Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Perfect Guest

Yesterday, Sproaty crashed in our living room for the night after having been back home in Scotland for the Bank Holiday weekend ... and he brought presents in the form of a lovely bottle of red and authentic Scottish confections.  Nice one, Sproat, nice one - especially since I'm a huge fan of fudge (yes, fudge!) and even more so, if it happens to be from a local old fashioned sweet shop (which Sproaty assured me it was) in Castle Douglas.  I'm not sure what I find more endearing - the monogrammed ribbon or the handwritten labels.  Mmm ... thank you, Iain, you can stay anytime!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Carnival Carnage

This morning, when I stomped off in a bad mood, John called after me, "I'm gonna drop you off at Notting Hill tube station later today," which was enough to stop me in my tracks and make amends for my bad behavior.

That's because yesterday, I somehow found myself standing ankle-deep in litter on Ladbroke Grove, with two cans of Red Stripe in one hand and a foil container full of jerk chicken accompanied by rice and beans in the other.  Chaos had ensued around me, consisting of drunk middle-aged upper class women wearing Toast and swaying to salsa beats pretending to be "cool" (believe me, it was more cringe than cool) and hipster twenty-somethings wearing brogues and black tights also pretending to be cool (which was apparently expressed by screaming the names of their missing party across the crowds in hopes of reuniting.  At one point, I joined in).  I was so confused.  Where was the parade?  Where were the half-naked ladies I was so looking forward to seeing?  The steel drums?  You know, everything the Notting Hill Carnival promises to be?  Instead, we seemed to be wandering aimlessly through one crowd to the next, negotiating elbows, bags, bottles and cigarettes. 

I thought about it for a long while and I think I had an answer.  A couple, actually, as to why I wasn't having a good time.  1) I think we missed the parade.  You see, about 10 minutes before we had arrived on foot, it looked like Hurricane Whatever was raging outside.  So we hid out in our flat for a while before venturing out.  I think the parade had started before Hurricane Whatever, so that by the time we got there, the only thing left of the so-called procession were some very slow moving trucks carrying sound systems.  Okay, cool, but like I said - I went to see the half-naked ladies.  2) To mask my disappointment of having missed the said ladies, what I should have done was gotten ever-so-slightly drunk, which probably would have made me a little more cheerful about the whole situation.  But instead, I sulked and allowed myself to be carried along from stage to stage.  John helpfully explained that if he had been "a bit better organized", we could have picked a spot around each stage to dance at.  Whatever.

"You okay?" asked John, looking at me with a bit of concern, while bobbing his head to the powerful bass emanating from the drum and bass stage where we were supposed to meet some friends.  The friends we had arrived with had wisely absconded earlier, due to their petrified dog's state, with promises to return - to no avail.  "Mmm ... yeah, fine!" I responded brightly, wincing as an empty vodka bottle was knocked into my Aldo boots.  The carnival had very quickly descended from my idea of fun to a version of my own personal hell.  He grinned.  "You hate it, don't you.  You absolutely hate it," he said.  "I don't hate it," I said, glaring at him.  "It's just, you know, like, um ... not really ... um ... my scene," I managed, as I was shoved sideways by a rather largish woman's breasts (the sheer weight of those things ... amazing) and ricocheted off some broken bottles.  "I liked the parade!" I volunteered.  Well, the bit that we saw, at least.  "I liked the jerk chicken!" I said brightly (which was true - the jerk chicken was a gastronomic delight).  "And um ..." I trailed off.

So yeah, I'd give the carnival another go - but I think I'd have to get there a bit earlier, be in a better mood, and at least a little bit drunk.

Photo source

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bank Holiday Blueberry Pancakes

Ah, the final summer bank holiday.  When I first moved to the UK, I couldn't get used to the idea of having so many random days off (well, random to me - May Day?  Really?  Okay, awesome).  "What? Another bank holiday?" I'd say in disbelief to my amused co-workers.  The best is when you're completely oblivious to when one's coming up and you overhear (as I did once, on the tube) someone talking about it.  Bonus.

