the covers are embarrassing and scream, "I'M READING ABSOLUTE CRAP", but hey, I like to display them loudly and proudly.  Yes, I'm reading absolute crap, but I don't care what you think (okay, I do care, a little bit). 

I don't want to give away too much about the books, so next time you're in a W. H. Smith at Heathrow or a similar airport bookstore, pick up one of books in the Stephanie Plum series and settle yourself in for the long flight.  It's more than airport literature - it's comfort literature.

Photo source

Thursday, May 20, 2010

"Thank You SO Much!"


In general, I don't think we say 'thank you' enough to each other.  And 'in general,' I mean on both sides of the pond.  And by "to each other" I mean complete strangers (ok, not complete strangers, but say, someone who gave you great service at a store or restaurant).  But we Americans tend to be quite embarrasingly effusive in giving thanks (when we do) and/or letting someone know we appreciate them.  It's not that people in Britain are not as grateful in receiving random acts of kindness as Americans, they're just not as OTT about it.  For example, I'm pretty sure when I was working those boring summer jobs in a department store that shall remain unnamed (Mervyn's California), I had one or two people say, "Hey, just wanted to tell ya, you're doing a GREAT JOB!" without a hint of sarcasm.  In the US (in a small town), this is normal.  In the UK, whether it's a small town or not, it's totally not normal - it's cringeworthy.

A few months ago, a cashier at my bank branch in Covent Garden was so rude to me, she reduced me to tears (I needed a specific document for my UK visa application and she refused to release it to me).  Already in a panic about the short time limit I had, she made the situation ten times worse with her bad attitude and meanness (I'll also never forget her super bad perm and teased hairdo, or the thick gloopy coats of mascara that made her lashes look like tarantala's legs - NEVER).  I walked out of the branch crying, racking my brain for what to do next.  That's when I remembered there was another branch just down the road.  Taking a deep breath, I decided to try that one instead. 

The line there was long, but at the end of it, I was greeted by a nice no-bad-hair-or-eyelashes lady who first, apologized for my wait, then asked how she could help.  When I told her what I needed, she quickly replied, "Not a problem at all, we've been getting a lot of these requests lately."  Without me asking, she printed out the documents on headed paper and stamped each page as the grumbling line behind me got grumpier and more impatient.  Although I thanked her for her help, it didn't seem adequate.  Especially since I just witnessed someone being nasty to her right as I was leaving.

So naturally, I popped into Hotel Chocolat to buy her some chocolates.  I brought them straight back to her and said, "I just wanted to thank you for helping me, as you have no idea what it meant to me today.  I wanted to give you something to make your day helping grumpy people a bit more bearable."  She looked initially embarrassed and shocked, but smiled and said, "Thank you, that's very nice of you."  And I scurried out of there quickly. 

I'm usually faced with the same embarrassment here when I say, "Thank you SO much," to someone who's just given me extremely helpful directions, gone out of their way to be nice, or done something else I've really appreciated.  Natalie makes fun of me and says I'm too enthusiastic (so does John, for that matter).  But I'm insistent that the person I'm thanking really knows, like, really really knows what a difference they've made.

So I urge you to thank someone today whose actions you truly appreciated - not in a OTT, saccharine, way (or if that's your style, then that's cool - rock it) - but in your own, personal way.  Because giving thanks should never be underestimated.

(Thank you for reading!)


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Le Mercury, Islington

About once a month (though we've been slacking lately), Natalie, Karen, Lucy and I go out for a post-work dinner.  We try to make it on a Monday so as to dissuade the Monday Blues, however, since I've started rehearsing with the Royal Orchestral Society on Monday evenings, that's put a spanner in the works, as Brits say. 

Nevertheless, we were able to have a lovely evening out at the chic candle-lit favorite of Natalie's, Le Mercury (and do check out their website as it's really very sweet!), on Upper Street near Angel.  With a similar ethos to the Little Bay chains, that is, affordable (read: cheap) modern European food in a trendy, fun setting, Le Mercury did not fail to deliver on its promise of cheap and tasty dishes.  Starters are at a set price of £3.95 and include delights such as Fois Gras & Duck Ballotine with Poached Dates & Toast.  I shared the Ravioli de la Mer with Natalie, which wasn't actually big enough for sharing, as I embarrasingly learned, but wonderfully presented served on a bed of well-seasoned spinach.  Mains are all £7.95 and I ordered the Poitrine de Porc (Slow Roasted Honeyed Pork Belly with Confit Celeriac & Granny Smith Apple), which is kind of like my "test" dish, as I order it at every new restaurant I try (where it's offered) but was equally impressed with Karen's Sauteed Potato Dumplings with Baby Artichokes and Parmesan Foam, which were plump and al-dente.  To finish, I had the Sticky Toffee Pudding with Chantilly Cream (people need to start recognizing the fact that chantilly cream DOES NOT trump an ice cold scoop of vanilla ice cream - I know this is the American in me speaking because we think a scoop of ice cream goes with everything).  One mistake restaurants often make with this dessert is dry, stale cake, but this pudding was perfectly warm and moist on the inside.  Two thumbs up from me.

