Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Birthday Dinner at Paramount, Centrepoint on Oxford Street

So, I just might have received the best belated birthday present yet: last week, Tom and Cristy presented me and John with tickets to the viewing gallery at The Shard. Made entirely of glass and standing at over 1,000 feet, this is now the tallest structure in the European Union. As I stood at its base waiting for a bus in Bermondsey last month, I almost toppled backward (in true, comic style) while attempting to look up at the building. Typical.

While our much-anticipated visit to the Shard may have to wait until we get some clearer skies here in London, I surprised John with dinner atop Centrepoint last night as a birthday treat. Like many other people out there, I do find - to some extent - restaurants and bars at the top of buildings rather gimmicky and unoriginal. I also feel like they're the kind of places people take each other to on first/second/third dates to impress them. "I just want you to know that I didn't take you here to impress you," I said to John as soon as we sat down. After 8 years together, I'm not sure there's much more to be impressed by (although he still impresses me daily, but that's for a sappier post - like, never). "I took you here because I know you love skylines!" And he loved it. Who wouldn't? I don't care how cynical or cool you are - seeing cities from above (for example, I have never, ever seen the British Museum's glass domed ceiling from a bird's eye view until that evening) is amazing. One of the highlights of our trip to Bangkok last year was having drinks at the Lebua Sky Bar and seeing the city from a similar vantage point.

I was impressed by the restaurant as I had booked a Toptable deal (3 courses for £38.50, which is excellent, considering that you can select any course from the ala carte menu - sorry, was that tacky that I just named the price on here? Oh, well.) and (politely) asked to be seated at a window table (which was granted) and for John's dessert to arrive with the words, "Happy Birthday", written on it, plus a candle. Which all happened. Of course.

(Sorry, is it tacky that a) I took a photo, or rather, made John take a photo of his own dessert b) posted it on Instagram and c) posted it here? Oh, well.)

Had it been a Friday and not Monday night, I would have easily liked to ascend to the viewing gallery for cocktails after dinner. But alas, the pumpkin carriage taxi 38 bus beckoned across Tottenham Court Road and we descended 32 floors instead, back to earth.

"One on One" at KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin

What do you do when you only have one and a half days in Berlin? This was the toughest decision to make during our plane ride. Armed with only a DK Top 10 guide and some scribbled suggestions from a co-worker about which restaurants to visit, we had no idea where to begin.

We really wanted to experience as much of the city as we possibly could - both the go-to tourist destinations (like Checkpoint Charlie, Brandenburg Gate, the Reistag, etc.) and those places that were slightly-off-the-beaten-path (refer to the previous post for an amazing bar that John found for a nightcap one evening).

And even though I gawped at the majesty of Brandenburger Tor set against the clear, blue sky we had on Saturday, and was moved by the personal accounts compiled in the rather ramshackle Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, it was an exhibition called "One on One" at KW Institute for Contemporary Art that left the greatest impression on me during my short visit to Berlin.

Arranged over three floors, the exhibition itself consists of several small, constructed rooms, which are accessed by one person at a time (hence, the title, "One on One"). Upon our arrival, we were given a guide/notes/floorplan to the exhibition and a door hanger, which is then hung on the door knob of the room you wish to enter to signal that the room is occupied. Clever, right?

Like this:

The fun part is not knowing what to expect in each room, but I'll admit that it was - on every occasion - a very intense experience. In fact, one performance piece was so terrifying and claustrophobic (I won't give too much away!), John said he felt genuinely afraid, but then countered this with: "... but it was one of the best things I've ever experienced!" Needless to say, I didn't go into that room.

I loved that the pieces forced you, as the sole occupant of each room, to engage with the artwork. Often when I entered a room - for example, FORT's "The Charmer", which contained a small but loud, humming refrigerator in a dimly, yellow-lit room with linoleum flooring and depressing yellow painted walls - I felt a strong urge to walk straight out. Some felt overwhelmingly foreboding, or sinister - others filled me with downright dread. But I didn't. Instead, I didn't think too much about it but let the art linger with me instead. As the viewer, you're free to view/experience the art however you'd like in the room you're in. I contemplated sitting down on the floor for a few. 

