Sunday, December 9, 2012

Brunch at Christie's (As You Do)

I know, I've brunched two days in a row - how rude.

Today's was rather special, as it happened to be at the private view of Important Jewels (their title, not mine) at Christie's auction house in Piccadilly.

Ever since John made a rather Important Purchase for me at Christie's, I have a sneaking suspicion that they seem to think he's a regular there. Oh yes, I'll have that tiara, please.

Anyway, when an invitation to the Important Jewels private view arrived last week printed on thick, creamy cardstock, John suggested we attend and I fretted about what to wear.

When the catalogue came in the mail a couple days after he accepted the invitation, we curled up on the couch and picked out which diamond-encrusted Cartier rings we wanted (though the tiaras were also very tempting).

But in all seriousness, Christie's is amazing. John had been trying to convince me to visit for ages (since it's open to the public most weekends for viewings), but I expected stuffiness, noses-in-the-air, and general awkwardness on my part. Why didn't I listen to him sooner? It's like a museum, but with less people and in a beautiful setting, to boot.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted with virgin Bloody Marys and orange juices, plus brunchy canapes, before being ushered into the Modern British and Irish art showrooms, plus the Important Jewels showroom as well.

This was my favorite room:

That family portrait is badass. You can't tell from my photo, but there's some serious bitchface going on there  with the daughters. Amazing.

I might have been joking when I said "I'll have the tiara" above, but the serious buyers of the showroom most certainly were not. Today was the opportunity for them to try on the actual jewels before bidding and some of the conversations I overheard were rather ... interesting. Like the lady who was on the outlook for, "pearls for everyday wear - you know what I mean?" as she waved her hand airily at the sales assistant. Oh what, John Lewis isn't good enough for you? Or the other lady on the arm of her partner, who dismissed the beautiful diamonds in the private sales collection with, "Come on, let's go. You know which one you're buying. We've already decided. My ring's VS1 [referring to the clarity of her diamond] and better than this, so let's just go." Incredible.

In the Important Jewels showroom, I was particularly taken by a men's vintage Cartier watch with a simple, tan leather strap and an 4.97 carat emerald-cut diamond ring that started at £30,000. No big deal. Just more than a year's worth of my college tuition, that's all. A member of staff caught me admiring some sapphires and assured me I could try any of the pieces on, should I so desire. Um, yes. I desired, very much so.

Anyway, I left without crowning myself with any tiaras (which were, btw, listed in the catalogue as "property of a lady of title"), though feeling entirely convinced that I'll be making many return visits to Christie's. Probably not to bid on any £30,000 jewels, but, you know. Just to look.

Christmas at Fortnum & Mason

I stopped by my spiritual home today, AKA Fortnum & Mason, to check out the Christmas windows and decorations in store. I was not disappointed: the second floor was devoted to their Christmas shop and featured trees, wreaths, and decorations arranged by color scheme (I told you it was my spiritual home!). If I had more time, I would have stayed to count the exact number of Christmas trees, as I'm sure each floor had at least five, if not more.

I also chose my favorite ornament, this felt hand-embroidered house, complete with clock and French windows:

Isn't it gorgeous? But at £28, it was more expensive than our tree, so I decided to leave it for the moment.

John and I also admired the Christmas crackers, which are a British tradition:

The Nutcracker-themed crackers above were especially fun, but the ones next to them cost £500. Yes, you read that correctly, £500! For that, I'd expect diamonds, mini champagne bottles and Stephen Fry to personally read my cracker joke to me - and more.

Needless to say, seeing these decorations has made me really, really excited for Christmas.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Reilly Rocket: Possibly The Best Place to Brunch in London

I love going out for brunch, particularly on Saturdays: it's the ultimate treat. Like a reward that awaits you at the end of a hellish week, something about indulging in huevos rancheros or French toast made with brioche topped with spiced orange compote makes brunch absolutely decadent. In fact, I think that going out for brunch is more of a treat than eating out for dinner. Dinner out feels normal (even though it shouldn't be regarded as such), but brunch feels special.

But let's be honest: brunch in London (and elsewhere) is a total ripoff. Serve scrambled eggs and smoked salmon at 8:00 a.m. and it's £6.95. Serve it between the hours of 10:30-12:00 and it suddenly seems to justify a price tag of £10.95 and upwards. A juice that comes out of a carton and is literally emptied into a glass in front of you can easily command a fee of £4.95 (yes, that happened to me). To add insult to injury, London mostly consists of overpriced, trendy establishments passing themselves off as "American diners" resulting in mediocre food that I, frankly, could have made better at home (see trendsters' favorite, The Breakfast Club - to this day, I have no idea why people wait in line for hours to eat the stodgy, over-floured pancakes at that place).

Despite saying all this, I think I've finally found my favorite place to brunch in London (after five years of living here), and it's Reilly Rocket in De Beauvoir Town, Dalston.

I love this place. Regardless of the fact that it's practically on my doorstep, Reilly Rocket serves up a killer breakfast and good, strong coffee created by their self-described "hyper-precise" baristas. Does that scare you? It shouldn't. Staff is super friendly and the cozy environment means you can easily dine alone with a newspaper or chat the morning away with a brunch buddy.

This morning, I had toasted sourdough (the menu cites "cherry sourdough", but they ran out of that, so we just had plain sourdough) with "debauched cinnamon butter" (don't you just love that description?) and fresh berries accompanied by a peach blossom tea, since I'm trying to kick the caffeine habit:

It was really as good as it looks: the sweet, cinnamon butter oozing into crunchy sourdough with the tart raspberries and blueberries was better than any spread I've ever had, rivalling Ottolenghi's banana jam which I previously blogged about here. Truly a pleasure to have.

Next, John and I shared the sweet potato fritters with spicy chorizo, cucumber yogurt, poached eggs and rocket & cucumber salad. Whew!

That squeeze of lime adds a real kick and zings through the spiciness of the chorizo, while the cooling yogurt tastes divine when mashed into the potato fritters. A total foodgasm.

Our bill? £7 a head, including coffee and my tea.

I wasn't just surprised by all of this; I was actually kind of shocked. How could this much deliciousness be hiding in this humble, unassuming motorcycle cafe? I don't think it'll be long until the rest of London wakes up to the idiocy of waiting in line for overpriced "American" food and discovers the joys of little cafes like this one. Soon, I'll have to start making reservations at Reilly Rocket, instead of being able to roll out of bed and drop in.