To celebrate this one, I made blueberry pancakes for breakfast, much to John's delight and my ever-expanding waistline.  I've come to depend on this recipe (even though I should have it memorized by now) and add to it what I feel like.  Seems like I wasn't the only who had dreams of pancakes in my head last night, as Magda confided she had also made them this morning, in the opposite end of London.

It's funny, as I've never been a pancake fan until I moved here.  Always was more of a waffle person.

Prom 54: Barber and Beyonce

I know what it looks like, but I was actually there.  Really, I promise.  I did take this photo from the comfort of my own couch, but I can explain.  Really.

Rewind to 6:45 p.m. on Thursday night.  I was drenched at Door 8 of the Royal Albert Hall, waiting for John, who was hiding under a tree across the park on his bike, waiting for the rain to subside.  My feet went squish squish squish with every step I took (note to self: cheap Primark flats + monsoon-like August rain = trenchfoot).  Eventually he appeared, sheepishly and sans umbrella, water dripping down the bridge of his nose.  "Um ..." I said, eying his equally damp state.  "Are you ready?" We made our way up to the top tier of the circle, which surprisingly afforded us a perfect view of the stage, much to my relief.

You see, I bought these tickets primarily to see - okay, only to see - Gil Shaham, one of my favorite violinists, perform the Barber Violin Concerto (a slight obsession of mine, having played the first movement for various recitals and auditions in high school and owning a signed recording of the piece by the one and only JBell) ... but first we had to sit through a world premiere entitled "Hammered Out" by Mark-Anthony Turnage (I say "sit through" because that's how I view all pieces that are world premieres - sorry, but I'm not a fan of 21st-century compositions).

And although I braced myself for dissonance, I wasn't properly prepared for the sheer volume of dissonance that would be flung upon me at first chord and instinctively clutched at John in the seat next to me out of fear.  All of a sudden, the dissonance transformed itself into a less dissonant but nevertheless discordant, version of Beyonce's "Single Ladies".  Whoa, whoa, whoa.  What?  I glanced around the hall.  The oldies were clueless, but I saw a couple of guys my age snickering.  "Is this BEYONCE?!" I mouthed to John.  He nodded his affirmation before we both dissolved into immature giggles at the bizarre nature of the piece (the brass helpfully enabled me to conjure up images of rather large pink elephants dancing in champagne).  Later, I bought a programme just to find out more about Turnage's obvious influence behind the piece and read this:  "Turnage has mentioned the influences on it of James Brown, 1970s jazz funk and the brass- and sax-based group Tower of Power ('part of my musical DNA'), and has described the dance episodes in its central section as 'like multi-tracking against a repeating rhythmic pattern.'"  Okay, so no Beyonce then.  Nuh uh.  Right.

Moving on, you can imagine my relief when Mr. Shaham took to the stage and the beautiful, soaring, opening lines of the first movement of the concerto soothed my tortured ears.  Shaham has been a hero of mine since I was quite young and screeching murderously on a 3/4-sized violin.  I saw him at the Pantages Theater in Tacoma with my mom, aged 12 (I think he was playing an entire recital of unaccompanied Bach) and gravitated toward his more traditional performance posture, versus the emotionally-charged, wild flailing of many virtuoso violinists of today.  This time, particularly in the first and second movements, his body seemed freer than I remembered and I actually preferred his performance to that of JBell's (I know, sorry, JBell) interpretation of the same piece, which I saw last year at the Barbican (and where I procured the signed recording after much back-stage stalking).  The beauty in Shaham's interpretation was his way of taking the liberty with his rubato - so much so that the audience was very-nearly (or at least, I was) tortured for the release of the next note, particularly in the second movement, where rubato makes all the difference.  After an astonishingly fast third movement, Shaham returned to the stage after three curtain calls for an encore - of unaccompanied Bach (Gavotte from Partita No. 3), which stunned the audience into a magical silence.

How lucky was I then, after escaping during intermission (headaches all around, no doubt due to Turnage's opening number, no offense to the composer and unfortunately, a lack of interest in the Sibelius symphony ... at least, not enough interest to keep me there) and taking a cab home, to turn on the TV and project the interview (seen above) with Gil Shaham on the wall of my living room (along with the second half of the concert)?  He spoke enthusiastically about Barber, his violin, and the Proms.

