Sunday, March 27, 2011

I Got Schooled, Iyengar Style: Iyengar Yoga Institute

There are several different types of yoga and though I love Lauren's Vinyasa flow class and am a devotee to her teachings on Wednesdays and Sundays, I took advantage of the fact that she wasn't teaching today to try something new - specifically, a "general" level class at the Iyengar Yoga Institute in Maida Vale.

Despite living less than a 10-minute walk away, I'd always avoided the institute because: a) I don't particularly enjoy Iyengar yoga and b) it, quite frankly, scares the bejesus out of me.

Let's tackle these two issues one at a time: why don't I enjoy Iyengar?  And, is yoga about enjoyment?  Well, the answer to the latter question is yes, I think one should enjoy practicing yoga.  If you don't, there's no point in doing it at all.  To answer the real question at hand, though, you have to understand a little bit more about Iyengar yoga and what it involves ... so read this Wiki entry (and OMG, that picture is SO bad and SO misleading!).  Anyway, Iyengar is too static, rigid and confined for me, as opposed to the great, flowing movements of Ashtanga.  And while I'm careful not to compromise my form when practicing Ashtanga, the precision required of any Iyengar class is enough to make me want to walk through a glass window.  Secondly, the Institute scares me because I know it's good, I know it's serious and I know they don't mess around (i.e. you're supposed to have studied at least 2 years of Iyengar yoga before taking the "general" class level.  I have - I just didn't tell anyone that this was done in the basement conference room of my former employer's offices and taught by a woman who I'm pretty certain never made any trips to Pune (which is, like, the ultimate testament to an instructor's credibility at the Institute) to study with BKS Iyengar himself and almost never made any corrections, which is why I quit in the first place).

But at the encouragement of my co-worker, who has been a regular at the Institute for years, I decided to try the class.  The Institute itself is tucked away on Randolph Avenue - only about a 2-minute walk from Maida Vale tube station - and is a simple, sanctuary-like building.  Studio 1, where my class was held (pictured above) bright white walls, polished wood floor and skylights and floor to ceiling windows looking out into a garden.  It is undoubtedly the most beautiful studio I have ever visited.

The absence of mirrors (which is a no-no in most serious studios) is the first hint that there's no cheating when it comes to alignment: you can't see your reflection, so you need to know how a pose, or asana, feels, when you're doing it correctly.  Gulp.

The regular students quickly filled the room and I was relegated to a corner.  The assistant, Chris, came by with a very nice smile and whispered, "Alaric will probably ask you to move as you don't have much space there, so feel free to take the other corner."  I nodded gratefully and took my mat to the opposite side of the room.  Most students were already lying in supta baddha konasana with all their props neatly arranged beside them (that's something I didn't mention about Iyengar yoga - you're expected to use props to enhance and help your practice.  This can sometimes result in you having two bolstsers, two blankets, four foam blocks, one wooden block and a strap beside your mat.  Aside from having a serious deficiency in remembering things, I'm too dumb to remember what to do with the props - another reason why I find Iyengar yoga tedious).  Then my friend came plodded up and quietly suggested that I move to the middle of the room as I wouldn't be able to see.  So I ended up directly in front of the teacher's raised stage area.  Great.

Suddenly, a loud voice boomed across the floor.  "I want all of you to begin in supta baddha konasana.  You!" he barked at a girl to my left.  "Adjust your belt BEFORE you lie down.  Do it NOW."  Chris hurried over to me and helped me with my belt as I frantically tried to position it correctly.  Class hadn't even begun and I had a feeling I will be kicked out soon.  After much struggling, I managed to lie back on my bolster.  "You!" the teacher barked again, pointing down at me.  By now, my arms were trembling from fear and I had forced myself into the most uncomfortable supta baddha konasana I had ever been in.  "Your back is not long," he growled, quickly adjusting my hips from under me.  "There.  Now, can you feel?" I nodded vigorously.  "Good," he said sternly, moving on.  "Your back cannot be long if your buttocks aren't pulled away from the bolster!"  It was a small adjustment, but made the world of difference.  Again, I was scared, but grateful.