So if we're comparing cheap eats, then I'm going to go ahead and say I prefer Le Mercury for the quality of food.  Little Bay's fares begin to taste a little ... samey, after a while.  But what can you expect for prices that low (Little Bay's starters are priced at £2.25, mains at £5.25, desserts at £2.25 before 7 pm, after 7, the prices go up by nearly a pound, if that).  But if we're going for character and decor, I'd vote Little Bay, despite Le Mercury's chic interior.  Little Bay Kilburn boasts tables you climb to (literally), colorful cushions and a real, pulsing, dynamic restaurant environment which makes the dining experience exciting and fun.

Why not try both, next time you're in town?

Photo source

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I Get My Chocolate Fix From Hotel Chocolat

One thing I definitely think the US could improve on is luxury chocolate.  After all, this is a country that produces Hershey's (big yuck).  But hey, why do you need nice chocolate when you've got stuff like Krispy Kremes, Jamba Juice, and See's Candies?  And of course, there's Godiva and Lindt.  So nope, no need for any more chocolate stores. 

However, I'm so over Godiva.  And I was over Lindt a long time ago.  That's why I was thrilled when Hotel Chocolat opened a branch - right next to my office.  It's perfect for last minute gifts (ahem, like today, when I was on my way to meet Udita and realized I had nothing to give her as a mini-"I-miss-you-congratulations-on-almost-finishing-your-thesis-good-luck-at-your-impending-job-interview" gift) and the prices are reasonable.  And in searching for a non-traditional chocolate surprise for John this past Easter, I came across this adorable White Chocolate Eggs & Soldiers box, which we ate for breakfast in place of real eggs and soldiers.

When I next have an excuse to pop in, you'll find me crouched over their many shelves and leaving with the distinctive white bag dangling from my arm.  And maybe - just maybe - it's for you.

Photo source

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Dim Sum Brunch at Golden Dragon, Chinatown

I had a case of the green-eyed monster last week when Shannon told me she had gone on a dim-sum making course, courtesy of her partner, Mark.  "It was soooo delicious," she recounted, describing all the tasty dumpling she learned how to make, while I silently salivated beside her desk.  "That's ... great," I managed.  "You'll have to teach me," I squeaked, before running off. 

My family knows how much I love dim sum: whether we're in Vancouver or Hong Kong, they always make sure dim sum (or as we say in Cantonese, "yum cha") is on the cards, otherwise, I get a bit fidgety.  And my grandma tells the same story every time we sit down to the table.  "Jaime ah," she says in Chinese.  "Remember when you were very little, very little, and we ordered ma lai goh [a steamed sponge cake] for you?  Do you remember what happened?"  "Yes, Po Po," I answer patiently.  She covers her mouth as she laughs.  "You poor thing, you really choked on it!"  To put it mildly, I was traumatized.  The thing was too dry and I couldn't get it down my throat.  All I remember was coughing really hard and my mother anxiously slapping me on the back as I hacked up a piece of dry cake.  Then some tears.

So we don't order that anymore.

What I do order faithfully, every time we go out for dim sum, are the Chinese meatballs (which you can see below), my grandfather's favorite dish.  I used to like them when he was still around but since he's passed away, I eat them not only out of personal preference but also in his memory.

So I was pretty happy when my friend Cherry suggested we meet for dim sum today in Chinatown.  Despite feeling ill, I knew the food would be like chicken soup for the soul - both nourishing and comforting. 

Cherry is my go-to-girl for all things delicious in London (and especially for Chinese food).   You see, we kind of met randomly.  And by random, I mean I sat next to her on a 13-hour flight from Hong Kong to London roughly two years ago.  Within minutes of speaking to each other, I opened my beloved Tupperware container lovingly filled with four cocktail buns from my favorite bakery in Happy Valley and offered her one.  She, in turn, let me pick from her bag full of candy as we laughed about the astonishingly crappy food being offered on our Virgin flight (which included chicken so tough and dry, I nearly recreated my ma lai goh scene from my yesteryears).  Needless to say, what began as a torturous flight passed quickly as we chatted and we traded numbers at the baggage carousel. 

For the next couple of days, we exchanged emails and texts, both of us missing Hong Kong desperately and severely jet lagged.  She showed me where I could watch the latest Cantonese soaps online and I watched them when I couldn't sleep.  We met up a few times in Chinatown for food and she even introduced me to a restaurant on my (then) doorstep, Little Bay.

Today we met up at Golden Dragon, before she leaves for Hong Kong on Tuesday, where she's gotten her first job at a private clinic as a physiotherapist.  Now, I know what you've just done.  You've clicked on the link to Golden Dragon and thought, 'I'm not going there, people say it's got terrible service!'  Okay, let me let you in on a little secret.  Chinese people don't do "service."  Okay?  They give you the food, that's it.  Expect sour faces, barking at you, and no smiling.  Not. Ever.  Go to Claridges if you want that.  Go to Wong Kei for some good old fashioned abuse (personally, I like to sit and watch in amusement as guests try to get a waiter's attention, who seems to be daydreaming by the smoked duck in the window:  "Excuse me, excuse me sir ... um ... I don't think he can - oh - excuse me?  Excuse me, sir?  Can I have some - oh fuck it.")

But I digress.

