Friday, November 29, 2013

One Necklace, Two Ways: How to Style a (Cheap) Statement Necklace

So, disclaimer: this isn't, by any means, a fashion blog. It's a blog about my life in London and how this intersects with my various interests ... and I wouldn't even say that "fashion" is one of my interests. BUT ... shopping is! And I can't help but share the terrific bargain I recently scored at Primark, of all places. I know, I know, it's evil and the lines to pay and try stuff on could induce cardiac arrest, but it's only a hop, skip, and a jump away from my office, so I admit to speed-walking over there when I need to let off some lunchtime (spending) steam. 

Luckily, I didn't feel too guilty about this purchase, because it only set me back by £8. Yes, it's a piece of statement jewelery that's even affordable on a publishing salary. I loved this graphic, 60s-inspired, pop-art flower necklace so much that I wore it twice in a row. See? Major fashion faux pas, further proof that I'm no fashionista. 

But here it is. On Monday, I wore it with a bright, persimmon-colored sweater from Gap, with a denim shirt (also by Gap) and a black Zara blazer. The red really made the necklace pop, and, if anything, it provided for a good talking point at work. On Tuesday, I paired it with a simple black sweater dress with lace collar from Asos, going for the monochrome look, which was a lot more refined, but still playful. Et voila.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving! 10 Things I'm Thankful For This Year

I FaceTimed with my mom and grandma in Hong Kong when I was at work the other day (it was 1 a.m. in Hong Kong and towards the end of my work day, so I thought I'd take advantage of the rare opportunity to speak to my 94 (?)-year-old grandma face-to-face). And as we were chatting and I was showing her my new (faux) fur hat, which looks uncannily similar to her (real) fur hat, I thought how extraordinary it was that the internet had connected three generations of women in one brief moment; the ability to transcend time zones and close physical distance makes me ever hopeful for a future where I'll spend less time missing my friends and loved ones who are far away and spending more time with them instead - regardless of where we live. 

As I approach my 30th birthday, I have a lot to be thankful for. I've been reading peoples' lists on Facebook and they've really struck a chord with me, so here are my top ten:

1. Our wedding celebrations this summer - there was one point in Seattle (I think it was the day before or day after our dinner reception at Hotel Andra) when I was surrounded by my family and friends, and I looked at my mom and said, without any hesitation or reservations, "Mom, I'm so happy right now." And I meant it. I felt the same way when we were in Oxford, showing my mom and dad where John and I had met, where I had studied for six months. I loved the way that John and I got married (i.e. with just the two of us, over one weekend in Wales), but I loved celebrating with my best friends even more.

2. My life in London - I was having a look at my Instagram photos the other day and marvelling at all the amazing restaurants, events, and productions I've been able to experience in the past year (and years!) that I've lived in London. It's certainly not the norm for many people, I know, and sometimes I catch myself thinking that it is the norm. But then I realize I live my life here nearly to excess - and I really feel like I'm living life to the fullest. I'm very lucky.

3. My friends, both near and far - a few weeks ago, I was feeling sad. I called Udita on a Sunday afternoon and she talked to me for half an hour while parked in a Best Buy parking lot in Houston, listening to me cry, vent, and just blabber on. She didn't rush me. She just listened and was there. On Monday, Alice ran up the stairs to my desk at work and excitedly told me that her dinner plans had been cancelled and how would I like it if she came over and we ordered take-out and watched bad TV until late? I loved it. Then that evening, Lauren and Bindy invited me over for dinner later that week for a home-cooked meal (which I sadly couldn't attend), but it just warmed my heart that they were thinking of me. My friends are THE BEST.

4. FaceTime - it's truly amazing. I was able to "enjoy" tapas with John at his hotel in Madrid on Tuesday when he was there for work, then hang up with him and immediately "step into" my grandma's apartment in Hong Kong to talk to my parents, who had just landed and were experiencing a combination of excitement and jet-lag - I loved seeing my dad propped up in bed reading a Mario Puzo novel! I don't know why - it's just what stuck with me. I slept really well that night knowing that my loved ones were safe and well. And when my parents are at home, it's great to "talk" to my dad over the dinner table - even if he's eating breakfast and I'm making dinner. I can almost smell the ham he's frying up or the cinnamon sugar he always knows to add to my toast. 