"Now rise up and turn to place your bolster between your knees, balasana."  Shit.  What is 'balasana'?  I sneaked a peek and saw everyone getting into child's pose.  The teacher sat inches away from me.  "If you can't sit back on your heels, place a blanket underneath," he barked, clearly to me.  I reached my arms long in front of me and put my head down on the bolster.  But apparently, my child's pose wasn't good enough.  "You!" he shouted.  I didn't know he was referring to me as my head was down.  He snapped his fingers.  "Helloooo?" he said, annoyed.  I looked up.  "Turn your bolster the other way."  I fumbled about, still quaking.  "Like this?" I asked in a near-whisper.  He grinned, as if to say, "Duh!"  Great, so now I felt stupid in even the safest pose of all.

But it didn't end there.  As we bent over in a forward fold with our legs mat-distance apart, he began to talk us through the muscles in the legs.  My left hamstring had began to twitch and my palms were sweating like mad from nerves.  "Rotate your inner thighs!" he commanded, and flicked his thumbs swiftly across my right, then left hamstrings.  I was familiar with this rotation from Lauren's own instruction and worked hard to turn them the required way.  "The important thing is to RELAX the muscles!" he boomed.  Every time he commanded, "relax!" I did the opposite, involuntarily tensing.  "Straighten your arms!  Contract your triceps!" he barked at the girl next to me.  "Come on!" he said, smacking her arms.  She giggled, as did the rest of the class.  Wait - was I missing something?  Was his toughness merely a joke?  As the new girl, I decided not to test it.  

Throughout the class, I received some terrific corrections.  I found out that I hadn't been stretching my hips flexors properly in a simple seated hip opener due to the way I've been crossing my ankles.  I discovered that I had been tensing the wrong muscles when I sit in upavistha konasana.

Then we came to inversions.  "If you're menstruating, ladies, stay in the middle of the floor and do the following asanas," he boomed.  To be quite honest, I was too scared to mess up my inversions (though I witnessed quite a lot of people kicking up into headstand, which was quite interesting, given the level of perfection this teacher seeks) and face the wrath of the instructor so opted to stay in the middle of the room. 

We finished with with a long savasana (there's even a correct way to do that) where he shook his head and told me I wasn't correctly positioned and worked on our pranayama, or breath control before rising to a seated position for the final "Namaste."  I thanked the teacher and he smiled and replied, "Thank you," in a gentle tone.  The best part was that he didn't tell me to go back to the Beginner's class.  I breathed a sigh of relief.

So - what did I think?  I got my butt kicked (nearly literally).  But in a good way.  And I think I'd like to go back.  Then again, I'm a glutton for punishment.

Photo source

Cuba Libre: Your Friday Night With a Twist (and a side of heartburn)

The great thing about eating out in Angel is the sheer concentration of terrific restaurants all in one area.  Want a massive, mouth-watering meringue from a world-famous chef?  Head over to Ottolenghi.  Something cheap but cheerful (and Natalie's favorite)?  Le Mercury.  One of my and John's old fast-food standbys?  Chilango.  It's all there.

But after a disappointing flat viewing in Highbury on Friday (how an estate agent can look you in the eye and tell you with a straight face that a 2 bed flat overlooking the Overground railway and a scrapyard is going for £460 p/w and has "two offers already" is beyond me, I'm afraid),  John and I wandered down Upper Street in search of something a bit more - something different from our usual extremes of eating either Toptable deals at Michelin-starred restaurants or £6.95 prawn pad thai from our local above-the-pub Thai restaurant.

"I've been in here before," John said, nodding toward Cuba Libre, a Cuban restaurant and bar that boasts both happy hours and Paella Mondays (which is something you should seriously consider if you ever have "a case of the Mondays" - sorry, I've been watching Office Space a little too much lately).  By then, I was desperate for some food and felt the low blood sugar demon creeping into my system.  "Let's just go," I said, and we made our way into the half-full, reggaeton-pumping restaurant where John immediately ordered a Coke for me and an Aperitivos "Cuba Libre" to share.  The starter consisted of some large olives, grilled chicken (which was oh-so-delicious!  It tasted like a BBQ-summer), some plantains, an empanada, chorizo and more - the perfect way to tide a growling tummy over.