My favorite installation was Annika Kahrs' (which, I am about to give away, so if you're planning a visit to this exhibition, stop reading now!) and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since we left! 

As I opened the door to this particular room, I heard a beautiful recording (or so I thought!) of Brahm's Waltz, Opus 39. I'd actually been hearing it as I walked around the floor earlier, but was puzzled as to why it was repeatedly - and abruptly - starting and stopping. Upon entering the room, I found myself in a small corridor that featured a second, more ornate and beautifully decorated door to the left. As I gripped the handle of this door, the music became louder. I pushed the door open. 

Two pianists were seated at a grand piano, performing the Brahms. The catch? As soon as the door opened, they stopped playing, hands folded in their laps, and simultaneously turned to stare at me - expressionless, but with just a hint of disdain. I did what other people would probably do in that situation: laughed nervously, nearly apologized, and hastily retreated, closing the door behind me. Of course, the second the door closed, the music began again. I laughed, suddenly understanding that the joke was on me. I opened the door again. This time, I was braver, and walked into the room. I looked at the music over their shoulders and wondered what would happen if I played a line, an octave higher. They sat motionless and continued to stare at the music. I laughed again to myself and finally left the room for good, causing the music to begin again.

I've never experienced an exhibition that so actively engaged with the individual and was incredibly disturbed, delighted, and thrilled by "One on One". I doubt it'll be brought to London, but if you happen to be in Berlin in the next few weeks, I highly, highly recommend a visit to the gallery.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Berlin: Where (And What!) We Ate

So, I think you know me well enough to know that I'm fanatical about food. Always. What's a trip away without the obligatory food photos? And poor John. In each case, he waited patiently for me to take a photo and fiddle with my phone before even being allowed to take a bite. I'm awful.

Here are the highlights:

Kaisersaal Cafe 

We found this beautiful cafe while wandering around the Sony Center in Potsdamer Platz on Saturday morning. In search of a hearty, German breakfast that would keep us going in the -8 degree Celsius weather (which sliced right through my fleece-lined tights, btw) we stepped into the opulent surroundings of Kaisersaal, which was (unbeknownst to us at the time) originally part of the famous Hotel Esplanade where Kaiser Wihelm II hosted parties and the likes of Charlie Chaplin stayed. Virtually destroyed by the bombings in World War II, the Kaisersaal and breakfast hall were all that remained intact, and have now been incorporated into the Sony Center.

We were served by the most charming German waiter, who claimed that John's our German was so "gut", he assumed we were German and didn't need English menus. Obvs.

Anyway, we had this:

... which consisted of a selection of warm breads, cold meats, and cheeses, along with the most delicious scrambled eggs and chives I've ever had. The cafe was also empty (the center became busier as the morning progressed), so we had a lovely corner seat all to ourselves. Our energy-filled breakfast lasted us until the afternoon and I'm still thinking of the warm, freshly baked rolls above.

Lutter & Wegner

I'd been told before the trip that I had to have dinner at Lutter & Wegner on Charlottenstrasse as its reputation for being one of Berlin's oldest and most traditional German restaurants was truly one to experience. The restaurant's environment is relaxed, yet distinguished, and the guests dining there certainly dressed the part (minus one awesome guy with a huge, unruly beard and size XXL-tie-dyed t-shirt). Although the menu changes (for example, the current menu shown on the website isn't the same as the one we had), the choices are traditional: everything from currywurst to, of course, Wiener schnitzel, is on the cards.

I had a delicious ox dish in horseradish sauce with potatoes and swede, while stealing sips from John's crisp glass of Riesling (Lutter & Wegner's own):

And John had a very famous dish (so famous that the restaurant won first place in the [insert name of dish] championships), that I just can't remember the name of. The food had a real home-style taste to it: hearty and comforting. Perfect for a cold, winter's night but not over the top or overdone. I'm sure there are plenty of nice places to eat out in Berlin, but for that evening, we had both wanted to try something traditional and authentic.