5. Our (rented) flat - I remember bursting into tears on a random street in Islington this summer when I was walking home from the pub with John. I was so fed up of moving every time our landlords decided to sell the property. We've moved FOUR times in the four years that we've lived together! We put an offer in on what looked like our dream house in London this summer, but were outbid by over £120,000. It seems impossible to get on the property ladder at the moment but I feel too old to be renting still (plus, ironically, mortgage repayments are cheaper than paying rent every month). My parents left the day before we moved into the place we're currently living in and I remember being an emotional mess at seeing them go and having to leave an apartment that I really, really liked for once. But as I stepped through the door of our flat the other day, I thought how lucky I was to be living in a really nice apartment, on a really nice street, in a really nice part of London - and that I should be grateful for this. Especially as I had passed some rough sleepers in a doorway just hours ago. Reality check.

6. My job - at a book launch last night, someone asked me if I'd always wanted to "be in publishing". And I laughed, because my introduction to publishing was totally by chance. I was really lucky as I didn't have to do any unpaid internships or gain an MA in Publishing in order to move into a management position quite quickly. So whenever I get down on myself on how "little" I have achieved with my life compared to other alumnae of my college, for example, I think of the 17-year-old girl in her bedroom in Small Town, USA. I imagine walking through my door now, and saying, "Hi, I'm you from the future. I just wanted to let you know that in 13 years, you'll be living in London, working for a famous book publishing company, with an amazing husband (you eloped, don't worry - nothing traditional) and friends. You'll eat in really nice restaurants, travel the world, carry a designer handbag and have a nice wardrobe sourced primarily from eBay." And I wouldn't have believed it. Except for maybe the eBay part, because I'm always after a bargain.

7. My travels - I can't believe I was on a cockroach-infested train, hurtling through rice fields during sunrise in Vietnam nine months ago. Nor can I believe I went snorkelling in Thailand, watched the sun set at a winery in Santorini, ate German apple cake in Berlin, or saw the ballet in Budapest, after sitting in a spa for a day. When I was little, I didn't dream of my wedding - I dreamed of travelling the world. And my dreams have absolutely come true. I am so fortunate to be able to travel as much and as far as I do. I realize that it's a rare position to be in.

8. My family - a few friends my age have lost a parent recently - either suddenly or to long-standing illnesses - and it has been devastating to hear. I try and communicate with my parents as much as possible, even if I can't be there in person, mostly because I miss their company but also because I thank my lucky stars they're still (touch wood) okay. You know that saying, "Live every day as if it could be your last?" I try and think that about my loved ones ... every day is special with them. I wish more than anything in the world I could have my grandparents back.   

9. My (infrequent) yoga practice - I don't know where I'd be without my yoga practice, which has, admittedly, waned as I've become busier. I don't practice as often as I should or used to, but every time I attend a class - whether it's Lauren's or a flow class taught at Yoga on the Lane in Dalston - I'm so very grateful for the benefits yoga gives to me both on and off the mat. I think I've learned to live a little calmer and with more clarity, intention, and patience than I ever have before. While that probably has a little to do with maturity, I think practicing yoga has helped immensely as well.

10. My partner-in-crime - John. Who's always so supportive and gentle and kind and funny and understanding and all good things a best friend should be. Thank you.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

James Blackshaw Acoustic Set @ Tate Britain

Last night, I had the fantastic opportunity to watch James Blackshaw perform an acoustic set at Tate Britain's House-Warming Party yesterday and - it was incredible. If you haven't heard James' music before, I highly recommend that you do: he's a twelve-string guitarist, pianist, and composer from Hastings with an impressive discography and tour schedule to boot. I also happen to know his dad and his dad's wife quite well (she was my first boss at Penguin!), which is lucky since they saved me a spot on the floor in the very crowded room last night, so I had a terrific front row seat.

I've been wanting to see James perform since purchasing his album, Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death, last year. Not only was I finally able to do so, but I was also in possibly the most amazing venue ever: the Tate, lit up in bright lights, with paintings you only see in books displayed on walls, is probably the coolest place you could have a late-night show (or a series of shows, in the case of last evening).

I was super late getting across to Pimlico from St. Paul's (where I'd just met John for a quick dinner at Yo! Sushi)  and ended up jumping out of a cab and racing into the back entrance of the Tate like a madwoman with my (faux) fur hat over my eyes, getting all sweaty and lost in the labyrinth of the museum. I think I must have elbowed and trampled at least 20 people when I arrived. Oops. When I stepped into the room, it was nearly full, and die-hard fans had already staked their claim on floorspace: sitting, sprawling, and reclining on bags. It was like a festival-meets-art-gallery atmosphere, which made for a terrific one. Curious passer-bys who had been unable to get in before the doors closed stood at the roped-off side entrances, enthralled by James' performance. I sneaked a glance at Joe once or twice during the performance and saw he had his "proud-dad" face on. Aww.