For my main, I selected the El Plato Cubano (pork, chicken, chorizo and shredded beef served with black beans and rice and plantains) and John went for the Palomilla al estilo de la casa (steak served with potatoes and cassava).  I have to say, both of our main courses were like, taste sensations - I especially loved how the cassava complimented John's steak (yes, I had slight food envy) and the tender shredded beef on my own plate.  If anything, however, the food was quite rich and on the ever-so-slightly-salty side, so I must admit I suffered a bit 20 minutes later during the cab ride home (don't worry, no one hurled in a black cab, though it did remind me of that one time I had to ask the cabbie to stop as John proceeded to get out, walk to a corner and violently vomit after watching the Leicester Tigers thrash the London Irish during the Guinness Cup Final.  He had one too many celebratory pints of Guinness, poor thing).  And by the time we left around 8, the restaurant and bar were in full swing (apparently there's salsa there on certain nights as well) and if I had been in a better mood, I would have probably stayed to dance.

So if you're looking for something a little different, fun and definitely friendly (the staff is awesome), go to Cuba Libre.  Just don't forget your Alka Seltzer.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wednesday Morning Tube Rant: Noisy PDA

Euuuuuuurrrrrrrrhghhhh.  Unhghghghhhhhhh.  EUURRRRRRGGHHHHHH.  What?  That sound?  That's the sound of me vomiting up my non-breakfast at the sight of loved up commuting couples - not just any loved-up couples, I'm talking about the ones who insist on smooching loudly for their entire journey into central London.

You've seen them: from the platform to Oxford Circus, they act like the tube is their high school locker.  I'm not bemoaning the presence of PDA (that's 'public displays of affection' for all of you people who weren't fortunate enough to attend an American high school) on the tube, just people who plant repeated, wet, suction-ey, kisses that cut-through your iPod's in-ear headphones.  I feel like going over with a ruler at the high school prom and asking them to keep 6 inches away from each other's faces.

The latest guilty offenders were found in the elevator lift at Holland Park station.  All was quiet on the Western Front, then I heard: smooooooooch ... smacccckk ... smmaacckkk.  "I ruv you," said the woman.  "I ruv you more," said the man as he nuzzled her neck.  Awkward for the 3 others in the lift?  Nah, not really.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

London Review of Books: Not Just a Pretty Face

This post is about cake.  So if you're looking for something about LRB, you've clicked on the wrong link.  Sorry.

When I was a freshman first-year at MHC, Professor Hill returned my first paper to me in his infamous Medieval to Commonwealth class (where the weak are weeded out on the first day and the strong are commended for their bravery, etc.) with a bunch of illegible scribbles (as he does) and a not-so-decent grade.  When I queried this not-so-decent grade, he instructed me to, "Read the London Review of Books.  That'll improve your writing style."

So I'm sure he'll be proud to know that nine years later, I found myself having lunch in the London Review Cake Shop (which is attached to the London Review Bookshop), eating a lovely slice of quince tart with creme fraiche for dessert, sipping on a chocolate sprinkled cappuccino and thinking of nothing related to the LRB at all.

That isn't to say that I'm not a huge admirer and fan of the literary titan that is the actual LRB (and yes, I did follow Professor Hill's advice and still read the LRB whenever I can get it), or its bookshop, located just a hop, skip, jump and away from the British Museum in Bloomsbury - but rather, well, that I just happen to like cake more.  *shrugs*    