One of the things I love most about Shaham is his humility and kindly nature, which emanates from his playing.   A note about the Proms: due to the nature of its audiences, a lot of people applaud between movements.  I've learned to accept this and stop throwing evil looks when it happens (though I haven't gone as far as to join in).  Usually when this happens, the soloist ignores the audience or looks away, not wanting to ruin his focus and concentration for the next movement.  But not Shaham.  No, he gave a slight bow and smiled graciously each time this occurred, which was incredibly endearing.

I was very fortunate to see him again, and now John has a new favorite violinist.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It's Cake Time!: Bara Brith

It's the one (and only) time I'm not devoting Cake Time to my own creation - humbling, I know.  Pictured above is apparently a "souvenir" John brought back from his Welsh expedition (to a spa and hotel, might I add) in northern Wales last weekend (I say "apparently" because he didn't mention it to me until I noticed it peeking out of a paper bag about four days later).  It's called bara brith and it's a kind of Welsh fruit cake (and it cost £1.99, you know, just in case you needed to know).

Brits looooooooooove their fruit cake.  Birthday?  Fruit cake.  Wedding?  Fruit cake.  Christmas?  You guessed it, freaking fruit cake.  I mean, no offense, fruit cake is great, but it's like, one of those things you have that's like, a novelty the first time around, and then you have it again ... and again ... and again ... and you kind of throw your hands up in the air and go, "GIVE ME SPONGE!  FOR THE LOVE OF GOD,  I NEED SPONGE!!!" So yeah, bara brith is a lot like fruit cake but a bit more gingerbread-y.  And it's dense.  Holding that brick above is like cradling a small baby in your arms.

Try it.  Or come on over for a slice and a cuppa.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Monday Morning Tube Rant: People Who Crack Open a 6-pack on Public Transport

Let me tell you a story.  A story about an endearing, young Asian-American girl on her way back from visiting her boyfriend, who was working in Paris at the time, to York, via London Kings Cross.

Feeling emotionally fragile and teary, this sweet girl boarded an evening GNER train (back in the day when GNER was still in business, before being taken over by National Express) for the three-hour journey up to York, only to notice that the train was quickly filling up with what seemed to be a bizarrely large amount of skin-head, leather jacket wearing, steel-toed boot donning, obnoxious loud men - none of whom were below 6-foot tall.  She couldn't quite make out what they were saying as they seemed to be speaking a different language.  'French,' she said to herself, as it made sense, seeing as how she had just come from Paris on the Eurostar.  'French skinheads,' she repeated to herself.  But then again, it sounded like English.  A very strange dialect of English, if one existed.  Then came the six-packs, four-packs of cider, lager, Smirnoff ices - more alcohol than she had ever seen.

"Gidoopthinluv," said a six-foot thug peering over her.  "Excuse me?" I - I mean, the girl - squeaked.  He motioned to the seats his friends were slowly filling beside her as they became increasingly loud, rambunctious and threatening.  She gladly gave up her seat and saw a poor elderly woman, who could not have been younger than 83, forced to stand as the train lurched forward.  As the train made its way up north, the men became increasingly drunker and louder.  Then they started singing songs.  Or at least, it sounded like a song.  It was more like unintelligible chanting.

A man (a normal man, might I add - in fact, a kindly man) spotted my rising panic, sucked air in between his teeth and grinned at me.  "They're a bit rough, aren't they," he said.  "Those Geordie lads.  Harmless, really, but loud."  "Excuse me?" I asked, confused and panicked at the same time.  He cleared his throat.  "There was a game today - these are Newcastle fans.  These boys are heading back up."

Suddenly, the smoke cleared in my head and I understood.  Football.  Not Nazis.  Geordies.  Not French.  "Donnnnn youuuuuuu cryyyyyyy my luvvvv," shouted a thug in my face, seeing my splotchy face after I'd called John in distress, describing in a rambling way about how the French alcoholic skinheads were about to kill somebody, namely me.  But he turned out to be a nice one and drunkenly offered me his seat.  "Youuuuu sit right thurrrrr," he slurred, as he toppled over a friend who was puking in the corner.  Mmm ... splendid.  More like traumatized.

