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.

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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.

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