I love James' music because it's instantly evocative, though I can't place my finger on exactly what or why. Not to mention, his self-taught (!) fingerpicking skills are incredible to watch live. After his set, and after the line of super-fans had died down, I had the opportunity to meet James and tell him what a fan I was (in my usual, awkward, star-struck manner).

Before we left, I took some quick snaps of the museum in late-night party mode:

The place was buzzing. Our evening was only slightly spoiled by two a**holes who randomly scampered up to the front row after James' first piece, then proceeded to talk loudly (yes, loudly) and animatedly into a cell phone. When a fellow concert-goer shushed the guy (it was a guy-girl couple), he shot her a glare and ignored her. I could tell that Joe, who was sitting next to me, was getting antsy. So was I. I couldn't imagine a ruder, more obnoxious thing to do during someone's performance - especially if you've placed yourself squarely in front mid-way into the show (who does that anyway?). Finally, Joe told them to quiet down and the guy turned around in rage, telling us to mind our own business. Of course, I (with my fiery temper) told him to STFU and after a few more words were exchanged, he and his lank-haired girlfriend decided to literally scoot their butts towards the nearest exit and leave. Pathetic.

In happier news, I found the magnificent staircase that had just been remodelled (and was part of the purpose of having a "house-warming" party in the first place:

Isn't it beautiful? Imagine what it looks like during the day with the sun (or grey clouds) streaming in. I could have stared up forever, except for the fact that I was blocking the staircase and refusing all the cool people access to the cloakroom. My bad.

Here's one of my favorite songs from James' latest album:


Flesh and Buns: Worth The Hype?

Still on a high from my amazing ramen conquest at Tonkotsu East, I headed to another much-hyped Japanese restaurant, Flesh and Buns, in Covent Garden. A product of ramen kings Bone Daddies, Flesh and Buns is famed for its mouth-watering meaty dishes as much as it's known for its cheeky name.

I arrived for my booking at 7 to have a catch-up meal with Leah, an MHC alum who had recently moved back to London. It was lively at that point in the evening - a few large tables were celebrating birthdays, and parties of two were seated in the center of the restaurant at a long, communal table, so it ended up being kind of a shouty conversation, rather than a quiet kind of chat. We were shown to a shared booth (this is important to know if you don't like eating with strangers at your elbow - it's a very common occurrence at canteen-style Asian restaurants) where we were advised to order 3-4 small dishes to share, and a main of flesh and buns to split as well. The homemade buns are sold separately to the meat dishes at 2 for £2.50 (and it was recommended to order 2 buns per person), with the mains priced at £13 upwards, with the lamb chops and sirloin steak coming in as the priciest at £19.50.

After catching up on Leah's celebrity spots in her new neighborhood of Belsize Park, we settled down to order some edamame beans, softshell crab roll (£9), and chicken skewers (I can't remember the name!) to start, followed by crispy duck for our main event. When the crab roll and skewers arrived, I was immediately struck by how small the portion size was. The crab roll allowed for 2.5 pieces each and one chicken skewer per person. I wasn't too impressed with the chicken either, which, while tasty, didn't amount to more than small pieces of chicken flame-grilled and dipped in teriyaki sauce. Nevertheless, I decided to hold out for the crispy duck leg flesh and buns, served with sour plum soy with beetroot pickle and cucumber and lettuce. When it came to the table, I again couldn't help but drop my mouth open in bewilderment. Here was one, single duck leg with some plum sauce and beetroot pickle, for £13.50. It just seemed a bit much to me. We polished that off quickly, and were satisfactorily full. Our bill came to £40 (including service, excluding drinks - we had water), which really surprised me for the quality and quantity of food we were served.

Still, my mind flashed back to the extravagant brunch John and I had just a month ago at Duck & Waffle, where the flavors were truly extraordinary and worth every penny. The meal I had that evening at Flesh and Buns was most definitely very ordinary and unfortunately missed the mark on both quantity and quality. I don't think I'll be going back any time soon, though it does look like a fun (if not expensive) place to stumble into after a late night with a large group of friends.

Square Meal

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Oh, You're Lonely? Go Make Some Friends.

I was reading some of the comments on a Humans of New York photo today (self-inflicted pain, I know) and one in particular made me really, really angry. The subject of the photo had just moved to NYC from China, and Brandon asked him what his lowest point was. Now, I'm paraphrasing, but he answered that he didn't have just one low moment, but rather a collection of them - a combination of missing his parents, being lonely, and smoking cigarettes by himself in his apartment. And one of these comments was like, "Stop smoking by yourself. Go MAKE some friends." As if making friends is that easy. As if making friends even if English is your first language is that easy. "Seriously?" I thought. This girl can go take a walk off the shortest pier she can find.