So yes, when I see people crack open a six-pack on the tube, it makes my stomach queasy and sets my nerves on fire.  The smell of cheap lager or cider filling the tube carriage is enough to make me vom.  I'm immediately brought back to the night I was tearfully subjected to the grinning, mocking, leering, jeering alcohol-fueled disgusting behavior of those Newcastle fans (and also why I developed a severe phobia about the place, which, I'm sure, is absolutely lovely).

Seriously, don't drink and ride.  It's like, so rude.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Mid-Week Pick-Me-Up

It may be all 'TGIF' today, but sometimes, mid-week, TGIF can seem oh-so-far away.  That's why this amazing message on the status update board at Warwick Avenue tube station that greeted customers on their way down the escalator made my Wednesday.  I especially like the safety net (or grass?  or water?) underneath the circus performer.

It's so nice to see something like this in a tube station because to me, I guess, it's such an American thing to do.  You know, the whole, "HAPPY WEDNESDAY!" thing.  Or, looking at the bigger picture, the whole, "MAKE SOMEONE SMILE TODAY!" thing.  Whatever it is, I love it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Wahaca Tasty Meal ...

Prior to Tuesday's visit with Kiyeun to this extremely popular West End eaterie, I hadn't stepped foot past the entrance of Wahaca.  Located in Covent Garden (with other locations in Canary Wharf and White City), it's usually so busy that whatever group I'm with ends up retreating at the sight of the line leading up the stairs and out the door - so last night was the first time I made it downstairs.  And travelling in pairs is good, apparently, because we didn't have to wait and were seated right away.
I've been dying to try Wahaca ever since John sang its praises to me two years ago after going there for an office lunch (grr).  And if I wasn't already convinced by his crowing about their "amazing burritos", a friend of mine at work (who has since moved back to her native Mexico) also told me that they had the most "authentic Mexican food in London".  Sold.
And it is true that the food there resembles less of the tex-mex chains dotted around the city and the U.S. and more like the homemade cooking made by the Mexican family who pulls up their mobile (literally, I believe it's a trailer, but correct me if I'm wrong, Justin) restaurant in the parking lot of a gas station in Edgewood.  Wahaca is famous for its "street food":  I'm talking small, soft-shell pork pibil tacos, tall glasses of agua frescas, broad bean quesadillas, chicken mole tacos, and a variety of other Mexican favorites, like tostadas, taquitos and frijoles.  Is your mouth watering yet?
Kiyeun and I ordered the 'Wahaca Selection', which contained a selection of all of the above, along with some guacamole and and tortilla chips.  It certainly lived up to its reputation and I can see why people adamantly stay in line for a bite to eat.
Despite its popularity, staff don't rush you and you're welcome to stay and chat over tortilla chip crumbs as long as you'd like.  We, however, moved on to Nero for a cup of hot choc to top off the night.  I could barely roll myself to Charing Cross station afterwards.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Promming It: The Big Jurowski