I met Iain at this tiny (and I mean tiny) cake shop for lunch yesterday with a growling stomach and didn't care that there were only about 4 items on the chalkboard menu: quiche with accompanying salad, soup of the day, salmon and cucumber baguette or egg mayonnaise sandwich.  "You don't have much choice here, do you?" asked a disdainful woman of the waitress when her fussy boyfriend complained of his partner's lunchtime selection (apparently he "doesn't eat sandwiches, hates quiche and is allergic to barley").  They left shortly.  I, however, was enamored by the charming menu of limited selection and opted for the egg mayonnaise sandwich, which came on homemade granary bread with rocket, sliced black olives, sundried tomatoes and a thin layer of mustard (I know, I'd never think of putting those six things together either, but it totally worked).  Iain had the salmon baguette, which was simple but apparently, "really good".  We finished off with slices of the quince tart topped with almonds (so think bakewell tart here, people) and flourless chocolate cake.

I can't think of a better way to spend your lunch hour (that is, if you can get a seat).  And afterward, if you have time, you can even browse the books next door - if you're so inclined, that is.  If you're like me, you'll just eat your cake and run.

Photo source

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tombo, South Kensington

If you're in the South Ken area doing some shopping or catching a show at RAH (I just like abbreviating it 'cos it's funny:  RAH.  RAH!), then I highly suggest you drop in to one of my new-found favorites (okay, okay, I can't take credit - John found it): Tombo, an incredibly charming Japanese cafe and deli located a stone's throw from South Kensington station.

A breath of fresh air from the ubiquitous "Japanese" chains, Tombo is the perfect place to go when you're looking for something between pre-packed sushi and greasy udon pots - something homemade and nourishing, such as the bento box above, which includes your choice of main (chicken, salmon or tofu), multigrain rice (which feels a lot better in your tummy than the usual white rice) and a choice of three sides (I had the mooli and carrot salad, seaweed and edamame bean salad and carrot and radish salad).  The chicken is succulent and tender and the sauce isn't too sweet, which is always a common complaint of mine when selecting chicken donburi or bento boxes.

They also have a delicious selection of Japanese desserts (oh how I miss mochi and iced mochi!) and teas which I am dying to try the next time I break from a shopping trip.

The smart decor and friendly staff also add to the enjoyable dining experience; the white walls are decorated by whimsical paintings by the magnificent Nastko Seki, which, accompanied by the comfort food makes you feel like you're dining in a friend's chic living room, rather than a West London cafe.

If you plan on going, be prepared to wait at least 5-10 minutes during peak hours (lunchtime, for example) as it's clearly a popular place - but totally worth the wait.

A Little Roadside Assistance? Please?

So ... yesterday, John and I had a little adventure on the corner of Wood Lane and the Westway (yeah, that's an entrance to an on-ramp, but don't worry, we managed to pull up onto the curb until the car decided to die completely):

All I have to say is, thank goodness for:

1) iPhones and Google Maps

2) friendly, kind and cheerful breakdown repairmen such as the wonderful man above

3) free weekend parking in the Latimer Road area, specifically, outside the only garage available (which was conveniently closed until Monday)

... and ...

The inside of those tow trucks?  They're like, totally awesome.  Extremely roomy and fits seven people.  I like the addition of the bar across the back, which makes you feel like you're either a) on a rollercoaster or b) a simulation ride.  Someone should make a ride based on a tow truck.  It would surely blow the HP Theme Park out of the water.

That's all.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Little Slice of Heaven: The Grove

On a cold, windy, dark January afternoon, I found myself en route to an undisclosed location, known only by the driver - John.  "Where are we going?" I asked crossly, kicking at the Longchamp carry-all at my feet which held a bathing suit and gym gear (as instructed), a dinner dress (also as instructed) and the plethora of girl stuff girls require, including a magazine.  "You'll see," John said excitedly, as he pulled onto the freeway.  "I booked somewhere special, don't worry."

Thirty minutes later, we pulled up to a large, gated estate in the middle of Hertfordshire countryside, with its own stoplight at the foot of a tiny stone bridge.  I tried to hide my excitement as I caught a glimpse of a hedge shaped into a giraffe peering over an enclosed garden and acres of grass, which slowly revealed themselves to be a golf course.  Then I felt a knot of nervousness as we parked in front of the sprawling building - it looked ... expensive.  And I felt ... self-conscious.