Bar 3

Afterward, just to offset my guidebook restaurant choices for the day, John found us an ultra-cool (i.e. one that made Hackney hipsters look like the wannabes they are) bar for a nightcap - or, as he put it - one where "real Berliners hang out" called, Bar 3 (or "Bar Drei", if you're a "real Berliner"). With its dimly lit surroundings, beer served in slim, tonic glasses and chain-smoking, turtleneck-wearing, 30-something clientele, Bar 3 was clearly the place to be on a Saturday night. The barman (in vintage Nikes, natch) doubled as a DJ and we were lucky enough to find a seat to perch on before the room became too crowded. The only downside was that everything I owned (including my hair), reeked of smoke when we left. But at least we were in with the cool kids. And that's probably all that mattered at that moment.

G. Buchwald Bakery

I grew up eating apple cake and kartoffelsalat (potato salad) from our local German bakery in Washington. When the restaurant closed down, I was devastated. So when we practically fell into Buchwald after a hunger-building power walk through Tiergarten on Sunday morning and asked for "fruestueck" (sorry, I'm too lazy to do umlauts right now), the lady behind the counter gesticulated to the cakes and replied, in German, that only cakes and sweets were available - I nearly kissed her. For there, nearly center stage in the display, was the most glorious offering of apple cake that I have ever seen. And oh, was it divine. Who cares that we were having cake for breakfast?! The apples were soft, tart, cold, and juicy, carefully layered between a perfectly baked base and crumbly, iced top. John and I also shared a piece of the cherry cake and Baumkuchen - a dark-chocolate covered, layered cake baked over an open flame (it looks even more incredible than it sounds, believe me), which the family-owned bakery has been making for over 150 years.

While we were eating, a man came in and selected around fifteen slices of different cakes - some covered in fruits as exotic as dragon fruit, and others topped with white, milk, and dark chocolate. I can't even begin to imagine what birthday cakes are like in Germany!

We were absolutely spoiled by all the amazing food we had in Berlin (especially the cakes!). I can't wait to go back and try other places too.

A Surprise Trip to Berlin

So, it's John's 30th birthday today (happy birthday, John!) and, as a surprise, I organized a weekend away to Berlin. Here we are enjoying a pre-flight meal at Cafe Rouge (it was the best that Gatwick could offer, unfortunately) while watching planes prepare for takeoff.

It was an amazing trip: Berlin is possibly the coolest city I've ever been to, in every sense of the word. At one point, I said to John that I could totally move there - and I meant it. It's like all the cool parts of London featured in one, centralized area - but with friendlier people and terrific architecture.

Stay tuned to find out more about what/where we ate and what we saw!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Dream-cation For My Parents: A Luxury Stay At Le Bristol Paris

As I get older, I'm finding it increasingly rewarding to give my parents gifts that I think they'll really love. After years of spoiling me rotten, I really want to return the favor - as much as I can afford to. For his birthday a few weeks ago, I bought my dad an iPad because I knew he'd been secretly wanting one ever since he got me one last year (and also because I thought that FaceTime would be a great way for me to stay in touch with my parents more often). For Christmas, my mom received a Jo Malone fragrance collection that she'd had her eye on for a while.

My parents are world travelers; they instilled in me a love for traveling, trying different cuisines, and exploring other cultures at a very early age. My dad, especially, has a penchant for France. He loves the culture, the food, the wine - I'm sure if he was fluent in the language, he'd have no hesitation of retiring there. As an architect, the buildings of Europe provide hours of sketch-book opportunities and endless exclaims of wonder and amazement from my dad. I took him to Paris a few years ago for a quick, weekend stay, and I'll never forget the moment he walked into the courtyard of the Louvre: I thought he was going to have a heart-attack! He stood, stock-still, in front of I.M. Pei's magnificent glass pyramid entrance and said, in a semi-choked voice, "I think I need a moment alone." Afterward, we ate freshly baked croissants in front of the Notre Dame. Those memories bring me both joy and tears.