The summer months not only signal cricket season (much to my chagrin and John's joy), but another series of events that are much more to my liking:  the BBC Proms.  Yes, that's right people, it's Proms time - and it's been Proms time for a couple months now and the good news is that it don't stop until mid-September.  Take that, cricket afficionados.
Anyways, while I was lying awake one morning before work, I heard a quiet 'swoosh' near my flat door and tiptoed over to see what had been delivered.  "Thought this might be of interest," said the post-it on the pocket-sized Proms guide in my ever-so-thoughtful neighbor's recognizable scrawl.  Happily, I tucked it into my purse and took it out during my tube ride to work, circling all the concerts and dog-earing the pages that interested me.
Perhaps I should explain.  The Proms is an eight-week classical music "festival" of sorts, which consists of a series of orchestral classical music concerts that are held primarily at the Royal Albert Hall, with the last night broadcast on screens in Hyde Park.  Most of the concerts are also televised, so if you (like me) would prefer to sit at home munching on chips and chugging beer while watching a symphony orchestra tensely (albeit triumphantly) churn their way through a Shostakovich symphony, then you may.  Or if you'd like to stand in line for super cheap tickets on the day and "prom" or stand in the arena and gallery during the concert (I'd probably tip over quite slowly by the second movement of anything, so I choose to pay for actual seats), then you may also do this.  If you'd like to pay for expensive box or front row tickets, the sky's the limit.  In other words, it's amazing.  More importantly, it opens up the world of classical music to a lot of people who wouldn't normally attend such concerts (cough, cough, people under the age of 65).
One of my favorite conductors, Vladmir Jurowski (I must admit:  it's all about the hair) led the LPO (that's the London Philharmonic Orchestra for all you neophytes) in a Russian-themed programme for Prom 40 on Sunday, and I was fortunate enough to attend.  The concert opened with one of my favorites, Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald [or Bare, as it's sometimes translated] Mountain" (played at a ridiculous speed, might I add), which brought back many fond memories of my first year in the MHC orchestra.  Julia Fischer (who is officially my new favorite violinist - sorry Joshua Bell, I think you're getting on a bit in age) played an incredibly impassioned interpretation of the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor (though I fell asleep a bit during the first movement ... yawn), followed by a riveting encore (which I would have heard the name of had someone not conveniently coughed at the exact point when she announced it from the stage UPDATE: see the comment below for the mystery piece unveiled), much to the audience's delight.  I was officially smitten.  The second half of the concert consisted of the Scriabin 'Reverie', which I wasn't familiar with (but like all Scriabin, fell in love with) and concluded with the Prokofiev Symphony No. 3 in C minor, which, to be honest, didn't stand out too much for me.

I'm looking forward to attending more Proms in the coming weeks, so let me know if you'd be interested in keeping me company.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mwah Mwah!

I've become used to being greeted with a kiss on each cheek when meeting friends or meeting someone for the first time here in England.  It used to make me a little uncomfortable, but now I see it as a lovely custom and, depending on the situation, preferable to handshakes.

Now, I don't know about you, but when I lean in for an air-kiss, I do just that - an air kiss (not to the extent of Amanda Holden's smacker on her invisible friend there, but you know, so it's cheek to cheek rather than actual lips to cheek).  Sometimes, however, I get slightly grossed out when I actually get a proper kiss on the cheek because, well, you know, it's like, wet.  Unghghgh ... shudder.  My first instinct is to wipe away the saliva with the back of my hand, but I can't - especially if it's someone older.  I mean, I appreciate the sentiment - it's endearing.  But the wetness ... eww ...

Anyway, as usual, I have an anecdote.  A couple of years ago, I was at a wedding reception in Leicestershire, meeting some of John's friends' parents for the first time.  After being introduced to a line of people, one by one, and kissing each person in greeting, I was introduced to a grandparent.  I introduced myself and leaned in for the kiss, but something was wrong.  Grandpa looked a bit confused, then smiled and said, "Oh yes, lovely, a kiss on the cheek!  Sorry dear, I just hadn't caught your name."  So his lean-in was actually to lend me his good ear, rather than his face.  Awesome.

The moral of the story is: don't assume everyone wants to give you a juicy smacker to say 'hi'.

Photo source

Friday, August 13, 2010

I Think I'm Losing My Accent, Y'all!

Okay, it's not THAT bad.  Mostly because her's is put-on.  But the other day, I was talking to my brother on Skype (like, for real Skype, as in, talking Skype not instant messaging like I do with my mom because we verbal vomit every part of our day to each other) and I heard giggling coming from the other end.  "What?" I asked, annoyed.  "Jaime, you like, have a British accent now," my brother laughed.  I considered jumping from my bedroom window (which wouldn't do much since I'd land on a shrub in the garden and probably break both my legs or possibly my pelvis).  "NOOOOOOOO!!!" I howled into my computer.  "What is it?" I asked frantically.  "Is it a certain word?  The intonation?"  "Everything," he replied.

You see, I work hard to preserve my American accent.  My pet peeve are people like Madonna (above) and Gwyneth Paltrow who speak in this strange trans-atlantic accent.  It sounds horrible.  But it's difficult when I interact and speak to people with British accents 99.9% of the day, every day.  Even most of the Americans I work with have a little hint of British influence in their accents.

What a lot of people don't know about me though, is that I often sit in the bathroom or bedroom alone and say words aloud to myself, trying to painfully re-educate my tongue into saying words the American way.  Problematic ones include:

1)  Literally -  Brits say: "Litrally."  We say: "Lid-er-ally."