Tucking my hair awkwardly behind my ear as we walked into the lobby, members of an engagement/wedding party in gorgeous pink and gold saris and D&G handbags air kissed each other at the front desk.  But when we were shown to our room, I really had to keep my cool - I've stayed in nice places before, but this was probably the highest end of the spectrum.  During my weekend stay at The Grove, it became clear that the small details truly count: a Bose iPod dock and DVD player sat conveniently on a night stand, the shower and bath controls were positioned directly at the foot of the bath rather than underneath the shower head to eliminate the awkward leaning and inopportune soakings that accompany traditional showers and baths.  Last but not least, as I went to pull out my magazine from my bag, I noticed a thick, glossy new issue of Harper's Bazaar (one of my faves) on the other nightstand.  Did someone read my mind?

I went to (quietly) admire the mini-bar under the glass counter and study the mini-bar menu:  "Earl Grey the Grove - £16" it read at the bottom of the menu.  "What's that?" I asked John, pointing to the item.  "I don't know," he shrugged as he cranked up the volume on the iPod dock.  "Probably a champagne."  I then sat down at the desk to study the spa menu ... and there it was, sitting adorably in front of me: Earl Grey the Grove, a little plush toy donkey with a price tag attached that read, "Hello, I'm Earl Grey the Grove.  Please take me home." (I might do if you didn't cost £16 - sorry).

It wasn't before long before we decided to take a dip in the spa pool, which soon proved to be unlike any other pool I've ever been in.  Upon realizing it was a dark-tiled pool with dimmed lights and soothing music, I shook my head.  "Nuh uh, I'm not getting in that," I said, backing away.  "It's like swimming in a dark lake and I already have a phobia of pools."  John didn't hear me as he popped his goggles on and dove in.  Sulkily, I dipped my toe in.  It was warm ... pleasantly warm.  The pool and room didn't smell of chlorine but rather, lavender and jasmine.  Was it my imagination?  I allowed myself to let go and swim a couple laps - and ended up staying there for an hour.  To say that I loved it would be an understatement.  I hadn't felt that calm or safe, for that matter, for months. 

When we managed to tear ourselves away, we found the Vitality Pool, set off in its own room a couple of corridors away, overlooking a small courtyard.  Inside this heated pool were massaging jets of all sorts, similar to the Hungarian baths we'd experienced in Budapest a year ago.  And as we were the only people there, it was utterly relaxing.

In addition, each of the pool locker rooms held a fluffy, white ankle-length robe, with accompanying fluffy, white towel and fluffy, white slippers - any more fluffiness and my heart might have burst.  Lit mirrors with low seats, hair straighteners, Babyliss hair dryers, nail kits, and Espa lotions lined the room.  I had trouble leaving the changing room.

For dinner, John had made reservations at The Stables restaurant, one of four restaurants at The Grove.  Described as "informal" in the hotel guide, I was still glad I brought a knit dress as most of the clientele dined in smart clothing.  The meal was wonderful (save John's tasteless soup which he attempted to save by dumping half the balsamic vinegar from our bread basket and sprinkling copious amounts of salt and pepper) but the magical part was being driven to the restaurant and back (as it required walking outside and it was freezing) in the hotel's "buggy" golf carts, complete with thick wool blankets on each seat.  I tried to pretend this was all normal service, rather than an exception.

Later that night, we popped our Harry Potter dvd (hey, don't judge - though we needn't have brought a dvd after all as the hotel has a library of 200) into the dvd player and ate chocolate in bed until we fell asleep (not before brushing our teeth though, obviously, cuz, you know, that would be like, gross).  Simply amazing.

The next morning, breakfast was served at The Glasshouse - a buffet of waffles with fresh fruit and omelettes made-to-order.  I indulged in a bagel and lox, something I hadn't had for a while.  John commented that a couple of posh children in Boden ensembles ran up to the fruit and exclaimed, "Raspberries!!!  Strawberries!!!" as if they were the best discoveries they'd made all weekend.  Hilarious.