Until then, I'll use everyone else's ignorance to my advantage and continue to enjoy lovely brunches at this stellar establishment.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Ants-on-a-Log: For Brighter, Healthier-Looking Skin

I went to see an aesthetician the other day to get my face "mapped" (don't ask). Since winter's hit, my skin has been dry, flaky, AND breaking out more than usual - which I wouldn't usually mind (besides the fact that it makes me look hideous), but the fact of the matter is that I'm back in the US in two weeks and will face the harshest skin critic of all: my mother. "Look at your skin," she'll say, hands folded, over breakfast. "So harsh. So dry. So bumpy. You take after your father," she'll say, before adding, "Not smooth at all. Look at mine! So smooth! No pimples! And all I use is Pond's and hot water!" Then she'll smile serenely at me. As if it were all that simple.

Not wanting to encounter this situation again, I plopped myself down in the beautician's treatment room and complained about my dull, pimply skin while rattling off my £250 (at least) worth-of-products skin regime. She assessed me with a steely eye. "How much water are you drinking?" she asked. "Um ... not enough," I mumbled. She tsked. "What's your diet like? Are you eating crunchy, green vegetables?" she asked, frowning down at my questionaire. "Um ..." I thought back to the last things I had consumed and it went something like this: red velvet cupcake (someone's birthday in the office), two chocolates (I said, it was someone's birthday), pizza for lunch (birthday lunch), two cookies for a mid-morning snack and Nutella over crumpets for breakfast. So ... the answer was, no. "You're not taking care of the inside! Just the outside!" she accused. "Eat more cucumber and spinach," she advised. "Drink more water!"

Her words still ringing in my ears, I vowed to drink more water at work. Instead of taking sips, I started gulping it down. And you know what? My skin drastically improved, over the period of a week or so. Inspired to keep it up, I decided to incorporate more veggies into my diet. Crunchy ones. Like ... celery! Except, with an American twist. I'm talking "Ants On a Log" here: celery sticks, peanut butter, with raisins on top. Peanut butter for that energy and protein boost, plus raisins for a little sweetness - the after school snack every American kid had.

Unsurprisingly, my choice of healthy snack was met by repulsion at work. It started like this: "Ooh, someone's being very healthy! Celery!" (pause) "Wait ... what are you doing with the peanut butter? And ... no ... you're not going to ... with the RAISINS?!"

Undeterred, I crunched my way through two mornings, until Alice came up for a visit and saw what I was eating. "You want some?" I said, wiping the corner of my mouth and offering her a "log". "Um, I'll have one. But without the peanut butter. Or the raisins," she replied, weakly. "Well, that's no good," I said. "You Americans are craaaazy," she laughed, still disgusted. "Well," I replied hotly. "You Brits are boooorrringg." Which I thought was a pretty good retort.

Photo source

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Worship Street Whistling Shop* (*say that ten times fast!)

A tongue-twister for sure, but Worship Street Whistling Shop serves up some of the best cocktails I've ever had in London. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy mojitos and peach bellinis like every other person, but sometimes, I'm just in the mood for something a little bit different, and WSWS delivers that on all counts.

Located in Shoreditch, smack dab between Old Street and Moorgate tube stations, the bar's dimly lit Victoriana/steampunk feel makes it one of my favorite places to cozy up in during the winter months. I recently celebrated my birthday there and it didn't disappoint: in one corner, a DJ (with the most fantastical pouf and black eyeliner imaginable) was spinning rockabilly classics, and we ordered delicious cheese and meat platters to share.

The drinks menu (which is devised in their in-house lab, which resembles a mad scientist's) changes frequently, though my particular favorite, Panacea (a blend of whisky, honey, sage dust, lavender and topped with whipped egg white), seems to (thankfully) be a standby. Two of those last Friday and I was barely left standing.

Now, I must warn that WSWS isn't for everyone. I've read some pretty hilarious negative reviews of this place on TimeOut and think that those patrons should have headed next door to Blueberry, where they could have had all the saccharine, sickly-sweet cocktails their heart so desired. Just sayin'.

As someone who's deeply attuned (as you all know) to high levels of customer service, I think one of WSWS's best selling points is its bar staff. Friendly, laid-back, and knowledgeable, they're always happy to advise on drinks and will often whip something up for you on a whim if you can't decide. Once, I ordered something I decided just wasn't for me after all, and it was quickly whisked away and replaced by a Panacea (I told you I loved it!).

WSWS is definitely one of the first places I take friends from out of town and I highly recommend it - just don't go if you're a jerk and expecting to be served a pink strawberry daiquiri.

Photo source 

Three Signs That Christmas Has Officially Landed

First there were the mince pies, then there was Bing Crosby blaring from our speakers ... in November. Sure, it's only December 4th, but at our place? It's Christmas.

How can I tell? Well, there's the:

1. Unearthing of the ornaments (some were inevitably broken). Seeing all the baubles gave me great memories of where we bought them - for example, I distinctly remember standing in the longest line EVER at John Lewis Oxford Street (note to self: never, ever, under any circumstance, visit John Lewis on Oxford Street in December again. Just don't.) for the fabric wrapped ones, with low blood sugar and an increasingly agitated state of mind. The mirrorball ornaments (not pictured) were purchased by John at a garden center in Maida Vale, where we put up our first tree together. And at the bottom of the box? An angel. (Not a metaphor, btw, just an actual angel ornament/tree topper)

2. Hummingbird Bakery's Christmas-themed cupcakes. Sure, I woke up to these by my bedside on my birthday, but as Ruth said on my birthday (or the e-card she sent me said), "If you were Jesus, today would be Christmas." So, really, my birthday was as good as Christmas. That's red velvet at the bottom with cream cheese frosting (my favorite) and vanilla at the top, with a marzipan Santa and buttercream frosting (also my favorite. Hmm.). Seasonal treats are definitely a sign that Christmas is nigh.

3. Wrapped presents sitting under the tree, which in our case, resembles a potted plant - but hey, you can hang ornaments off of it, so it's a tree (it also cost £12 from Budgens). John and I had a huge wrapping session/party with toffee popcorn on Saturday, which was fun, but also involved me biting my tongue while watching him wrap presents incorrectly (like, wrapping and taping along the long edge of the gift, massacring the edges while slicing through the paper with a butter knife and/or not cutting straight lines), though I must admit, his turned out stunningly well as it turns out his methods are especially useful for wrapping soft items. No hints given away there!