2)  Renaissance -  (yeah, I know, I don't slip it into conversation all the time, only occasionally)  Brits say:  "Ren-AY-sahnce."  We say: "Renehsahnce."

3) Any word with a 't' in it - like, "water".  And this is the worst one.  Every time I go to a restaurant, I become horribly self-conscious and aware that I'm saying, "wahder" instead of "wah-ter". 

4) Schedule - Brits say: "shhe-dule."  We say:  "Skeh-dule."

5)  Massage - Brits:  "MA-ssage."  Us:  "Ma-SAHGE."  (same for the word "garage").

I had a fifteen minute conversation with John the other day about the difference in the way the English pronounce "paw" and "pore".  I cannot, for the life of me, hear the difference.  Same with "law" and "lore".  My favorite experience was being put through to an automated system on the phone with my bank.  "If you'd like to speak to an advisor, say, 'advisor'," it said.  "Advisor," I said, in my normal, American accent.  "I'm sorry, I did NOT understand you," the cheery robot voice told me.  "If you'd like to speak to an advisor, say, 'advisor'," it repeated.  "Ad-VI-sohhhrrr," I said, in my poshest, fakest, English accent.  "Thank you," came the response.  "We will put you through to an advisohhhrr."

Sometimes when I'm practicing by myself, I think I'm going crazy.  And when I hear Americans on the street, their accents seem really, really pronounced.  When I go home and watch the news on TV, I become fixated on the "r"s - I can't listen to anything else.  They're magnetizing.  A few weeks ago, I was standing in line (sorry, QUEUING UP) behind some American girls at Banana Republic and I was like, "Wow.  Did I sound like that once upon a time?"  They didn't really speak with any vowels:  "Cassie.  That is like rly, rly, sooooo ca-utttte on you.  Srsly, it's rly rly gd.  I lv it.  Do you lv it?"

Check out the way LC talks below:

Hey, at least my British accent is better than John's American accent.  I can't believe he's been with me for - what, almost six years? And every time I ask him to do an American accent, he adopts a false shouty voice impersonating a cowboy from a Texan ranch and always involves the words, "gun", "shooting", "cow" and "hey guys".  Srsly.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Will This Branch Take My Head Off And Other Thoughts While Riding The Bus

Taking the bus to work is a luxury for me.  I know how insane that sounds, but it's true.  It takes significantly longer than the tube, but it's my only chance during the day to indulge in some real people watching, daydreaming, dozing or book reading (I do the first two the most). 

I sure do love me some people watching.  Yesterday on the bus, I saw a man in a suit standing outside a W. H. Smith's in his socks, holding his dress shoes in his hands.  Why?  I had no idea.  But I sure was intrigued.

My mom has a paranoid fear of the top deck of buses.  She's convinced that the top is the first to go in any accident, terrorist attack or act of God (to be fair, her concerns are supported by some newsworthy evidence).  But I can't do my people watching from the bottom deck.  Besides, it smells down there.

With that said ... a few observations from yesterday:

My mom may be convinced that I'll be the first to go during a terrorist attack, but I'm more concerned  about those branches that really stick out and hit the bus as it pulls up to a stop.  Every time I hear them scrape by, I instinctively duck a little.  Hey - it's not like it hasn't happened before.

Another reason why I love taking the bus is because it passes Selfridges, London's other most famous department store (once you escape the Knightsbridge nightmares of Harvey Nichols and Harrods and the I'm-too-cool-and-far-too-expensive-for-you-dear charms Liberty.  Now, I love Selfridges.  There's no doubt about that.  But what I love more than the store itself are its window displays.  Christmas time is the best but the displays are frequently rotated.  At the moment, they're displaying sculptures by the Brighton-based artist Kyle Bean and you can see the rest of the windows here

Unfortunately, I was getting increasingly close to being late to work, with the buses backed-up all the way from Oxford to Regent Street, so I hopped off near Oxford Circus and ventured underground.  Bo-ring.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

It's Cake Time: Blue Icing for the Sunday Blues

You know you need to get a proper piping bag for icing cakes when your boyfriend comes up behind you in the kitchen and exclaims, "Oooh ... those look nice!  (pause) Like little heads" at the sight of your butter-knife icing job on cupcakes.  Sigh.  I'm working on it.