Luckily, the hotel was kind enough to allow us to use the spa facilities after we checked out, so we enjoyed a full hour or two more in the luxurious pool and steam room, before heading back to the grind, albeit in a much better place (mentally and physically) than before.

So the next time you're feeling a little wound up or under the weather, I highly recommend a short visit to The Grove - it's like a little slice of heaven.

Photo source

Wednesday Morning Tube Rant: Worst. Journey. Ever.

8:05 a.m. - head out the door.

8:10 a.m. - arrive at bus stop.  Bus I need is scheduled to arrive in 8 minutes.  I debate taking the tube and decide against it.

8:28 a.m. - my bus finally arrives.  I get on.  It's packed.  I feel an instant surge of regret as soon as I take my place under a man's armpit and in direct line of the stairwell.

8:32 a.m. - I get off the bus on a whim at the next stop and decide to take the tube, only to see another bus right behind it that is empty but pulls away just as I run up to it.  Wonderful.

8:40 a.m. - I arrive on the tube platform for the train to Elephant and Castle and just miss an empty train where there are multiple seats available.

8:42 a.m. - The next train is packed beyond belief, so I skip it.

8:44 a.m. - I have no choice but take this train even though it's full because I'm now running late and will need to change at the dreaded Oxford Circus for the *shudder* Central Line.

8:52 a.m. - After being squashed several times by giant men who belong in Avatar rather than on public transport, I stumble onto the platform at Oxford Circus and am confronted by a big girl who bounces me off her ample bosom in effort to get past me.

8:55 a.m. - I manage to fold myself into the intricately orgami-like arrangement of people on the Central Line train to my destination.  The blonde next to me with a vintage leather bag and Hermes scarf sizes me up with a look that brings me back to the second grade playground.

9:02 a.m. - I get off at my stop and queue to get up to the actual escalator bit of the station.

9:04 a.m. - I finally reach the escalators but some Tweedle Dums and Tweedle Dees can't decide whether they want the right side (to stand) or left side (to walk up) of the escalator and instead, have the brilliant idea of stopping right in front of it.

9:10 a.m. - slightly over an hour later, I'm seated at my desk and vowing to never, ever take the Central Line again and counting down the days until we move.

Maida Vale, I love you, but your quaint little Northwest corner is inadvertently giving me high blood pressure on the weekdays.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Abokado vs. Itsu: Let the Battle of Grab 'n Go Sushi Commence

One of the major advantages of working in the new location I do is the sheer number of lunchtime options.  Before, it was Pret, Leon or ... Pret?  Now it's: shall I have bimbimbap at the local Korean cafe? Or a warming bowl of fresh pasta from the Italian deli down the road?  Do I want to grab a bit of culture and eat in the British Museum cafe?  The possibilities are endless ... and often I get excited just thinking about lunch when I sit down at my desk at approximately 8:53 a.m. (that is, when I'm not trying to save money and buy 2 for 1 soups at Sainsbury's instead - then it's ever so slightly depressing).

And then there is the inevitable dilemma when it comes to sushi.  You kinda feel like a salad but you want something slightly more substantial, so nigiri and a couple slices of salmon sashimi should fill that I-feel-like-something-more-than-a-salad-but-less-than-a-carb-laden-food-fest hole.  But who to choose, who to choose?  Just three or four (or possibly less) mere storefronts away from each other, Abokado and Itsu face-off in a lunch-time fast-food sushi challenge.

In corner one, we've got Abokado, the underdog, small chain, who's motto is, ""Live your life, love our food" and whose specialties include things like a delicious choice of dressings (I had the chili and coriander today and can confirm that it was tangy and terrific) for your accompanying rocket salad and hand rolls, that resemble sushi wraps - the perfect mid-afternoon snack (or lunch option).