So yes. Put an egg-nog latte in my hand and I'm good to go. Christmas, I welcome you with open arms.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Battle of the Honeys: Cheap vs. Expensive

Did you know there's a difference between cheap, grocery store honey and expensive, posh honey (besides the price)?

I've never thought twice about grabbing "regular" honey off the shelf until I got a flu bug this week. Having left my Tesco-bought honey at work, I had no choice but to dig into the gorgeous bottle of John Mellis Scottish Blossom Honey that Adeline brought over the last time she came to stay. It felt like a waste to use it, but I was desperate and didn't want to leave the house in my pajamas (which I've been living in for the past few days).

Stirring a generous dollop into my Twinings Chamomile, Honey & Vanilla tea, I was surprised at how refined and smooth the honey tasted, compared to the kind I usually buy. It was sweet, without being saccharine and  irritating my throat, which Rowse can sometimes do. There's also an indescribable, "natural" taste to expensive honey, that lesser quality honeys don't seem to have.

Fortnum & Mason recently auctioned off a few of their famous "rooftop bee"-produced jars of honey, complete with honeycomb.

Even though I don't use honey that often, I think it might be one of those things I splurge on a little bit more in the future (maybe not enough to place a bid at a future F&M honey auction, though). The difference in taste is worth it!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Mac 'n Cheese: The Ultimate Comfort Food

I was sick this week with a flu-like bug, but luckily still had my appetite. The one thing I immediately craved on the first day I stayed home from work? Mac 'n cheese. I couldn't bring myself to make it in my achy, feverish state, so dragged myself to Tesco and bought their microwavable version, which wasn't bad at all. If you make it in the oven, the pasta on top gets all crusty and the cheese melts just so, which I absolutely love.

If I ate it on any other day, it'd just make me feel gross and fatty, but for some reason, when you're sick, macaroni and cheese feels just the opposite: nourishing, hearty, and good for you (I'm sure it's not). Too bad John doesn't eat cheese, otherwise I'd happily make Yumsugar's version for dinner at some point.

Another comfort food just sprang to mind when I was looking for mac 'n cheese recipes: Hamburger Helper, which is only available in the US (I think). It's basically just seasoning in the box that you add to ground beef, plus macaroni noodles. My mom would make it about once in a blue moon after an exhausting trip picking me up from ballet lessons late at night. It was always so good, I'd help myself to seconds and thirds.

What's your favorite comfort food to have when you're feeling under the weather?

Photo source

Sunday, November 4, 2012

It's Cake Time: John's Mince Pies

I know it's a bit early for Christmas, but doesn't the photo above just get you in the mood for tinsel and mistletoe? I'm not a huge fan of mince pies myself, but John slipped in the ingredients for making them in our most recent Ocado delivery. We had a fun afternoon (well, after I got over my initial negativity and grumpiness i.e. "It'll never work" - I know, I'm horrible and mean) cutting out different shapes from the pastry and decorating the pies. They turned out to be delicious.

Shortly after this picture was taken, John put on the Christmas carols. Still a little too early for those, methinks.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

There Are Some Things That America Just ... Do Better

I was being nice last night and decided to pair up John's socks, since he was working late for the nth time in a row, when I was suddenly filled with a sense of extreme injustice. I mean, just look at these. LOOK AT THEM:

This is what socks look like when you don't own a tumble dryer. Most flats and houses in the UK do not have tumble dryers. And if they do, they only seem to heat wet garments, so your clothes comes out hot and wet. Not dry.

I mean, come on. No man or woman should have to wake up at 5:30 a.m. (as John's been doing these days) and put on socks like these. No. He deserves something better. Like, non-crusty socks that aren't garbled into oblivion by line drying.

The other day, I wanted to wear a top and it was still damp. Undeterred, I put it on. I decided that the wet patch would dry as the day went on. I was just a little paranoid that I'd smell like damp for the rest of the day, rather than freshly washed laundry.

You'd think that hang drying your clothes would help preserve them a bit better but no, thanks to the hard water in London, I promise that $30 J. Crew t-shirt you just bought will fade into an unrecognizable state within the first wash. Guaranteed (though that might say more about the quality of J. Crew than anything else, since my $5 Old Navy tees have held up quite nicely).

Don't get me wrong. I love the UK. I'm so happy and grateful to live here. I'm 99% positive most of the time about my move because it was my choice. And I never utter the words, "Man, back home ..." because it irritates me so much to hear ex-pats say that. But ...

What is it with British "sello tape"? For the record, IT SUCKS. I'm sorry, Mom, I know I'm not allowed to use that word, but it SUCKS. Why isn't 3M Scotch tape the go-to clear tape (satin finish is the best, btw) for y'all? WHY?

And floss! Why can't you make floss like Johnson & Johnson make floss? Why? Why does it shred to pieces and cut my gums up, no matter what brand I try? 

There. Rant over. Must put socks away.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Too Much?

"I love Americans," said my co-worker the other day. "Look at this envelope! It's got a giant eagle on it with an American flag in the background!" I peered down at the envelope. It did, indeed, feature a rather large bald eagle superimposed onto an American flag with the words, "MADE IN THE USA" emblazoned across the front. What can I say? We get a little carried away ...

But not as carried away as this ...

My friend, the lovely Charlee, posted this on Facebook earlier today. This 8-foot, inflatable Santa is available to buy on a US military base here in the UK - coming to a Christmas near you. Cue the Team America: World Police theme.

I sent the photo to John and told him I hoped to have one for our front yard some day. He still hasn't replied.

Photo credit © Charlee Crowley English 2012

Friday, October 19, 2012

Duke's Brew & Que: Achingly Cool, Wonderfully Good

Duke's is cool. Let me explain.

Since we moved to Dalston, John is always complaining that we don't do enough "cool" things. Problem is, we're not cool enough. I don't think he's come to terms with this yet, as he keeps asking me to find some "cool" places for us to eat or "listen to jazz". Case in point: I'm sure the phrase, "listen to jazz" is enough to make any hipster snicker at our uncool, seemingly straight-edge ways (he owns a folding bike, people. How can you be cool with a folding bike?).

Last time we ventured up Kingsland Road on a Saturday with Adeline in tow, we came across a "cool" party, which consisted of spoken word poetry performed in a growling voice that I could only imagine Satan himself possesses juxtaposed against a backdrop of psychedelic shapes and strobe lights played on a large projection screen, plus broken beer bottles littered all. Over. The. Ground. To complete this scene were a few Honey Buckets, looking as though they were about to tip. "My Mulberry doesn't feel comfortable here," I whispered to Adeline, as I pulled my handbag closer to my chest. That's how uncool I am.