The food is pretty decent.  And on a Sunday, it was packed full of other Chinese families (Cantonese speaking too!) having dim sum.  So that was reassuring.  The har gao wrapper was just ever so too sticky, but otherwise nice and thin and the filling was delicious.  Similarly, the siu mai was just as good.  I usually order the char siu buns (as shown above), but today opted for the custard filled ones instead and those did not disappoint either.  My grandfather's meatballs passed the test and the fried vermicelli with salted pork Cherry ordered was also delectable, albeit a tad salty. 

So I'd recommend Golden Dragon, if you're looking for some decent dim sum in the heart of Chinatown that won't rip your paycheck to shreds (this is not Yauatcha, as our bill came to £21 for two people, versus the £80 John and I usually spend at the Michelin-starred eatery).  But please - don't go for the service.  It simply doesn't exist. 

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Jose Gonzalez (& Tom Kerstens' G Plus Ensemble)

So, seeing Rihanna and Jose Gonzalez in the same week kind of blew my musical senses away - you couldn't get two 'artists' (I put that in quotes as I don't consider Rihanna an 'artist', but rather an entertainer, whereas I definitely view Jose as an artist).

But I have a word of advice for you:  if you ever happen to be struck down by tonsilitis, I swear, watching and listening to Jose Gonzalez perform for over an hour in the Royal Festival Hall is probably as good a comforter as any Halls cough drops or hot honey & lemon drink.  I'm speaking from experience.

Say the name, "Jose Gonzalez", to the average music listener and they're likely to go, "Who?"  But play them his covers of Massive Attack's 'Teardrop' and The Knife's 'Heartbeats' and they'll go, "Ohhhh ... that guy."  Yes, that guy.  Which is a shame, really, because his own work is just as heart-achingly beautiful, if not more.   I can't say I knew any better, sadly, (which seemed true for most of the people in the audience, but I'll get to that in a minute) as I learned of Jose through his work with Zero 7, a favorite of mine (which is also how I came to find Sia Furler, who I also love).

Opening for Jose was Tom Kerstens' G Plus Ensemble - talk about obscurity (or rather, my ignorance)!  Having never heard them before, I was moved to buy their CD immediately at the interval - their performance was that profound.  The G Plus Ensemble is the brainchild of Tom Kerstens, who is also the London Guitar Festival's Artistic Director, and is composed of a string quartet, plus two guitars and a percussionist.  Yes, I said percussionist.  So rarely do you hear pieces for percussion and strings (I immediately think of The Ahn Trio) that I was instantly smitten by the arrangement.  The guitars added extra depth, texture and intrigue to the pieces by Joby Talbot, whose compositions were reminiscent of Michael Nyman and Eric Ewazen, for example (I later read that he has composed scores for movies and television series, which makes total sense).

When Jose took the stage approximately 40 minutes later, the audience erupted into rapturous applause (there were some hardcore fans there).  I was a bit worried that his performance in a venue like the Festival Hall would be dwarfed by the sheer size of the space, but he owned the stage - albeit in a quiet, humble way.  The stage set was simple: a silhouette of three trees on a screen and a terrific use of pattern and color lighting contributed to a very powerful effect.  Curiously, he spent a lot of time tuning his instrument.  Whether it was out of perfection, a tic, a break or a tease for the audience, I don't know (I like to think it's a bit of all of the above), but after a while, it became quite noticeable.  Still, the set was sublime; his remarkable skill at the guitar is enough to leave one open-mouthed, but when his voice cuts in, clear and crisp as a frosty winter's morning, it's really perfect.  I can't think of any other way to describe it. 

Listen for yourself in this clip below (a cover - sorry - of Kylie's "Hand On Your Heart"):

Photo source

Friday, May 14, 2010

Missing My Mom? I Just Turn To Judge Judy

Last night when I was home alone, I switched on the projector (AKA our TV, currently, except the picture takes up an entire wall) and Freeview box to channel surf.  When John's not around, my main hobby indulgence is channel surfing (that and eating copious amounts of Mr. Kipling cakes, reading trashy magazines, and leaving a trail of crap behind me wherever I go).  I was feeling a little homesick (even though my parents are due in next weekend) so I was quite pleased to see a Judge Judy marathon happening on a random channel.  I curled up on the couch just in time for the familiar few bars of Beethoven's 5th (grossly distorted for the purposes of daytime television) and the voiceover announcing, "The people are real.  The cases are real.  The rulings are final.  This is her courtroom [which has evidently, according to Wikipedia, since been removed].  This is ... JUUUUDDGE JUDY."  Then the Baliff, "Byrd"'s voice calling for order in the court ... I know it all like the back of my hand.  Why?  Because my mother watches it religiously. 

"Don't touch the VCR!" she shouted at me when I went home last Christmas, my index finger poised over the power button.  "Why?"  I asked, turning around very slowly.  "I'm recording Judge Judy.  You can't change any channels.  Otherwise it wipes it."  "Ugh," I said.  "What am I supposed to do while you teach for 4 hours straight?  Why don't you get Tivo or something?"  But she's already walked away.

I have vague memories of my mom watching The People's Court, back in the day.  But not with as much dedication as she gives to Judge Judith Sheindlin - a fast talking, withering-glare-giving, Brooklyn-accented, Jewish, generally intensely frightening small claims court judge who stars in her own TV show and whose one-liner gems include the phrases, "Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining" or "Do I have stupid written on my forehead?" whilst simultaneously lifting up tufts of hair to illustrate her point.  The receivers of this abuse tend to be deadbeat dads, con men/women, or generally anyone Judge Judy deems "stupid" (which happens to be a lot of people).