Anyways, it's Sunday and I, like millions of other people out there, have the Sunday blues.  So I decided to express this the only way I know how:  by baking.  I'm not exceptionally good or even mediocre-ly good at baking.  I just find it therapeutic.  Kind of like people who find "art" therapeutic.  Doesn't mean they're the next Picasso, just means it keeps them from slitting their own wrists.

On that cheery note, I found sprinkles and food coloring in my cupboard that I forgot about, so decided to make some baby blue icing (originally I was gonna make cream, baby blue and baby pink icing but I got lazy.  It's Sunday, people.  You gotta save up the motivational mojo for Monday morning).

Now I need to know what to do with twelve of these things, because the only other person in my house isn't going to eat them.  Come on over if you want one.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Question I Get Tired Of Hearing The Most

 "Doesn't it, like, rain a lot over there?"

I get it from Americans re: London and Brits re: Seattle.

It rains a lot in both places.  Get over it, people.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

My Crackberry Addiction And Other Technology I Can't Live Without

A friend recently asked me if my Blackberry was for work.  I think my reply was something along the lines of, "Hells freakin' no."  There are two things that have revolutionized the way I've kept in touch with my friends and family since moving abroad: Skype and my Blackberry.  Frankly, I don't know what I would do without either.

I talk to my mom twice a day on Skype: once in the morning on my way out to work when she's about to go to bed, and once when she wakes up in the morning when I get home from work.  Because we talk to each other so often, I don't get nearly as homesick as I would if I didn't hear from her twice a day.  The best part about it is that we don't actually have to talk talk, but rather, type talk.  That way, if she wants to go into a long, rambling explanation of why she went to the bead store in Olympia rather than Tacoma the other night for a necklace-making class at 7:58 a.m. my time, I can continue on with my sandwich preparation for the day and come back to read her long, oh-so-interesting message so we both don't have to drop everything to speak to each other.  It's oh-so-convenient.

And after hearing me complain about my cheap, pink Motorola piece-of-crap phone for the hundredth time, John personally accompanied me to the T-Mobile store at Westfield and convinced me to purchase the Blackberry Curve 8520.  Omg.  You know that expression, "it's the best thing since sliced bread"?  It seriously is the best thing since sliced bread (even though I've turned my nose up at sliced bread now - it's all about the bread knife, people).

You see, ever since Udita got her iPhone 4 and I got my Blackberry, we both wake up in our respective time zones, blindly reach for our phones (because we are both nearsighted as heck) and squint (yes, that's the term we use) at our emails to each other, cackling as we scroll through (I don't know, I cackle - do you, Udita?).  Then when I've finally settled myself into my seat on the tube for my 20-minute journey into work, I eagerly reach into my bag for my phone and begin to compose a 2-paged missive to Udita filled with "omgs", "likes", "srslys" and more grammatical and conversational faux pas that would make Paris Hilton srsly proud. 

I love my Crackberry.  I'm shamelessly addicted.  How about you?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Pink Martini @ The Barbican

If you've never heard of the Oregon-based 12-piece band called Pink Martini, chances are, you've heard their songs  in commercials, movies, or maybe even your favorite cafe or book shop. 

Still not convinced?  How about this:

Now do you believe me?  Or maybe you're two steps ahead of me (which wouldn't be surprising, since I'm usually quite slow on the uptake) and have been fans of Pink Martini for a long, long time.  In that case, you won't share the embarrassment I felt last night sitting in the sold-out audience at The Barbican.  'How nice,' I thought.  'A cover of a French classic.'  Um, no ... they wrote that. 

Last Friday, I was lucky enough to be treated to tickets to see Pink Martini at the Barbican.  I love the Barbican because it's huge and an exciting venue to be in but having only been in the hall for classical music concerts, I'd forgotten how limiting it is to be seated for concerts like these.  After all, Pink Martini makes you want to automatically get up out of your seats and, well, dance.  It was lovely to see people try to combat this feeling of repressed-dance-syndrome by dancing in their seats or vigorously bobbing their heads to the music.  During their encore, the band invited some of their friends and family to the stage for musical participation and dancing, then extended this invite to the rest of the audience (and if you've ever been to the Barbican, you'll know how dangerous this invitation could be!).