Now, I'm not sure how many hipsters eat at Duke's Brew and Que because I frankly don't believe hipsters eat actual food. I'm pretty sure they just smoke and eat air instead. All of the staff at Duke's are hideously cool, very thin, and very attractive, which makes no sense because they are working at a rib and burger joint. I am also certain that none of them eat meat. When I left our dinner that night, my hair kind of smelled like grease and I looked bloated. The servers, on the other hand, didn't seem to break a sweat and continued on with their serene, smiling ways in the midst of a heavy crowd. If this kind of oxymoron frustrates you, don't go.

If you're okay with it, then you're in luck, because I'm pretty sure Duke's serves up the best barbecue I have ever had in the UK and possibly, in America. We went straight for the deep end and ordered ribs: beef for John and pork for me, plus a side of fried pickles and okra, which tasted positively sinful. As for the ribs, they were American in portion size (i.e. huge), and the meat was tender, falling off the bone. The accompanying, homemade sauces were tangy, smoky, and, yes, literally, finger-licking good. I loved the large, crunchy pickle served alongside and the slaw wasn't bad either.

And of course, we had to have dessert. Correction: I had to have dessert. I ordered a blondie with ice cream that kind of blew every dessert I've had recently out of the water. It was that good. And the best part? The bill didn't hurt. Always a plus.

The restaurant's not huge, so reservations are a must. And if you think you can simply appear on a Thursday or Friday night for dinner without booking ahead - it ain't gonna happen. Despite this, the tables are generously spaced, so you don't feel like you're chowing down on your neighbor's ribs too. That wouldn't be a pretty sight now, would it?

Duke's Brew & Que: 33 Downham Road, De Beauvoir Town, Hackney, London N1 5AA, 020 3006 0795

Photo source


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

American Snack I Miss Right Now: Apple Chips

Sometimes I think this blog is dominated by food posts - specifically, unhealthy food posts. So, apple chips are an improvement, but once they've been dipped in cinnamon and sugar and other preservatives ... maybe not so much.

I grew up eating banana and apple chips as a snack or lunch box treat. Now that it's fall and the leaves are turning, I really, really miss Seneca's apple chips, which were the kind my mom used to buy. I think it's because I grew up in Washington state, where apples are abundant, and went to college in preppy Massachusetts, where our fall semesters consisted of trips to Atkins Farm for fresh apple pie, cider donuts (don't even get me started on those), and sweet, hot cups of apple cider.

I've found this recipe for making dried apple chips, which I'm definitely tempted to try this weekend. What are some of your favorite fall snacks?

Photo source

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Special (Peeps!) Delivery

Fall is definitely in the air - my mornings are both crisper and greyer, plus I've dusted off my winter jackets and re-discovered black opaque tights. Sigh. I'm starting to get into the autumnal spirit, despite desperately clinging to the last few days we had of summer.

Already I'm envisioning sweet, mulled wine, apple cider, and my favorite part of living in England in the winter/fall: pies. I can't wait to have my first chicken and mushroom pie in a cozy pub with a roaring fire!

Rather timely, then, that I received this amazing haul of Peeps and Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate from none other than A Wife Called Chuck. Charlee truly outdid herself this time, packing a whopping three boxes of Swiss Miss (two with marshmallows, one without), 3 boxes of Peeps (one pumpkin, one ghost, and a new one: chocolate mousse cats), and two chocolate covered Peeps, plus a very sweet, handwritten note.

Check this out (which was just about the best I could capture on my about-to-croak Blackberry):

Charlee warned that the chocolate mousse cats were insanely addictive - and she was right. I sent a repeat order to my mom, who'll hopefully be able to stock up in time for my Christmas visit.

Thanks so much, Charlee!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Gorgeous, Pricey Furniture I'll Never Be Able To Afford: Design Junction

The London Design Festival 2012 is in full swing and a co-worker thoughtfully registered me for Design Junction - a design exhibition held in what used to be Royal Mail's sorting office near Holborn. Think big warehouse space, filled with Scandinavian design and pop-up shops that would have trendy, trust-fund 30-somethings chomping at the bit for. Plus a whiskey "tasting masterclass". Uh huh.

I spent my time wandering around the space, lusting after gorgeous, pricey furniture I'll never be able to afford. These are the designs that IKEA will rip off 3 months later in a slightly more cumbersome way. "Ooh, this is cool!" I enthused, picking up a salt and pepper grinder for £65. It's all about the design, dahling. A few familiar names were represented: Orla Kiely (and her instantly recognizable leaf pattern), Arne Jacobsen and Conran. I wasn't as struck by the lighting options as I was the furniture: retro, Scandi designs dominated, with sleek, minimalist silhouettes in bright and cheerful colors.

And the textiles. Oh, the rugs. And the scarves. In particular, this throw from Klaus Haapaniemi:

Just. Obsessed. The catalogue is beautiful and filled with cushions, wall hangings, rugs, and bed spreads that I can only dream of. One day, one day.

In the end, I scored a free, awesome tote bag and a coveted perfume sample from Diptyque. Afterward, I cleansed myself of all pretentiousness by spending the remainder of my lunch hour in the newly opened Primark on Tottenham Court Road, investing in a pair of £6 furry slippers and a £10 fleece robe bedecked with pink stars. Those would not look good lounging on an Arne Jacobsen sofa. No.

Photo source

Design Junction is on between 19-23 September. Entry is free. For more information, click here.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Albannach, Trafalgar Square

If the title of this post made you go, "huh"? Don't worry: it just means that you have more of a life than I do, and it also means that you are not a total nerd like me.

This weekend, my uncle was in town (from Hong Kong) for work and suggested we meet for lunch. Naturally, I wanted a place that impressed, but didn't look like I was trying too hard. As he was staying at the Guoman in Charing Cross, I decided on Albannach - cleverly situated a mere 4 or 5 minute walk away from his hotel. Perfect for the jet-lagged, I thought.

As we approached the entrance, he remarked, "This looks posh!" It certainly scrubs up nicely, though the dark, wood-paneled interiors seemed better suited for business lunches and dinners than a casual lunch with friends. Still, a restaurant experience is partly what you make of it, so we warmed up the environment by  launching into chatter about how my uncle managed to snag a picture of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall arriving to Westminster Abbey that morning (all purely by accident, mind you).