My mom loves this.  Probably because she's a lot like Judge Judy herself (or wants to be).   For all her bark, her bite isn't that bad, and Judge Judy prides herself on handing down swift justice in an intelligent yet showbiz-zy manner.  She reprimands women who loan extortionate amounts of money to scummy boyfriends, only to come in and tearfully sue when they break up and the boyfriend has used the money to buy his new ho-bag of a fiancee an engagement ring.  You know, that kind of stuff.

"Jaime!" my mom calls down the stairs.  "JAIMMMMMMMMMEEEEEEEE!!!" she shrieks for a second time when I've ignored not heard her.  "WHAT?" I scream back (our house is sooo civil.  I told my parents for a LONG time that we should install an intercom system to make communication a little less ... shouty).  "COME AND WATCH JUDGE JUDY WITH MEEEE!!!" she shouts.  I appear at the bottom of the stairs. "I'm kind of ... working on something," I say, all cagey.  "Come onnnnnn ..." she says, doing a don't-hurt-your-mommy's-feelings pout.  I sigh.  "Okay, fine," I say.  "Yay!" she says, delighted as I head up the stairs and dutifully into her bedroom.  "Now," she says, arranging the blankets on her bed just so.  "Watch this first one.  Doesn't his face look bad?"  "What do you mean, mom, by 'look bad'?"  "Well, you can just tell he's up to no good already.  Before he even speaks!"  I sigh again.  "Mom, why don't you let Judge JUDY be the judge."  "SHHHHHHH!!! IT'S STARTING!!!" she shushes me with her hand.

And so on, and so forth.

So that's why I reach for the remote when I seek comfort.  All I really need is a good dose of verbal abuse.

Photo source

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Thursday Morning Tube Rant: Ladies, Please Close Your Legs, We're Not At Secrets

Secrets, of course, being the chain of strip gentlemen's clubs in London (with one location, might I add, appropriately placed directly across from the Scholastic offices in Euston ... children's books and lap dancing go hand in hand, I know).  As the temperatures begin to rise (notice how I said "begin" as they drop again this week to winterish single digits), ladies like to get their arms and legs out.  And who can blame them?  The high street is currently stocked full of fun, spring and summer-inspiring dresses and skirts.  What I've always noticed, however, is how a whole heck of a lot of women on the tube seem to take no notice of the way they're sitting when wearing a dress or skirt that sits above the knee.  It goes without saying that you should CLAMP YOUR KNEES TOGETHER.  Yes, after experiencing one too many accidental "up-skirt" glances on the tube, I feel like offering some women a piece of string to tie their knees together.  Or at least cross your legs!  Male or not, I don't enjoy having the full glory of your thighs or often much, much worse (retches into a paper bag) on display.  And I find it fascinating how some can sit there, with their legs splayed open - not young, flirty things, but middle-aged, business skirt-type women who should really know better - and not take any notice.  What, like you don't feel a breeze?  Hello, your crotch is on show (yes, I had to go there)? 

Excuse me, while I go and erase the disturbing mental images from my mind.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Rated R (With A Bit Of Pixie Dust)

Yesterday morning, before I left for work, I told my mom I was going to see Rihanna at the O2 that night so wouldn't be back for our usual post-work-bitch-about-my-day session.  "But of course," I hastily added, "You probably don't know who that is."  "I do," she replied.  "But I don't like her."  Always eager to hear my mother's newest opinion on today's pop culture (it ... varies from day to day ... this morning she told me she'd rather see Lady Gaga than this new sob story from Oprah, Charice.  "What a wacko," she cackled (meaning Gaga, not Charice).  "Trying to be the next Madonna!  Female MJ (Michael Jackson)."  She cackled again.  Oh by the way, I'm imagining these cackles, as these convos take place over IM.  I asked her why, with much amusement.  "Because she went back to an abusive relationship," she said, very seriously.  "No!  She left that fool!" I said, (meaning Chris Brown).  "Not until she got hurt very badly," my mom replied somberly.  Okay, okay, change the subject ... "What about Beyonce?  Do you like Beyonce?"  She paused for a moment.  "I don't mind her.  She's classy."  Right, mental note: Rihanna, zero points, Beyonce, one point in my mom's book.

Anyway, I did see Rihanna last night with Ailsa at the O2 and she was amazing.  With three costume changes (which had already been spoiled by the number of celeb gossip sites and magazines I've seen) and an incredible smoke & mirrors-type set plus cheesy backing dancers, the show did not disappoint.  But look, Rihanna could have gotten on stage, not said or sang a word, and I still would have stared and happily paid money to gape at her - that girl is hot.  And she rocks the fiercest quiff you've ever seen.  Believe me.  Although I wasn't the oldest person there (don't worry, there were plenty mutton-dressed-as-lambs out last night looking a combination of anxiety and confidence in their leggings, thigh-skimming glitter tunic tops and denim - yes, denim - jackets and I'm pretty sure I heard a man of 45 or so singing along tearfully and loudly to "Take A Bow" behind me), I certainly felt like a granny when the gaggle of pre-teen girls to my right stood up and basically fell to pieces when Pixie Lott took the stage, warbling her way through "songs from my new album" and coquettishly ("coquettishly"?  Really, Jaime, coquettishly?  You ARE a granny.  AND YOU'RE TALKING IN THE THIRD PERSON!!!) dropping to her knees every so often in a little black tulle skirt (Pixie Lott is adorable by the way, kind of like Natasha Bedingfield's little sister, but better looking). 