In corner two, we have Itsu, the popular chain founded by the same dude who started Pret a Manger (which is, as you know, one of my undying loves, for some reason) which boasts, "Health and happiness."  (For the record, I get a little annoyed with this in-your-face yogic mantra from most sushi chains, you know, the whole "IF YOU PUT GOOD THINGS IN YOUR BODY, YOUR BODY WILL LOVE YOU, AND YOU WILL SWEAT BEADS OF GOLD OUT OF YOUR PORES" gimmick.  I eat sushi because I enjoy it, not because I want to be "healthy".  Rant over)  Itsu has two menu choices that currently rank on my top ten favorites: the chicken pot-su, a thai-infused veggie and grilled chicken brown rice bowl that makes your colds shrivel and die a sudden death, and the "super salmon 3 ways" sushi box (yes, did I mention I was a glutton?  Well, I am.  See previous post on portion control i.e. I have none.  And as I write this, I am waiting for Domino's to deliver my two medium pizzas and yes, I am tracking their progress in real time on my laptop).

Sometimes, I feel sorry for Abokado, because it's like going to the mall to spend time with your friends when really, you should be staying at home and watching Judge Judy with your mom (not that I've ever encountered that quandary before).  So the other day, I paid a visit to Abokado and picked up their "Deep Blue" sushi box, which consisted of some salmon nigiri, rocket salad, and salmon and avocado rolls.  Omg, the rice was nearly inedible on the nigiri: completely gloopy and stuck together, plus some of the rocket leaves were black.  And no one told me about the separate dressings that I was meant to choose myself so I went without.  And non-dressed rocket (or arugula as y'all call it back home)  doesn't taste so good.  Still, I felt like I was supporting a good cause, and it made me sad to see the quality slip.  So I was most impressed when I received a reply from the manager (to my extremely polite but detailed missive as to why the Deep Blue box sorely disappointed me) which was open, honest, genuine and very apologetic (a voucher for a complimentary lunch also helped).

In contrast, the Super Salmon box from Itsu is extremely satisfying - thick, luscious pieces (not slivers) of fresh salmon sashimi, salmon nigiri with non-gloopy rice and deliciously rolled salmon and avocado sushi.  But it always feels a bit soulless and corporate eating at Itsu with their irritatingly perky slogans plastered across the wall and beaming down at you, but you know, I get it.  I know why that kind of self-affirming marketing works and why people - certainly I do, to an extent - buy into it.   And like Pret, it all begins to taste a bit "samey" after a while, something that doesn't happen with the variety and home-made tastes available at Abokado.

So the conclusion is: it's a toss up.  Up to you.  Let me know what you think.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Imperial War Museum @ Duxford

This, my friends, is an actual Spitfire in repair (for the lowdown of why I would actually care, read this blog post) in one of the hangars at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford.

I know I'm a bit late in posting this, but for Valentine's Day, I couldn't think of anything more romantic than for John to take me to the Imperial War Museum.  Yes, you read that right - instead of roses and breakfast in bed (though I did receive the latter), I specifically asked my boyfriend of six years to take me to the Imperial War Museum in Duxford on February 14th.  "Are you sure?" he asked, a little concerned and no doubt worried about the possible repercussions his actions might have if I wasn't 100% serious.  "Yes!" I glared at him.  "Why, don't you want to go?  It isn't a phase, you know, I do have a genuine interest in the Battle of Britain and I want to see a Spitfire for reals.  Anyways," I paused here as I excitedly clicked through the IWM website.  "The Concorde is open for viewing today!"  

So we made the drive to Duxford (I say we, but as usual, John drove while I played DJ and traffic monitor with the iPhone) and entered the museum on a very cold and windy day.  Prior to my visit, I had no idea that the museum was organized into different "hangars" with themes e.g. Battle of Britain, AirSpace and even an American Air Museum.  Perhaps what amazed me the most was how accessible it was to families and children - there are all sorts of fun activities and games to enable children to learn about everything from how planes work to how planes were used in war.  I thought back to all the times my dad took me and my brother to the Museum of Flight in Seattle when we were little and boring I thought it was.  I just think it's nice now that I can finally appreciate a museum like the IWM, Duxford and more importantly, that a place like it exists.    John and I took advantage of the flight simulator located between a couple of hangars that supposedly gave you the experience of flying a Spitfire that shot down an enemy plane with real footage from the Battle of Britain - absolutely incredible (though I did feel a bit pukey afterward as we had just eaten a roast lunch and dessert at the cafe).  However, my favorite part was probably the audio accounts from RAF veterans describing their experiences fighting in the air: truly amazing and inspiring stories.  What can I say?  First Light had a huge impact on me (and I was very happy to see copies of it in the gift shop).