Under the watchful eye of Harry's petronus, I mean, a glowing stag, I enjoyed my starter of three, plump scallops (the fact they were slightly below room temperature in the middle did not take away from the general deliciousness of it all) and main of a 10-ounce rib-eye steak with bearnaise sauce. My uncle ordered the same, though with pepper sauce, and John opted for a Scottish smoked salmon starter with beetroot and also, rib-eye steak. I mean, when in Scotland ... etc. etc. etc. Except that we were in the middle of Trafalgar Square, but never mind.

Service was polite and attentive, but not overly so. I'd quite like to return in the evening after work for a burger and cocktails. The menu does contain an emphasis on meat (as its heritage is Scottish, after all), but there are a few pickings for all the veggies out there. And though I couldn't quite bring myself to order haggis as my main meal, I would definitely consider it for a starter next time.

My Dad's eyes would have glowed at the varieties of whiskies on display at the bar, and later, I emailed him to say that I'd take him there for lunch or dinner the next time he was in London.

Photo source

Friday, September 14, 2012

Just When You Thought It Couldn't Get Any Better: Cadbury Joins Forces with Philadelphia

This post is for Lizzie McMizzie, who, in response to my recent post on Cadbury's new chocolate covered pretzels, claimed, "Cadbury could cover tires in their chocolate and i'd eat them".

Well, Lizzie, they haven't quite done that, but they've joined forces with Philadelphia to make ... chocolate cream cheese.

It's actually been out for a while, but I hadn't had a chance to try it until a few weeks ago, when my co-worker brought in a sample pack for me to try. She suggested I dip digestive biscuits (I used Rich Teas instead) into the chocolatey spread for the full effect. The result? Chocolate cheesecake with a Rich Tea base.

It's not for everyone, that's for sure. And I'm not even sure I'd want it for breakfast. But as an unhealthy afternoon snack? Bring. It. On.

Photo source

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Tip For Dealing With Homesickness: Make A Video Of The Moments You'll Miss

Sometimes, I'll be walking down the street, heading back to my apartment after work, the gym, or the grocery store and it'll hit me: homesickness. It's anxiety-inducing: gripping me with a fear, tinged with panic, convincing me that I have to get home now. The problem is, I don't even know where my "home" is these days. It's less vested in places and more contained within people. My family: my dad, mom, and brother are my "home". John is my "home". My best friends here and abroad are my "home".

Talking about things I miss about the US and the things I love about the UK on this blog helps me spread out my homesickness, helps make it manageable. Talking through it with friends who are ex-pats also helps.

"Homesickness" for me can have a number of meanings. Sometimes, it means that I long to hear my mother whistling some made-up tune and the sound of her agitated, slippered footsteps going plip-plop, plip-plop on the floor above my bedroom. Other times, it can mean that I simply crave the taste of Denny's cinnamon French toast, drenched in syrup.

But I recently learned a great trick that's really helped me deal: filming short, "home" videos of everyday life when I'm with my family and watching them later on my iPad when I'm feeling down.

For instance, the last time I was back in Washington, I used my iPad to secretly film my dad at the dinner table, after a traditional family meal of hot pot. He was cooking noodles in the pot and getting exasperated at my brother for not being able to find the lid. Hilarity ensued. It was just a little snippet of everyday life in my childhood home; a scene that is familiar and one that I miss. It's only about 30 seconds long, but hearing my Dad utter the phrase, "It needs to be al dente, YOU KNOW?" makes me laugh every time.

I also filmed my mom and dad preparing some of my favorite meals, so I can remember how they cook. Watching one of these with John the other night, I told him how even the mere creak of the cupboard door sounded familiar to me. These are the sounds you hear as a child - the ones that stay with you forever, no matter how old you are or where you're living.

Though I know most of you won't be living in a different country than that of your loved ones, I'm sure many of you have experienced homesickness at some point. How do you handle it?

Here's a little song about "Home" to send you on your way:


Do The Puyallup

When I tell people that I'm from Puyallup, Washington, they can barely pronounce the name, let alone attempt to spell it. That's why I've mostly given up and answer with a vague, "Near Seattle ..." when I'm asked.

Little do they know that Puyallup is home to the largest state fair west of the Mississippi (am I right, or is this just something I heard and took as gospel? Anyway ...). Yup, that's right. Lately, my Facebook feed has exploded with updates from Puyallup like, "Just had my first Fair scone!" or "Elephant ears are YUM!" And for any animal activists out there, you needn't worry: elephant ears are simply extra-large, irregular shaped crepes sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. Yeah, I know. Wait until you've tried the cow pies ...

My memories of the Fair are pretty fond: the smell of fried onions permeating through the Valley, nearly making its way to the North and South Hill of the city and my elementary school being relocated to the fairgrounds one year while the school building was undergoing renovations. There, we sang a song with lyrics that have somehow forever lodged themselves in my memory: "You can do it at a trot, you can do it at gallop / you can do it real slow so your heart won't palipi-tate / just don't be la-ate / Do the Puyallup". Catchy, right? You can buy t-shirts with that slogan emblazoned on them: Do The Puyallup.

As kids, we also got tickets and a half day off for "Fair Day" to enjoy the petting zoo and sweet delights of the food stalls I highlighted above. As teens, you went with your friends at night and stayed out late, going on as many rides as possible.

I have two other, personal ties to the Fair: my Dad designed the main pavilion featured (the website praises its "outdoor aesthetics" - go Dad!), which is used year round for art exhibitions, shows and other gatherings. There's a picture of me at home posed in front of the pavilion, about age 5, eating a cotton candy twice the size of my face that my Dad bought for me. I also remember the two rides he would take me on: Monster Mouse (which I feared and caused a knot in my stomach as soon as we got to the front of the line) and the Giant Slide, which was my favorite. They gave you burlap sacks to sit on and my Dad would sit behind me while I clutched at the sides.

The second tie I have to the Fair is that I was actually the very, very lucky recipient of a four-year college scholarship sponsored by the Fair. It was this generous donation that helped me (or rather, my parents) immensely in financing my four years at Mount Holyoke (which is definitely one of the most expensive private, liberal-arts colleges in the country). No matter how much I thumb my nose at the Fair now, it feels wrong to do so, knowing that I wouldn't be where I am today without it. And having lived in a big city like London for nearly five years now, I'm beginning to feel nostalgic for the Fair's small-town charms. Sort of.