I also have great memories of the quaint B&B I booked for us near Blenheim Palace in Oxford. Not only did the hotel's back door lead immediately to one of the palace ground's gates, the room we stayed in was called "Churchill", much to the delight of my British history-obsessed father. We had tea in town, where I showed him my favorite spots as a student, and took the Oxford Tube bus back to London. He sat at the front of the bus and stared out the window the entire journey back, like a small child, watching the English countryside whiz by. There comes a point in everyone's life, I think, when you become an adult, and you begin to view your parents as equals or - as I observed my dad that day - almost childlike. And those moments of revelation are the moments that make me really sad, because I feel like time is slipping away.

So, this morning, I'm dreaming of gifting a stay at Le Bristol Hotel in Paris to my mom and dad. This may never happen, as one night's stay in the lowest price room costs about as much as one month's rent for me, but still, I can dream - right? John recently stayed there on business and gushed that it was "the nicest hotel I've ever been in".  (If it looks familiar, that's because its panoramic suite was used as a backdrop for Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. Yup. That one.) With beautiful views of Paris from atop private terraces and sumptuously decorated rooms, Le Bristol is where my parents deserve to stay. If my publishing salary can stretch, I may save up for it this year.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Tea and Cake at The Deptford Project

Yesterday, John and I celebrated our eight-year anniversary by going house hunting. On our way back from Greenwich, we stopped in for some tea and cake at this cafe, housed in a disused 1960's South East train carriage and part of The Deptford Project in South East London.

Here's the inside:

And a shot from above of our cake and dominoes game:

Sadly, the cake was dire (the icing seemed to be made entirely of cream cheese and hardly any icing sugar, and the cake itself was gooey and stodgy), but the staff was friendly and the cafe itself seemed like a terrific place to spend a couple of hours reading, sitting, and chatting away.

And though I found my dream home (which would set us back, oh, about a cool £2m) in Greenwich proper (on a street named "Royal Hill" no less) I can see why places like New Cross, Deptford, and Peckham would be authentically "cool" places to live - without the try-hard aspect that Dalston and much of East London seem to have.

Meanwhile, if there's a generous benefactor out there who would like to help me out with that house on Royal Hill ... you know where to reach me.


Snow Day

So, it snowed about ... oh, half an inch, maybe? And, of course, all of Britain freaked out. All planes were grounded, people were falling over everywhere, headlines splashed the front pages saying things like, "CHAOS ACROSS BRITAIN" and "STRANDED ON THE M4 [freeway] AND LEFT TO DIE". Okay, maybe I made up that last one, but seriously - these people have never experienced an East Coast winter. We used to have two or three feet of snow at Mount Holyoke and I'd pray for my classes to be cancelled, only to be repeatedly told that everything would be running as usual and all assignments would be expected on time. Sigh. I would have cried, but I think I tried that once and my tears nearly froze on my face. L. L. Bean got a lot of business from me my first year.

Watching the snow flurries from work (above) was a real treat, however. Snow tends to make everything prettier - even if it's just a light dusting. Like icing sugar.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

London Art Fair + Dinner at Masala Zone = Winning Combination

Yesterday, my co-worker gave me her private view tickets to the London Art Fair, which I've always wanted to go to. It takes place every year at the Business Design Centre in Islington, which is super convenient for us, since it means a quick bus ride home (hey, I'm selfish on weeknights like that). Featuring over 100 galleries, many of whom I recognized from working in illustrated art publishing, the fair showcased 20th-century modern and contemporary British art in an open "gallery" setting (as pictured above). Even though it was exceptionally crowded when we arrived at 6:30, it was still lovely to be able to dip in and out of each gallery with a glass of champagne (for John) or Macallan whisky (for me - I know, I know) in hand.