If you have time, read the "about" section of their website.  Self-described as the band the "United Nations" would form if they "had a houseband in 1962", Pink Martini was founded by the pianist and bandleader, Thomas Lauderdale (whose pianistic skills are mind-blowing, btw), in 1994.  If I ventured a guess, I'd classify their music as dreaded-music-store-term "world".  What their sound actually resembles, however, is old-Hollywood nostalgia of the '40s or '50s - something fit for warbling out of a retro radio.  Belting out songs in Spanish, Portuguese, French and even Japanese, singer China Forbes' powerhouse voice is certainly impressive.  But perhaps the most astounding aspect of Pink Martini's musicianship is their versatility as instrumentalists: every member plays an instrument (or two) and some of instrumentalists lend their voices to the background vocals.  They perform this way with an incredibly laid-back, chilled attitude but impeccable professionalism.  I spent most of the show with my mouth open in admiration.  Listening to them interact with the audience in their relaxed way suddenly made me miss America and Americans in general, especially when Lauderdale made quips like, "This song was inspired by Schubert plus a little bit of Gloria Gaynor's 'I Will Survive' and some African beats."  Priceless.

This was my favorite song of the evening, but do check out their albums:

Photo source

Monday, August 2, 2010

Pop-Up Ping Pong

I so love Embankment Gardens.  It makes my work day this much better to walk through the lovely flower beds and on sunny, summer days my co-workers and I munch our sandwiches on the grass and work on our tans during our lunch break.  It's a hard life, you know.

In addition to its aesthetically pleasing value, on any given day, you can receive free promotional items at the gates of the gardens such as:  a loaf (or two) of white sliced bread, courtesy of Kingsmill (yeah, this really happened last year and I got wayyyy too excited about it) OR a Muller yogurt and granola pot OR a Starbucks bottled frappuccino OR (randomly) brie cheese.  Not sure about that last one.  But the gardens also boasts a bandstand, which seems to attract American high school bands on European tours every summer.  If you're lucky enough, you too, can hear the strains of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" theme for the 42nd time while eating outside.

What I'm interested in, however, is the photo above.  Most recently, pop-up ping pong tables have appeared in the gardens (along with 99 other locations throughout London), courtesy of PingLondon.  This made me very happy.  Fully equipped with paddles and balls, these tables will remain in the gardens until August 22nd and opportunities for masterclasses and competitions are also available.

Isn't that something?  Now, who wants to play?

Monday Morning Embarrassing Tube Story: Total Wipe-Out

As I stepped off the train at Embankment this morning on my way to work, I noticed out a figure out of the corner of my eye briskly walking up behind me.  I made room for the woman on the crowded Monday-morning rush hour platform as she was clearly in a rush.  As we shuffled up the stairs, she picked up her pace a little to overtake the woman in front of me and, in doing so, completely wiped out on the steps. Like, face-plant style.  I was mortified for her. 
You see, I had done something similar (but worse) outside Embankment tube station oh, about a year ago.  I remember having a serious attitude problem that morning and huffing and puffing my way around people as I tried to make my way to work.  It was raining heavily that day and as I ran up some steps leading to Embankment Gardens, I shoved my way past a man, slipped and went splat.  Hard.  In front of a LOT of people.  The same man I shoved past heard me wipe out (he was in front of me by this point as I laid on my side in disbelief and embarrassment), paused (and I detected the hint of a smile), turned to me and said, "You ok?" I nodded sheepishly and continued at a normal pace to work, repeating the mantra, "Karma's a bitch" to myself and vowing to never again act like such a prissy brat during my morning commute (or ever, for that matter). 
So when the poor girl face-planted next to me on the stairs, I instinctively reached out to her and said in a quiet voice, "Are you okay?"  Clearly embarrassed, she straightened up quickly, flipped her hair back and flashed a quick smile.  "Yeah, thanks, I'm fine." 
I guess patience equals safety - that, or simply slowing down in order to not wipe out.  Cringe.
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