Photo source

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Runny Scrambled Eggs: Yummy or Yucky?

The first time I stayed over at John's mom's house, I managed to make a fool of myself by adding too much English mustard to the delicious roast beef she had made (despite her warning that it was "very strong"), which resulted in a coughing fit and a very red face. Apparently, English mustard is no Hellmann's.

The next morning, she whipped up some scrambled eggs for me, as John told her it that scrambled was the way I liked 'em. Unfortunately, I hadn't realized that "scrambled" in the UK means ... well, quite a bit runnier and uncooked than what we're used to in the US. Many people here actually add a splash of milk to keep that creamy, runny consistency. But quite honestly? Scrambled eggs that runny make me gag (sorry, Alison!).

John detests my overcooked version of scrambled eggs - I end up having to take his off way earlier than mine if I'm making them at home.

Is it strange to ask for your eggs to be "well done" at a restaurant? I'm considering it the next time I order my breakfast out.

Photo source

Thursday, August 30, 2012

It's An American Thing: Alliterative Names For Siblings

John thinks it's hilarious that my brother and I have alliterative first names. Then again, John and I have alliterative first names, as do our best friends, Joe and Jodi (we also know another couple named Jamie and James - and no, it doesn't stop there. We know more "Js".).

Now, this doesn't always hold true, but I tried to explain that a lot of American parents give their children names that begin with the same letter and that this practice isn't just limited to the Kardashians (ahem, Kourtney, Kim, Khloe) or the Duggar family (of 19 Kids and Counting fame).

"At least," I sniped, "Americans don't recycle the same names over and over again for generations." Ooooh ... smackdown.

What do you think? Would you give your children alliterative names? Do you share the same first initial as your sibling?

The wax seal initial necklace above is from Pyrrha, and I kind of want it.

Monday, August 27, 2012

I love London as much as the next person, but ...

... is this too much?

It seems that British high-street favorite, Oasis, has jumped on the #loveLondon/#London2012/Olympic mania and released their own little, London-inspired collection, which includes this London City Scape shift dress (£70) above.

Here's a closer look at the pattern:

What do you think?

I'm not entirely convinced the pattern works - at least, not as a shift. Maybe if it was on a vintage, flared skirt day dress instead? Also, I'm just not sure how I feel about having the O2, of all things, poking out of my chest. The fact that every landmark is drawn, literally, on top of each other, just highlights the overcrowded aspect of this city and kind of gives me a panic attack just from looking at it. Breathe. Breathe.

What I do like, however, is the pattern featured on a tote bag or a notebook - both of which are available from Oasis as well.

Bottom line is, I won't be hitting the stores for this any time soon.

Cadbury Rolls Out Their Own Version Of Chocolate Covered Pretzels

The very first blog post I wrote was on snacks that reminded me of "home". In it, I waxed lyrical about the virtues of chocolate covered pretzels, or Pretzel Flipz, as they're branded in the States. Very salty and equally sweet, they're the one snack I pick up every time I'm back in the US.

But now, a game changer has entered the arena: Cadbury has made their own version of chocolate covered pretzels. I see a future for myself in this country.

I picked up a pack last week to test and brought them along with me on my trip to the Yorkshire Dales.

The result? Well, they're chocolate covered pretzels, made with creamy, Cadbury milk, but they're just not quite as satisfying as the American kind. "They're not ... crunchy enough," John mused between bites. Being the typical American, I observed: "They're not as big." The pretzels themselves also just aren't salty enough. Would it be wrong if I melted them a little and rolled them in some rough sea salt? Probably.

But at least they're here. I wonder how many Brits will actually buy them. Most seem repelled by the suggestion of this salty and sweet combination. "You cannot mix savory and sweet!" I've been told time and time again. "Don't knock it 'til you've tried it," I've responded smugly, tossing Pretzel Flipz back as the people I'm with look on in disgust.

Have you tried Cadbury's new chocolate covered pretzels? Are you a fan of this flavor combination?

Monday, August 20, 2012

London In A Box

In case you're wondering what the new banner on this blog is a photo of, it's Muji's London In A Box, which was a housewarming present from Alice and Matt.

Isn't it adorable? You can buy it here.
I know it's for kids, but it also makes a great piece of interior decoration for adults. I love the fact that we can see so many of the buildings featured (such as the BT Tower and Gherkin) on the skyline outside our apartment window.

For NYC transplants (ahem, Ruth and Suzy!), they also have New York In A Box - and for Francophiles, Paris In a Box.

I kind of wish they would make Seattle In A Box, though I suppose the only structure that's familiar enough to stand-out would be the Space Needle.

Any other cities you think they should add?

Chilango Islington Celebrates Its 5th Anniversary With Free Burritos

Chilango is my ultimate go-to place for Tex Mex in London. Hands down. John and I love it so much, we once drove for nearly an hour from Maida Vale to Angel, just to grab one of their amazing - not to mention, gigantic - burritos.

On Saturday, the Islington branch celebrated their 5th anniversary in Islington by giving away free burritos from 12-8 pm. I texted Ruth to ask if she and Peter had gotten any, but she replied that the line stretched four buildings in length, so they nixed the plan.

But on my way back from dropping off John's bag to him at King's Cross, I couldn't help but jump off the bus in Angel to see what all the fuss was about. The line was long (by now, it had stretched to about six or eight store-fronts in length) but moved fairly quickly. Also, the pain of standing in a long queue was ameliorated by carnival-inspired dancers wearing next-to-nothing performing samba and pulling out random people from the queue (which had now become a crowd) to dance with. So that was fun. And I got chatting to a friendly Northern Irish girl in front of me, who marveled at the thought of a free burrito at the end of the tunnel.

Once inside, we actually had a choice of customized burritos - so they weren't simply wrapping and handing them out. The staff was also extremely friendly and excited, which is surprising, considering they'd been dealing with over 2,000 people that day and I went towards the end of the evening. Very impressive.

I went with this bad boy:

A prawn and char-grilled vegetable burrito with guacamole, 'natch. Needless to say, I was very happy with my decision.

I'd highly recommend it.

It's Cake Time: Patriotic Cakes

I haven't posted a Cake Time post in a loooooooong time. In fact, I think this was the first cake I've ever baked in our new flat. The oven is a lot hotter than the previous apartments I've lived in, so I've had the adjust the temp ever so slightly from the one mentioned in the recipe.