I didn't know if photos were allowed and thought that artists and gallery owners would be sensitive to this (though I saw lots of people snapping photos on their phones), but one of the first pieces I happened upon was this gorgeous installment:

If I had a few spare thousand pounds and a large white wall in my non-existent swanky, £2.5 million+ London home to spare, I'd definitely shell out a few pounds for this beautiful, vibrant painting. Unfortunately, I didn't catch the artist's name, so am not able to credit him/her properly here, though would be happy to if someone reading this knows.

Having said that, when I do own my own home (which I hope will be soon!), I would love to spend my money on original artwork for my walls. It's unique, special, and so meaningful to have. In fact, I was particularly taken by Alexander Korzer-Robinson, who makes book sculptures out of old, discarded encyclopedias:

 Not only does his work represent the many dreams of my childhood, but I love the statement behind his craft (which can be read on his website I linked to above). The 2D photos don't do it justice and I've just discovered that he also sells hand cut prints, which are totally affordable at around £100-195. That's what I'll be saving up for on my next payday. 

After browsing the fair for a good hour or two, it was time to search for some food and we headed up Upper Street without much enthusiasm for the myriad of restaurants available to us before hitting Masala Zone, which - despite it being a chain - I'd never tried before.

But OMG, it was DELICIOUS. I ordered the "Regular Thali", which includes your choice of one curry, a poppadom, dal, two chutneys, sag aloo, a potato dish, AND rice. Whew! I'm not sure how John coped with the "Grand Thali", because I felt super full after mine (but that didn't stop me from running for the bus later). The service was possibly the friendliest I've ever had in London chain (not known for smiles around here) and it was just a really fun place to be. Now I think I might be addicted.

I went to bed last night with Alexander Korzer-Robinson's books swirling around in my dreams and my stomach threatening to burst, but just felt so lucky to be living in such a culturally vibrant city.


Monday, January 14, 2013

You've Been Style Stalked

Is this you? Because I totes style stalked you last week. I stepped out behind you on High Holborn and couldn't resist snapping a photo of your very-well-put-together outfit.

It's not hard to experience outfit-envy in London - people tend to dress so much, dare I say, better and just, in general, smarter than where I'm from in the States. Case in point, the girl above. I'm not Yvan Rodic or Scott Schuman - I know she's wearing 50 shades of black, but, to me, they're all perfect shades of black: from her chic, patent loafers, to her ankle-skimming waxed skinnies (yes, I pay attention to that level of detail), to her salt-and-pepper tweed jacket and black leather handbag ... I was in love.

When I go back to Washington, my mom (I'm ashamed to admit) funds my massive shopping sprees, after which I spend about half an hour to forty-five minutes in my room, ripping out price tags and carefully storing each piece away in my suitcase for transportation back to London. She never gets to see me wear the clothes we so carefully pick out together, and that makes me sad (note: having an iPhone has changed this now, though - I try and take a picture of my work outfit, every day, so she can see the fruits of our collective labor).

So yeah. I style-stalk. No shame there.

The Taste of Memories: Chinese Bakeries

Approximately 2-3 times per year (sometimes more, sometimes less), my family makes the 3-hour drive up to Vancouver, B.C. to ... eat. Yes, if you haven't cottoned on already, food is a huge part of my life and was an even bigger part of my upbringing. We obsess about what we're going to eat, when, where, and, when in Vancouver, tend to make reservations for dinner at the lunch table. True story.

We may be frugal about other purchases in life, but not when it comes to food. My dad, for example, had no qualms about spending $154 on a geoduck dish (yes, one dish) at a recent dinner out in Richmond. And before we leave for the Washington State border, my mom makes sure to stop by the Chinese bakery in one of Richmond's many Chinese shopping malls to buy several bags (which must be ordered the day before) of raisin bread, which is just like the kind they make in Hong Kong.