There were lots of moms and daughters.  Lots.  Lots of middle-class white women in Orla Kiely coats and mom khakis taking their (seemingly) only pre-teen daughter to watch Rihanna in black latex jump, gyrate, grind, booty-shake onto stage and scream, "LOOOONNNNDDOOONNNNN!!!  GET YOUR FUCKING HANDS UPPPPPPP!!!!"  Okay, okay, rewind.  I love my mom.  You all know that.  But I'm sorry, standing next to my mom while the lyrics "Come here rude boy, boy / can you get it up / Come here rude boy, boy / is you hard enough / Take it / Take it" blast through the O2 arena is NOT my idea of fun, it's my idea of cringe.  Like, as in, I want to dig a hole in this floor and bury myself in it right now, type of cringe.  So I tried to focus on the stage the whole time rather than the mom and her child in front of me.  As I drifted off to Rihanna-land, I realized that she had moved on to an acoustic version of Wonderwall, which triggered an inevitable sing-a-long.  The mother in front of me had to explain to her perplexed 11-year-old, "This is Oasis."  Her daughter gave her a blank look. 

After we were satisfied that all our favorite songs were played (mine was "Breakin' Dishes" btw - God, why am I so AGGRO??) and Rihanna said her dutiful, "Good night, London, I love you", sinking under the stage into costume-change oblivion, Ailsa and I looked at our watches and decided to head off to beat the stampede to the tube.  Neither of us were particularly bothered about staying for "Umbrella" anyway.  As we descended the stairs, a girl hissed to her friend at us in a tone that was a mixture of disbelief and anger, "WHERE are THEY going???"  "Maybe she thought we knew something she didn't," Ailsa offered as we exited the arena.  "Um, no, Ails," I said.  "I'm pretty sure they wanted to stone us for leaving early.  I'm pretty sure they saw it as a direct sign of disrespect to their beloved Rihanna."

And so we escaped the shrieking pre-teens, the moms accompanying them, the mutton-dressed-as-lamb and joined the other, sensible, twenty-somethings, who just wanted to get home without getting their heads stamped on.  Needless to say, we had an amazing time.

Photo source

Monday, May 10, 2010

Cleaving (Should Be Simply Re-Titled As "Cheating") by Julie Powell

So I finished reading Cleaving, Julie Powell's second book after the first, Julie & Julia, skyrocketed her from obscurity to blog-worthy-movie-screen fame.  Yes, after much head shaking, gasps of disbelief, anger, and swearing at ... um ... Julie, I threw down the book at glared at John.  "I just finished this book, finally," I said to him.  He turned from his place at the couch to look at me, with some relief and nervously laughed, "Good.  Heh heh.  Heh heh."  "Yeah, I hate her so much," I said.  I stared at the peaceful serenity of the garden outside our windows.  "If I ever met her, I'd punch her in the face."  I glared at John as if he were Julie.  He turned back to the safety of the football soccer game he was watching.  The game wouldn't punch him in the face.

Why?  I hear you ask.  Why read a book when the first one aggravated you so much, caused you to bitch about Julie at work and to anyone who was willing to hear?  Well, I don't know, curiosity, perhaps?  I wanted to know how a woman could single-handly hurt the man who loved her so much, so often and so intensely.  I wanted to hear the gruesome details of her lying, cheating, and self-righteousness.  In short, I was asking for self abuse.  Not to mention, I'm slightly conflicted because I sometimes do enjoy Julie's bitchy, witty tone and smarty-pants remarks.  It's only when her arrogance and inflated sense of self-worth threaten to make me vomit that I have to literally, throw the book across the room (thankfully I only own it in paperback - otherwise, our walls would have some damage). 

Worse yet, in the middle of reading it, I found her blog and read the readers' comments (fascinated), some 314 on one post, filled with effusive praise for Cleaving, calling the book "brave" and even ... "liberating."  Oh my God.  If this is what feminism has become, then I hang my hat up in shame.  Repeatedly cheating on your husband with some college fling you're obsessed (read: OBSESSED) with, then flirting with every man walking into your path and exposing all to make a profit in some mediocre, guise of a metaphor (she constantly links her apprenticeship at a butcher's to her marriage) is BRAVE?  LIBERATING?  (I mean, it's not just as if she cheats on the poor guy, feels bad about it, attempts to fix things, and writes a novel.  No, she cheats on him, rubs it in, becomes infatuated with her lover, rubs it in, then has the audacity to take on the 'poor me I'm soooooo alone' attitude).

Then, after all of THAT, I decided to go on the Guardian website and watch her debone a chicken so I could hear her voice.  I wanted to hear what she sounded like (talk about obsessed) and was left smug and satisfied when I read the derisive comments below about how she was going about the chicken all wrong and what a horrible person she is for cheating on Eric then writing about it.  Then I felt a little better.

So, please.  Go out and borrow - not buy - this book from your local library.  And read it.  Cover to cover.  Then we can sit down and have that conversation that goes something like, "Can you believe it?  No, me neither.  Don't you hate her?  Yeah, me too."  Then hit yourself over the head with a stick a few times.  Both have the same effect.