To celebrate the Olympics a couple weekends ago, I hosted a little get-together at my place and made two Victoria sponges (virtually the same as the one from this post). I decorated both with berries, making the American flag on one cake and an attempt at the Union Jack (above) with the other. Aren't I lucky that both countries sport red, white, and blue? It made decorating the flat easier too.

This is a fantastic, easy cake to make and a British classic to boot. It takes hardly any time at all, minimal ingredients, and is basically fool-proof. The addition of berries in the summer make it perfect for picnics in the park as well.

What's your favorite kind of cake?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"Would you like roast potatoes, russet potatoes, mashed potatoes, potato salad, baked potato, or rice pilaf with that?"

When people in the UK ask me what I miss about the US, one word immediately springs to mind: choice.

Admittedly, most of this has to do with food. For instance, the choice to have a Dairy Queen Blizzard at 10:00 p.m. at night, the choices of five different types of tortilla chips in the grocery store and the choices of smoothie combinations at Jamba Juice (or my personal favorite, Emerald City Smoothie) still blows my mind. The other day, Alice came up to my desk at work and said, "I just had the most amazing ice-cream flavor - you'll never guess. Although you might, since you're American. It's called ... rocky road?" I pitied her. I did. What I also did, however, was laugh at her (which was mean). I can't imagine what the ice cream freezer at Tesco was like before the introduction of Ben and Jerry's. Chocolate or vanilla? Even now, B&J flavors are extremely limited in British grocery stores - even the big ones.

Americans are, as the saying goes here, "spoilt for choice" (cue obesity jokes).

Having lived abroad for quite a few years now, I'm no longer used to all this variety. I've simply adapted to the pared down options offered to the rest of the general British public. I can tell I'm used to it because my parents pity me when I go back to visit them, just as I pitied Alice, standing before me at my desk describing her first interaction with rocky road ice-cream.

My mom's favorite phrase to use when I become indecisive over which flavor of chocolate covered pretzels to buy (they come in white, swirls, dark, milk) is, "Buy them all! They're 10 for $10! Buy them all!" At the conclusion of dinner, my dad pushes away from the table, looks at me with a laugh in his eye and bellows, "BLIZZARD!!!" It means that he'll drive to Dairy Queen and pick up the Blizzard of my choice (usually Heath Bar or Banana Cream Pie). When I politely decline after my fifth consecutive night of Blizzards, he looks crestfallen. "Ok-ayy," he says, throwing his hands up. "Up to yo-uu."

This is a long, roundabout way of telling you about the choices that delight me the most when I'm "back home" dining at a typical, suburban, middle-class restaurant: deciding on which salad dressing and side to have.

I love how they come out in a tumble from the server's mouth: "Wouldjoulike (deep breath) ranchcaesaritalianthousandislandfrenchbalsamicvinaigrettesundriedtomatovinaigretteorhoneymustard with your salad?" Seasoned pros like my dad will answer with a confident, "Thousand island", and a nod. I now have to ask once, twice, sometimes even three times for the poor man/woman to repeat him/herself. Then they're on to the sides: "Wouldjoulike (deep breath) roastpotatorussetmashedpotatopotatosaladbakedpotatoorricepilaf with your steak?" The fact that these salads and sides are often on the mediocre side of things doesn't matter to me. What matters is that I'm paying $18.95 for my lobster tail and it comes with a salad and potatoes, y'all!

My heart breaks when I return to the UK to dine in restaurants where "sides" cost upwards of £4.95 each. Sigh.

What's your favorite "side"?

Photo source

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Wearing Your College Logo On Your Sleeve (Or Your Chest, Or Your Leg): It's An American Thing

I love my alma mater. And I kind of like letting everyone know I love it too - especially in Washington state, where I'm constantly surrounded by a sea of purple, "GO DAWGS", sweatshirts or burgundy, "GO COUGS" sweatpants (plus the occasional "PLU Lutes!" or "WWU" baseball caps). Even my dad still wears his "Mount Holyoke Dad" t-shirt I bought for him during my first-year with pride. You go, Dad.

I have two pairs of MHC cheer shorts that are so worn, the elastic is now non-existent and the letters are starting to rub off. But I still wear them around the house.

But outside of the US ... I don't really feel a need to broadcast my university, though a lot of Americans do. Just sit on the Islington towpath for a while and watch the joggers go by: 90% of them are American and 99% of them will be wearing their alma mater across their chests. You go, dudes. There's nothing wrong with this. I'm just saying that it's an American thing.

Sometimes when I'm homesick, putting on my MHC sweatshirt makes me feel somehow more American again. When I do this, John kind of pauses, looks at me and goes, "MOUNT HOLYOKE!", in a really, exaggerated American accent. "HEY Y'ALL, I WENT TO ... MOUNT HOLYOKE!" Then I slam the door in his face.

Anyway, as someone who's lived in the UK for over five years now, I can identify Americans by attire pretty quickly, if they wear the following:

1) Northface. A must. I saw a group of six Americans walk in the other day with six different variations of Northface jackets.

2) Coach. Specifically, a monogrammed Coach bag.

3) Uggs. Actually, the combination of Northface, Coach, and Uggs seems to be the uniform-du-jour for female visiting students and tourists abound.

4) College sweatshirt. You went to an Ivy and want everyone to know? That's cool. You didn't but you still want everyone to know? That's cool too.

The funny thing is, it seems like there's demand in the market for similar collegiate attire in the UK ... except for the fact that no one walks around with "BATH UNIVERSITY" plastered across their chest or down their sleeves. Not really. It doesn't really have the same effect.

So stores like Jack Wills have succumbed to making the "collegiate-chic" look cool and sell faux university-branded tops. In fact, they dub themselves "University Outfitters: Fabulously British". No, there's nothing more un-British than big logos. Leave that to us.

In the meantime, I'm going to buy a pair of those sweatpants up there and pop into Tesco. I WENT TO MOUNT HOLYOKE, Y'ALL!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Fashion Knows No Boundaries - Or, I'll Trade You Swedish Minimalism For Lace Push-Up Bras

The recent influx of American brands and stores in the UK means that I'm starting to have less reasons to shop in the US: four of my favorites, J. Crew, Anthropologie, Forever 21 and Victoria's Secret, have already made their way over here (albeit at twice - or more - the price).

Yesterday, during my run with Elaine along the Southbank (btw, BIG MISTAKE - honestly, the stupidest place to run at the height of Olympics tourist season), I almost ran smack into the back of a man as I passed an activity display that seemed to be sponsored by none other than ... Target. As in, the place I buy my milk, clothes, make-up, and iPad accessories at in the US. Be still, my beating heart. Could the brands of my teenage years, Xhiliration and Mossimo, finally find their way here?