While we were there this past Christmas, I snapped these pics to remind myself what sets Chinese bakeries apart from any other bakery in the "Western" world:

Chinese cakes are almost always topped with fresh fruit, and the sponge is lighter in texture and flavor in comparison to "Western" cakes, if you will. There's a photo of me at home on my first birthday, fork poised mid-air over a cake elaborately decorated with fresh strawberries and white frosting that my dad had purchased from a Chinese bakery in Seattle. Aside from looking absolutely delighted at so much fanfare and fuss, I note that my mother has dressed me to match the cake: in a frilly red and white dress.

Then there are the egg custard tarts (below, center), which were also a childhood favorite of mine:

They always remind me of my beloved grandpa (on my mother's side), who passed away a few years ago, because he used to order them for me whenever we went out for dim sum in San Francisco (where he and my grandma had a second home). I remember playing a rhyming game with him on our way in to town and making him laugh with a short limerick in Cantonese about taking the BART to eat "dan tart" (egg custard tart in Cantonese).

During this same trip to Vancouver, I squealed with joy when I discovered a Taiwanese candy shop selling Sugus, a soft, chewy candy reminiscent of Starbursts, which were ubiquitous to my childhood my trips to Hong Kong. My mom would keep them in her purse to reward me and my brother for our patience or good behavior during long car rides or visits with relatives that dragged on a bit longer than a child of five could usually bear.

So, I - like so many others - associate food (and in particular, cakes and sweets), with terrific childhood memories. These tastes and flavors help me transcend continents and time, to a place where all I knew and felt was happiness and love.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

London Short Film Festival

If you live in London, I highly recommend subscribing to Londonist's email newsletter - it's the only email circular that I look forward to receiving every day. Full of ideas of what to do, where, on the cheap (often free), Londonist has saved me several times when I've woken up in a total panic on Saturday morning, realizing I have absolutely nothing on my agenda and will probably waste away my weekend by aimlessly roaming my local area, desperately searching for a play or concert I kind-of-don't-really-actually-want-to-go-to or worst yet: vegging out in front of the TV (that's what being sick is for).

Anyway, thanks to Londonist, I discovered that the London Short Film Festival is currently on (January 4th-13th) and I was certain that there'd be something knocking around in Dalston. Sure enough, I slept in just in time for New Shorts #3: Romance at the Rio, a series of seven films with, you guessed it, a romantic theme, being shown at Rio Cinema, one of my favorite places in Dalston (and a convenient 15-minute walk for me). Intrigued, I grabbed tickets and we headed up there after a lazy lunch at home.

I'm so glad I booked, because the hipsters of Dalston and surrounding area turned up in abundance to this portion of the film festival, making it a completely full house. After a short welcome from Philip Ilson, the festival director, and shoutouts to some of the directors of the films who were in the audience, the show started.

You can learn more about each individual film here, but in short, I really enjoyed the afternoon. Highlights for me included Simon Warwick Green's Albatross: A Love Story, an eccentric look at very common anxieties we come across in life; Andrew Morris & Rob Silva's The Beyond, which quite cleverly accomplished that sought-after "twist in the story" within a very limited period of time (and succeeded in making me tear up, as well); plus Joseph Spray's The Eternal Not, a hilarious, but slightly sinister short based on Shakespeare's All's Well That Ends Well. All three films had terrific acting and witty, superb dialogue and direction. This wasn't, unfortunately, true of all the shorts that were shown, but that's part of the fun of seeing something on this shorter, bite-sized scale - you never know what to expect.

Aubaine, Mayfair

Last night, John and I thought we deserved an end-of-the-short-week treat (well, going back to work in January is supremely painful), so he booked us a table at Aubaine Mayfair, one of seven restaurants in this delightfully French franchise that has locations in other similarly well-kept areas such as Kensington, Hampstead and Wimbledon.