Photo source

Sunday, May 9, 2010


As I sit in my post-yoga food coma (in case you're wondering, it was a Thai Coconut Curry Innocent Veg Pot, two pieces of seeded loaf from the Bon Appetit bakery on the corner, one Waitrose Pink Lady apple and so far, one and a half chocolate chip cookies that I baked yesterday morning - I'm officially back on fine eating form) on a cool and cloudy Sunday afternoon, the only thing keeping me from drifting off to inevitable la-la land on this Fatboy (John's glorious eBay purchase he keeps thinking of re-selling but then exclaims, "Wow, this thing ... is really comfortable!" each time he gives it another chance) is the thought of sliding into a scalding hot bubble bath, courtesy of Original Source's Lavender and Tea Tree Bath Foam.

Now, I'm not a big fan of baths.  Quite frankly, I find sitting in your own filth more stress-inducing than relaxing.  But this particular bath foam and its heady, intoxicating lavender essential oils causes me, on more than one occasion, to slip into utter blissfulness in the comfort of my own, tiny London bathroom.  In effect, it turns my bathroom into a spa.  No exaggeration (especially if you go as far as to light the tea lights surrounding the edge of the tub).

I have strong opinions (if you couldn't tell already), so I like to wax lyrical about the things I love.  And I love this bubble bath - if not for its magical, healing qualities, for its astonishing price of £2.99 (or perhaps even cheaper, as Original Source products are almost always on offer at Superdrug and come in plenty of other delicious, yummy, fruity flavors).  If I'm grumpy, stressed, in need of pampering, or suffering from aches and chills from some various ailment (as Lauren kindly pointed out I often am), this definitely does the trick.

I highly recommend it.  Zzzz ...

Saturday, May 8, 2010

It's Ever So Slightly Cold - So It Must Be Cake Time

Cake Time is becoming awful popular on my blog.  Not because it attracts readers (no one wants to see my sad attempts at baking, don't worry, I'm not delusional), but because it's my fail-safe-go-to post when I've got nothing better to say.  So here it is, another Cake Time. 

Due to a "tummy bug", as Brits say (we Americans are hardcore, we go with "stomach flu" - yes, that's right, chills, fever, vomiting, the works - "tummy bug" just does not translate into that), I had to restrict myself from sweets for about a week.  ONE WHOLE WEEK without Snickers, Haribo, Cadbury's, - nothing, nada, ZILCH.  And worst of all, no cake.

I've never made a chocolate cake before, but thinking that there's a first time for everything, I decided to try this delicious looking recipe from BBC Good Food.  I made some uh-ohs throughout (such as not buying enough dark chocolate and having to raid every cupboard and handbag bottom for any remnant of chocolate - yes, this included a truffle from my birthday last year, and yes I checked for mold and worms before throwing it in), but it still turned out okay.  I definitely recommend this recipe if you're a chocolate cake virgin, but for those more experienced, you probably use something more sophisticated.

Bon appetit!

Hellooe, Looe

Before we arrived, I didn't know what it would look like.  I didn't know where we were going, so it wasn't exactly as if I could sit at work for hours beforehand (not that I would do that ... err ...) searching Google images for views and squirming with anticipation of what to expect.

No, when we arrived in Looe, after nearly seven hours (I believe it was something like three accidents and four road works on the way down) of driving into deep David Cameron and UKIP country (no joke, those were the only signs pitched up in the green, rolling fields - in fact, I witnessed a group of sheep nibbling away at more than one VOTE CONSERVATIVE sign) and a near collapse of mental strength from John (who had been up at work since 5:30 a.m. that day), when we arrived in Looe after all this, it actually glittered.  I rubbed my eyes, thinking they were affected by tiredness.  Surely we weren't staying here?  This jewel of a place?  It resembled the calderas of Santorini rather than an English seaside resort.

But indeed we were.  And above were the views from our B&B, The Watermark Hotel, where we were greeted by a kind woman who took pity on our bedraggled selves at 9 p.m. at night and kept saying, "Bless you, poor things" when we relayed our traffic woes (sympathy makes one feel better more than anything else can).  Our room itself had a gorgeous view of the Banjo Pier (pictured above) and before my eyelids gave in to sleep, I murmured, "Isn't it nice ... to hear the waves crashing ..."  John sat up.  "That's someone's TV."  "No ..." I said into my pillow.  "It's definitely the waves."  He laid back down and marveled, "Yes, it is!"  And thus, we were lulled to sleep on our first night there by waves that were not produced by a store-bought sound machine (or downloaded from iTunes.  What?  Sometimes I can't sleep!  And it helps!).

The next day involved exploring East and West Looe itself (and picking off mussels from rocks when the tide went in, apparently:  "Look!  Look!  We can cook this!  I want to!  I want to put it in our kettle or something!"  "No, John.  Put it down."  "But, but, but - we can!  Just to watch it open!  And, and - eat it!").  Coincidentally, we were there just in time for the May Day celebrations, which included a May Pole dance put on by brightly leotard-ed pre-pubescent girls from the nearby dance school, and a May Day parade (which consisted of about four people, including a "Green Man" ... not sure about the history behind that and I'm too lazy to Google or Wikipedia it).  There were local groups (i.e. the senior citizens of Looe who have nothing better to do with their time) selling adorable bits of bric-a-brac for 20p a piece and an outdoor barbecue featuring meat from the town's famous butcher.   It was wonderful.  It was wonderful to be transported from cold, unsmiling London to cold, and smiling Looe, where fishermen in green Wellington boots up to the knee went out of their way to shout, "Morning!" to you as they passed while you looked down first, at your feet, then, behind your shoulder, to make sure they weren't greeting someone else.