I highly recommend a visit - maybe for that first date?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Joy of Garden Centres (or How My Mom Turned Our Living Room Into The Little Shop of Horrors)

So, like, while I was sick, I spent some time at home watching unfortunate day-time TV, which included MTV's Teen Cribs.  In case you've never had the extreme pleasure of watching this highly intellectual program, it's basically about spoiled rich kids between the ages of 13-22 who live in homes resembling spas/resorts.  The parents are interviewed in this tiny little pop-out bubble in the corner of the screen and they say things like, "I just wanted to give my kids a good life and a place that they could come to with their friends.  I want my kids to wanna come home during college breaks and have happy memories, you know?"

And since I feel particularly emotionally sensitive when I'm ill (i.e. homesick), I started to reminisce about my family home in Washington.  I think about how sad I am when I notice little things have changed when I go back for visits e.g. a new microwave or *fridge (*the fridge is a really sore point for me.  Last year, my mom didn't wish me a happy birthday for the ENTIRE DAY because she claimed she had to deal with cleaning out the old, broken fridge which "smelled like a dead body.  The whole world does not revolve around YOU," were her exact words.  Ouch.  For the next couple months, I received a missive each day in the form of an email detailing the stress she had to endure with the new fridge being delivered.  Sigh.).  But the last time my dad pulled up in the driveway after having picked me up from the airport really took the cake.

I could see our living room from the driveway and I let out a little scream.  "What is WRONG with you?" yelled my dad as he jumped, nearly reversing into a wheelbarrow.  "OMG, it's like the Little Shop of Horrors," I wailed.  That or my mother had turned our living room into the Rainforest Cafe.  Plants filled every available corner and space.  Raised, hanging, perching ... you name it, she had it.  Just as my eyes started to adjust to the light behind the jungle, she emerged from the darkness with a slightly maniacal smiling face, waving at me from above.  "Ack!" I jumped back again.

I should have seen the warning signs before my trip: on Skype, she mentioned visiting garden shops almost every day.  Monday:  "Hey mom, what are you doing today?" "Going to McClendon's - they have buy one get one free peonies and I thought they would look soooo nice in th ..." but by this time I had glazed over.  Tuesday:  "Mom.  Where are you going?"  "Watson's.  I need to get a new pot for my lilies.  They're not growing properly and I think it has to do with the pot."  Wednesday:  "Mom, are you there?" "I'm leaving now, don't talk to me.  I have to go to Windmill."  "You just went to Windmill yesterday."  "No, that was Watson.  This time I have to go get some peonies.  "You just got peonies."  "Yeah, but these are a different color."  And so on, and so forth.

So when John suggested we visit the garden centre a couple months ago, I looked at him like he was insane.  "How old are you?" I snarled.  "Wait, wait, wait.  Sixty-two?  Seventy?"  "I know, I know," he said, with his head down, feelings hurt.  "But it's so cool!"  So I grudgingly followed him to Clifton Nurseries in Maida Vale where I stomped and grumbled until I promptly ran into (quite literally) Michael McIntyre (who none of you in the US will know, but that's what happens when you live in the UK long enough - you get excited about UK celebs).

It only got better from there.

First, I saw a kitty hiding behind a plant pot (it bit at me when I tried to tickle it behind the ear):

Then we took a break in the cafe, where I had this delicious scone with jam and butter (and a pot of tea, of course):

So yeah, there's no guaranteeing that I won't turn my own house into the Little Shop of Horrors when I become Of Age, but until then, I might not mind hanging out at the local garden centre.  Because I'm sad like that.
© angloyankophile

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