This particular location is situated a stone's throw away from Dover Street Market and Mahiki, making it somewhat desirable for those who are into celeb-spotting, though the restaurant was curiously quiet (read: empty) for a Friday night. Then again, it was only the 4th of January and the other regular patrons were probably still enjoying their Christmas cruises around St. Barts etc.

Because we booked online, we were offered the option of the set menu, which consisted of the choice of three soups as the starter and any main course from the ala carte menu - you simply pay the price of the main only. Inspired by this, John chose the mushroom and truffle oil veloute, while I had the Jerusalem artichoke soup. Both were very similar in appearance, but were nevertheless delicious, steamy bowls of nourishment - lifting us out of our post-holiday blues straightaway. And I must say, even though I participate in bread strikes as long as I can stand it, even I couldn't keep away from the ridiculously good, very authentically French bread.

For our mains, John had the lobster spaghetti and I went for moules frites, as the last time I had the dish was atop Mont Saint-Michel, which was several, several years ago. I was surprised that both dishes were almost American-portion sized and neither of us could finish ours. Two glasses of sauvignon blanc, two macarons (made in-house) and an espresso later, our total bill came to £70 - a reminder to me that set menus are appealing, just as long as you don't order any extras.

The service at Aubaine is really faultless, though I wonder if this would have been different had the restaurant been full. What I love most about it is its interior: full of pale greys and whites, offset with a splash of bright pink and glassware filled to the brim with pastel macarons and meringues. I was thinking it's the perfect place to have a girly lunch or coffee, had it not been for the floor to ceiling back-lit shelves replete with magnums of champagne, wine and other serious-looking bottles that would also make it a sophisticated date-night/business meeting choice.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The "Aisles" of Wonder: The Target Food Aisles

Today I had a business lunch with an Australian who told me, in no uncertain terms, that she found American food "repulsive". She said she had recently been traveling down South through Memphis and New Orleans and wanted yoghurt plus fresh fruit for breakfast, but was offered fried chicken instead.

(I don't know about you, but that sounds like a damn good breakfast.)

But you know, I get it. Sometimes you want to detox and having a fried chicken wing at 8:00 just isn't that appealing. Maybe you need a side of kale. Or something. However, to label American food - in general - as "repulsive"? Really? I SO BEG TO DIFFER.

See Exhibit A:

The Goldfish Cracker display at Target. BOOM. These little buddies are anything but repulsive. They're cute. Cute enough to take home. In fact, you could even have them for breakfast, sprinkled on top of yogurt, with a side of fresh fruit - if you wanted to. There are goldfish for all sorts of tastes and moods; sweet and savory. I picked up a pack of Vanilla Cupcake Goldfish, but am secretly intrigued by the Space Goldfish too.

Exhibit B:

Then there were the Cinnamon Toast Crunch MUFFINS. The Reese's Puffs MUFFINS. Imagine what "Bring 'n Bake" Fridays in the UK workplace would be like if these babies were available there. JUST IMAGINE. Yes, I know, I could make these from scratch too. BUT THEY'RE IN A BOX. That's all I'm saying.

Exhibit C:

I'm lucky I was by myself when I saw this because I actually let out a little yelp. OF JOY, THAT IS. Who knew macaroni and cheese came in so many varieties? And yes, I had macaroni and cheese for breakfast two days in a row. It was just what I craved. I brought two boxes back to London. John doesn't eat cheese, so I plan to eat this when he's away, accompanied by the not-so-dulcet tones of the Kardashians on the sole British television channel that delivers me my fix of trashy American reality TV shows (please don't tell my dad, who spent a fortune on my private college education).

When I encounter the food aisle at Target, I swoon. I want to lie down on the linoleum tiles and make snow angels on the shop floor. I want to press my face up to the glass refrigerator doors and shower myself with Annie's Mac 'N Cheese pasta shapes. In short, I am happy - surrounded by so much frozen food, junk food, processed food, and choice. I am anything but repulsed.

I hope my Australian colleague does not catch sight of Denny's Hobbit-themed menu, which is the subject of my post below. She might throw up.