We then hopped on to the "ferry" from East to West Looe before the tide went out (I say "ferry" because this was actually a little motorboat that we took solely due to the novelty of paying 40p for a 30-second journey and being in any boat of sorts) and explored some of the shops in East Looe, stopping to buy some famous Cornish toffee and fudge for friends and glance longingly into the windows of property agents (for less than the price of a squished flat in St John's Wood, you too, can own a beachfront house - I kid you not).

The only mistake I made on this day was suggested we "go for a run" (note to self: do not ever suggest this to John again), as it was shaping up to be a lovely day and I'm training for a 10k (yes, some of us actually have to train for this paltry distance).  What I did not bargain for was 1) running in sand and not getting anywhere 2) rock climbing (yes, because remember, the tide was out and since John thought the beach would be a nice place to run along, the jagged coastline forced us me to clumsily pick my way across and consequently dip my foot several times in ankle-deep puddles.  Sigh) and 3) (and this is the killer) hills so steep, you literally feel like you're climbing.  Of course, John ran circles around me as I panted my up these hills with my hands on my hips, swearing and thinking I was about to keel over.  "It's ok," he said, easily, jogging in place, as I struggled.  "Keep going,  I'll just run some loops back down and around until you get to the top."  I resisted the urge to slap him and feigned a smile instead (who am I kidding?  I think I probably swore again and then kicked a rock, resulting in a stubbed toe and more swearing).  At the end, what I thought would be a 30-45 minute run on a semi-flat surface turned out to be an hour-long hike into the hills of East Looe.

Which was perfect really, because by the time we made it back into town, it was officially ice-cream time (results can be viewed here).

In short, I loved - love - Looe.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Whistlefish Galleries

Fact: it's hard to find original, affordable art in London.  Walk into any flat and you're bound to find the same IKEA or Habitat print you saw in just the previous flat you were standing in, with the owner sheepishly shrugging and mouthing the word, "IKEA."  Wanting something a bit more original, you're then either assaulted with Banksy rip-off shite or another sort of abstract pretension that you pretend to like because you think the "colours will work well" with your couch.  Um, no.  Or, you can do what I did and pick up someone's junk on the side of the road, hang it up over your bed and subsequently suffer from re-occurring nightmares.

That's why I was extremely pleased to walk into The Whistlefish Gallery in Looe (with other locations in St Ives, Padstow, Truro, Falmouth, Liverpool and Southport) this past weekend during my fantastic trip to Cornwall.  They promote and sell local artists' (in particular, I'm a big fan of Janet Bell's coastal scenes, above) prints in both framed and unframed options at very affordable prices (I picked up a lovely brushed silver scrap frame for £8.95 that came with a free card print of my choice, which is working beautifully in my bathroom) and the friendly, welcoming nature of the galleries' staff is very disarming and encouraging to first-time visitors.

There's something for everyone - if you're not into the cheerful artistry above that I'm so enthused by, there are plenty of other artists to choose from.  I especially like the fact that The Whistlefish is not snooty enough to not stock work by artists who are "untrained", as one biography admits. 

Most of all, I love getting out of the shower and seeing the framed print on the wall, bringing back happy memories of our trip to Looe and Padstow.  I'm thinking of heading to their online shop to order a framed print for the bedroom wall - hopefully something that will give me a better night's rest.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Oysters Ahoy @ Rick Stein's The Seafood Restaurant, Padstow

You might have noticed a recent explosion of blog posts with a Cornish theme - that's because I was a very, very lucky girl this past weekend.  John planned a surprise trip away to Cornwall which I had no idea about and managed to make reservations for Sunday lunch at Rick Stein's ever popular The Seafood Restaurant in Padstow, directly overlooking the harbor. Extra triple double brownie points for him.  Zilch for me, as I just sat back and enjoyed.  Oops.

We drove to Padstow, which is about an hour away from Looe, where we were staying, shortly after breakfast on Sunday with the intent of exploring the town and doing some pre-lunch shopping, before changing in the car (yes, it brought back some fond memories of me changing in the backseat of the car after school on my way to ballet lessons with my mom yelling, "Don't do it yet, there's a huge semi coming up behind us!" as she simulataneously tried to merge onto the freeway.  Good times, good times) into our smarter, Sunday lunch outfits (I always believe it's better to be over- than under-dressed, but of course, we showed up and people were rocking in with hiking gear and jeans on.  Sigh.  Some people never learn and I poohed poohed their ignorance).