Now I'm just waiting for more European "high street" chains to make their way to the States. Come on, guys - let's make an even trade, no? Swedish minimalism for lace push-up bras?

I recently read that Nordstrom in San Francisco Center is getting a Topshop concession. But how about COS (pictured, above right)? Or Zara in places other than NYC? I think Oasis and Warehouse are beginning to make their way over as well.

Even my highly impressionable and fashion-forward (read: dapper) little brother bemoaned the lack of European styles in the US. After hearing him admit to shopping at the cheaply made and highly uninspired American mall fixture, Express, I clutched his arm in sympathy. "I knowwwwww," he wailed. He's a smaller build, so suits the likes of Topman, COS, Bershka, and Zara. Previously, he could only find slim-fit pants and shirts on family trips to Uniqlo in Hong Kong, but visiting London opened a whole other world for him. When he visited last year, I took him on the best possible mini-shopping spree my modest publishing salary could afford.

So I'd really appreciate it if Massimo Dutti, Mango, COS, and my other (typically Spanish, sometimes British, and always Scandinavian) favorites would make their way across the pond. Soon. All this cross-continental swapping is getting me really excited. Fashion knows no boundaries.

Photo source

What did you think of the London 2012 Opening Ceremony?

So now that the Olympics are well under way, what did you think of the Opening Ceremony?

I was lucky enough to attend the final technical rehearsal last Wednesday, so had a sneak peek at pretty much everything that happened, minus the celebs and the Queen jumping out of the helicopter, of course.

At first, I was a little skeptical about the whole "English countryside" concept, complete with walking "clouds":

But I found myself very moved by the use of Nimrod from Elgar's Enigma Variations to illustrate Danny Boyle's vision of the "Isles of Wonder". Audience participation was critical here, as you can see:

That part was fun. Apt and appropriate.

For those watching on TV, I could see how it might have been a little less-than-spectacular way to open the Games, but in the stadium, I can tell you that it was quite stirring and emotional - even for a dress rehearsal!

By the time we transitioned into the Industrial Revolution, I was hooked: the staging was jaw-dropping and more importantly, original. The dusky sky also provided the perfect backdrop, as seen below:

The culmination of this part of the program into the forging of the Olympic rings was spectacular:

Don't tell me you weren't impressed by that?! I think, at that exact moment, I felt really proud to be  Londoner. I thought of all the volunteers within the park and across London, and all those performing "on stage" that night (which included Lauren), and it made me little teary!

It wasn't without its flaws, I'll admit: the NHS bit was cute, but seemed forced. The giant baby's head at the end? Creepy and kind of reminiscent of those baby cake wrecks circulated via email a while ago. Just ... no. And, why?

Even ol' Duck-Face AKA Voldey AKA He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named made an appearance. I'm not even going to comment on "Tubular Bells" being chosen as the soundtrack for this part. If you're American who grew up in the 90s, that just stirs up bad memories of this particular CD (which I've just noticed apparently has only Part 1 of Tubular Bells - I can only imagine what joy Part 2 brings).

Let's just say that I thought the beginning was better than the end, though guest appearances by J.K.Rowling, Rowan Atkinson, The Queen, and Daniel Craig James Bond made up for it. I was also very, very pleased that Akram Khan (whom I blog about on here a LOT) and his company were chosen to close the ceremony, accompanied by one of my new favorites, Emeli Sande. It was a beautiful piece and Shame that NBC in the States cut his performance. Shame on them, really.

What did you think?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Olympic Torch Relay - Or, Should I Get Off This Bus or Not?

This morning, as I turned the key in my door to leave for work, I froze: it was my brother's birthday. Too late for a card, not too late for a Facebook message. I didn't feel *too* guilty - after all, we'd gone shopping together when I was back recently and I bought him a jacket he wanted. Not too shabby for an otherwise absent sister.

But then as I got settled on the bus, I saw this:

Hmm ... a red bus with arms, popping out of Upper Street, and tons of people with cameras at the ready lined up on the meridian ... was I forgetting something? Oh yes, the Olympic Torch Relay, which I missed last weekend when it was going through Hackney.

'The Olympic Torch is coming through my old neighborhood!!!! OMG!!' I typed excited to my mom via my Blackberry. 'Really?' she replied. 'Didn't think that place was a big deal.' No love for Islington from my mom, then. Sheesh.

So then I had this inner argument with myself as the bus sailed down past Angel station, then Sadler's Wells: should I get off or not? On one hand, I envied the Islington-set, clutching their paper flags and coffees, but on the other, I desperately needed to get to work early to sort out some emails. 'That's a lame excuse,' I said aloud. 'This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!' (I think I was still on a high from yesterday's performance)

My decision was kind of made for me when I spotted Alice and her boyfriend, Matt, near Exmouth Market. "I see you," I said in a stalker's voice, after dialing her number. "I think you should get off and meet us on the corner," she replied, as if she had been expecting me to call all along. "Then we can walk to work together."

So this was the scene when I got off the bus:

You know it's serious when the po-po arrive on their sparkly bikes.

But what I didn't know was that the relay would feature some "pre-show" entertainment from all the Olympics sponsors, including Coke:

And Lloyds, which - in my books - won the award for the most awkward/random float/car/van-thingy and "street performers" ever. Check out the girl in the middle. Can you imagine what her brief was? "Hi, yeah, we'd like you to do some acrobatics, periodically, just ahead of the Olympic Torch. You'll be accompanied by a guy jumping on those ... bouncing ... things. Guy on the bouncing thing? Yeah. We're gonna to need you to blow this whistle. At random intervals."

Then the "official" bus came along, which was kind of cool:

And then there were whispers in the crowd of who'd be carrying the torch. "I heard it was David Walliams!" someone said, jostling at my shoulder. (I don't expect any Americans to know who that is ... unless you're a fan of Little Britain. No? Me neither.)

He showed up a few minutes later, all bronzed and fit. David Walliams is neither tan nor fit (though he did swim 140-miles in the Thames for charity). "WHO'S THAAAT?" I screeched, as only an American can, when he passed. "Seriously," I said to Alice. "Who the hell was that?" (I still don't know. Anyone?)

In the end, I still made it to work early and scored myself a little flag that I can wave on Saturday at the Gymnastics. The moral of the story? Always get off the bus.

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