Denny's Unveils Its Hobbit-themed Menu

I know, I just announced this as if Prada had announced a new diffusion line.

But anyway.

If you've been following Angloyankophile since The Beginning, you'll also know that I always make a stop at Denny's when I'm back in the States. At this point, I feel that it's very important to point out to my British readers that Denny's is a chain of diners that is about a step up from McDonald's. There isn't really anything special about it (truckers, watery coffee, bad perms - get the idea?) except for the fact that I'm slightly obsessed with their French Toast Slam: two pieces of cinnamon French Toast, two eggs (cooked over-easy, for me), two slices of bacon, and two breakfast sausage links. My stomach's grumbling now just thinking about it.

On Christmas Eve, I made my brother have breakfast with me at Denny's and was greeted with this menu:

And this:

HA! Having just seen The Hobbit earlier that week, I found this to be delightfully cheesy, embarrassing, and fun all at the same time (for the record, Justin ordered the Shire Sausage Skillet, which was ah-mazing. I don't want to actively encourage anyone to go to Denny's, but ...). I love how this happened in the States but would never, ever, in a million years, happen in the UK. I mean ... Gandalf's Gobble Melt? I die.

The best part was overhearing this exchange at the table behind us:

Waitress: "What can I get for you today?"

Man (after much thought and deliberation): "Well, I guess I'll do the Hobbit thing. I'll have the Shire Sausage Skillet."

The next best part was the fact that Justin received The Hobbit trading cards, since he ordered off of the Hobbit menu. Score.

The "Hobbit thing", indeed.

New Year's Resolutions

What are your New Year's resolutions? Here are mine:

1. Make my bed every day - yep, that's right. I never make my bed. Considering the fact that it consists of a comforter and four pillows, I'm not sure why it's so difficult to do every morning as soon as I wake up. Hold on ... I've got to go do it ... (Note: I mentioned this resolution to John and he looked up from his iPad mini long enough to say, "Wasn't that your resolution last year?" How encouraging.)

2. Read more (good) books - while I was back in the US for two weeks over Christmas, I finished reading three books, including two that I loved (Sherman Alexie's newest, Blasphemy, and Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, which I highly, highly recommend but isn't available in the UK yet) and one that I didn't really (Kim Sunee's Trail of Crumbs). Curling up on the couch for an hour or two with absolutely no distractions except for the beautiful pink sky (above), I relished in the delight and joy reading good books affords.

3. Be open to making new friends - when I first moved to the UK, and even in the years that followed, I went on several friend-dates and met a lot of new people. Sometimes we clicked, sometimes we didn't, but it was a terrific feeling to expand my friendship circle and establish myself in a new city. These days, I'm very fortunate to have a core group of close friends here in London (and Edinburgh!) but find myself reluctant to meet new people, which is a terrible attitude to have. Friends are so important, and I definitely hope to form new friendships in 2013.

4. Let go - anyone who knows me knows that I over-worry, over-prepare, and just over-freakout in general. I'd love to take the same, calm, forgiving approach I have on the yoga mat, apply it to daily life, and not get into such a big huff over the little (or even big) things.

And finally ...

5. Blog more - when I first started Angloyankophile, I tried to post every single day. In 2010, I blogged 249 times, but this dropped to 68 in 2011 and 54 in 2012. It wasn't for the lack of interesting things happening in my life (for example, I didn't even blog about my amazing experience at the Olympics! Or Thailand!), but rather that I just became ... a little lazy. Looking back, blogging every day  with a full time job, active social life and after-work activities (ahem, yoga and orchestra rehearsals) might not have been a feasible goal, but I did write and share a lot - and got a lot back in return. I love reading the nice (and sometimes, even the not-so-nice) comments I receive and finding readers with similar, shared experiences. When I don't write as often, my life feels jumbled and out-of-sync. So I'm going to try harder. Thank you so much for reading!

Here's to a new year.
© angloyankophile

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