I stuck to the set lunch menu (currently priced at £35 per person) while John ordered off the a la carte, and began with grilled oysters.  Now, mind you, I've finally learned that oysters and I are not friends.  We never will be.  I should just try and accept this rather than giving our relationship repeated second chances.  Basically, the options on the menu were: smoked salmon (which I love), risotto (which I love), something else that I loved, and oysters.  I thought, 'I'm here at Rick Stein's restaurant, surrounded by fresh seafood - I should really go for the oysters rather than my same old boring standbys.'  Mistake.  While delicious and beautifully presented (the rock sea salt underneath each shell was a fantastic touch), the oysters were still pretty raw for my liking and I bravely polished off four (and a half) before graciously offering my remaining one to John, who was quite happy with his Ragout of Brill and Scallops (or perhaps he had the Turbot - I can't quite remember).  I turned my head just in time to glimpse a girl at the next table wincing slightly as she tried one of her boyfriend's oysters.  Glad I wasn't the only one.  Shame on me, though, for pretending to be cool and ordering them in the first place.

Nevermind, moving on to the main course, which was the feature attraction, I ordered the Lemon Sole Fillets tossed with wild garlic, asparagus, spinach, sesame oil and soy sauce, served with a side of basmati rice.

Winner.  The coriander was a perfect accent to the dish and the light flavor of wild garlic worked really well with the sole, which was meaty and flavorful.  Interestingly enough, for his main, John ordered the Ray Wing with Bearnaise sauce, which resembled a massive steak - except, of course, in fish form.  Extremely meaty and substantial in size, he expressed his shock when finishing one side of the wing only to discover a whole other part of meat on the other, waiting to be polished off.  Needless to say, we were both very, very full.

Of course, that didn't stop me from ordering the Bakewell Tart (one of my favorite English desserts) with a Chantilly cream.  While I wish the cream was actually a cold scoop of vanilla ice cream, the tart was extremely enjoyable and light, not surprising as Stein also has a patisserie literally around the corner from the restaurant (Padstow is nicknamed "Pad-Stein" for a reason).

Happy, full, fueled with both wine and espresso, we left the cool and tranquil settings of the restaurant (which was now beginning to really fill up) and headed out into town again - by now, the weather had transformed itself from rain and wind to sun and wind instead - perfect for an afternoon bike ride.  Which is exactly what we did.

Spoiled doesn't begin to describe it all.  Thank you, JK.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Introducing ... The Emo Cow AKA Highland Cattle

I know I use the word "obsessed" a lot on this blog.  But to deny the fact I had a postcard of a Highland cow pinned to my dorm room bulletin board in college would be a lie (yes, I know, others have pin-ups of Robert Pattinson or Brad Pitt, I happened to choose one of a bovine variety, there's no need to judge).  I think I have an affinity for Highland cattle in particular, because they remind me of my brother.  You see, my brother is a little emo child (ok, he's not really, as he's turning 22 in July) who keeps his bangs so long, they hang in his face, much like the creature's above.  When he talks to you, he does a flippy thing with his head to get his hair out of his face and I suppose he thinks this makes him look badass.  I think these cows look badass too, with their long fringe.

Driving along on our way back from Padstow to Looe this weekend, John said, "Ooh, look, Highland cattle."  "HIGHLAND CATTLE HIGHLAND CATTLE WHERE WHERE WHERE WHERE???" I screeched.  He winced slightly as I screamed directly into his ear and asked if I'd like to stop.  "No, no," I said, sitting back in my seat and folding my arms.  "If it's too much trouble ..." I said, sighing.  Knowing he wouldn't hear the end of it if we didn't stop, he found a safe place to pull over and I ran over with my camera ready.  "HI!!!  HI HIGHLAND CATTLE!!!  HIIIII!!" I said to the fold (yes, who knew that Highland cattle are specifically referred to as a fold rather than herd?  Clearly, a cooler breed).  One swung around and gave me an angry, low moo.  "Give it some hay," John said, clearly experienced with such animals, having grown up next to a farm.  I promptly threw some hay and it landed on top of the cow's neck (if anyone saw, I would surely be charged with animal abuse, judging from my harsh screeching and hay throwing - I was disturbing their peace).  It continued chewing with his eyes focused on the ground below, ignoring my pleas.   

But I couldn't contain my excitement as cars whizzed by us on the country road (probably wondering if they should call the RSPCA and report the crazy Asian girl, jumping up and down, harassing the poor creatures) - the cattle, against the beautiful backdrop of the Cornish countryside, were truly a sight to behold.

Once I had my fill of cattle gawking, I sighed my deepest satisfaction at having had such an opportunity, and returned to the car, jubilant and triumphant.  "Ok?" asked John.  "You've had enough?"  "Yesh," I said, smiling happily.  He turned the car around and we passed them again.  "BYE BYE CATTLE, BYE BYE!!!!" I screamed.  John winced again.

Cornish Crunch

I'm pretty sure that Cornish Crunch from Treleavens, an ice cream store chain in Cornwall that churns out (it's all about the alliteration, people) "luxury hand-made Cornish ice cream" is officially my favorite ice cream flavor, replacing Oxford Blue from G&D's in Oxford (I have a habit of choosing favorite ice cream flavors from places I'll probably either never go back to again or only visit once a year).  It's the perfect combination of Cornish fudge and toffee in a delightfully creamy vanilla scoop.  For all the fuss ice cream gets as a local specialty of Cornwall, I've got to admit - it's pretty damn good.  If only I had remembered to bring my ice chest to Looe, I could have brought a liter or two back.

Oh well, next time, next time.
© angloyankophile

This site uses cookies from Google to deliver its services - Click here for information.

Blogger Template Created by pipdig