People who make comments like that have no idea how hard it is to create your own identity in a new place. Because isn't that what "making friends" essentially is? Collecting and creating and forming and sustaining and maintaining those relationships that are borne out of moments of desperation and loneliness and wanting to share your joy or pain with others? And reciprocating that?

Making friends as an expat is painful. It's cringe-worthy, awkward, often a waste of time, and really, really hard work. It took me three solid years to build the friendship circleI now have in London and I am so thankful to have these friends. My friends.

So I want to share with you my story.

The first thing John wanted me to do when I arrived in London, was to move in with him. I know. It's usually the other way around, right? Anyway, it was also what I wanted to do more than anything in the world. But I declined. And I resisted for three years after that. Not because I'm against co-habitating before marriage, but because I could see myself becoming quickly dependent on him if we lived together. I was already becoming unreasonably resentful if he went out instead of spending time with me, just one-on-one, but, at the same time, being resentful if I felt the only social interaction I could have was if I tagged along to his pub outings with his friends and his friends' girlfriends. It wasn't fair for either of us.

It was important for me to make my own friends. So I lived in rented apartments for a few years, attending flat interviews and searching for places to live on Gumtree, Moveflat, and Spareroom. When I moved to Shadwell in East London, John and his buddies decided to move to the opposite end of town from where they were in Whitechapel, to Maida Vale. I was devastated. But I was determined to make my own way (with John's support and encouragement) for a bit longer.

I joined a gym near my office. I started attending the yoga and other classes there regularly and ended up becoming friends with the teacher, Lauren, and her partner, Bindy, who I count as two of my best friends today. I went often enough so that I'd be able to see a familiar face in the locker room and say "hi".

At my father-in-law's persuading, I joined an orchestra - The Royal Orchestral Society - and, after a couple of concerts, I gained a position on first stand, second violins. The first few rehearsals, as predicted, were so painfully awkward. Everyone knew each other and I kind of stood in the corner during the tea break and nibbled on a biscuit by myself. By the third and fourth rehearsals, however, I started running into people on the tube on my way there, and we'd get to talking and then ... well, I started to make friends.

I loved being finally able to say to John, "I can't meet you for dinner tonight - I'm going out with so-and-so." It made me so happy. And he was happy for me too. 

This all took about a year and a half. The other times? I found myself watching TV in my room, alone, sometimes until 1 or 2 in the mornings during the weekends, if I wasn't staying over at John's. I went on friend dates with friends of friends of friends: sometimes they were successful and worked out, other times, we sort of had a mutual understanding when we departed that we'd probably never see each other again. And that was okay.

And before I moved to London? There was the social disaster that consisted of my first three months at York. This is what made me want to tell the commenter on HONY's Facebook page to shove it.

In high school and college, I was Miss Social. I was like, in every club you could imagine, in leadership positions. I knew most people on campus (it was small), and most people knew me. I once stood on a chair in a crowded dining hall on Udita's birthday and asked everyone to stop eating their dinner and sing "Happy Birthday" to her. Which they did. I was positive, enthusiastic, always up for trying something new, and really, really excited about meeting new people.

And then I arrived at York. It was bleak. There were goose droppings everywhere, a telling sign of things to come.

There were about 10 or so fellow graduate students on my graduate course. None of them made eye contact when I walked into the first meeting of the semester. I introduced myself and they barely looked up. At the end, they shuffled out in silence and went their separate ways. The afternoon before the graduate students' social, I brightly suggested that we all meet up beforehand for a drink or dinner, then head over together. People looked uncomfortable, exchanged glances, and quickly made their excuses about being busy, but, you know, "We'll see you there."

When a few weeks had passed and I had not made a single friend, not even in my residence hall, I decided to be even more proactive and run for my college's Graduate Student Association President position. I won, because I was the only one who ran. I met a girl named Cheryl, who was super nice, and I started hanging out with her a few weeks after we started working on GSA events together. But this was one person, and I couldn't hang out with her all the time, so at night, I'd watch re-runs of Family Guy via illegal internet links and eat pasta from a plastic picnic set that John's mom had given to me before I moved. Then I'd cry. Literally, into my pasta. I lost a lot of weight that winter because I was more preoccupied with crying into, than eating, my food!

I wondered why I wasn't making any friends. I was nice to everyone. I smiled, I tried to engage people in conversation, tried to invite them to cool events in town or on campus, but all I received were polite rebuffs. I was sad. I spent my extra time working as a temp secretary for Siemens nearby and as a data-entry assistant at the Health Economic Consortium on campus. I had friendly chats with the workers there, but still didn't make any friends.

This started to change a few further months down the line, when everyone got to know everyone else a little better. Bottom line is, as an American, I'm used to making friends quickly. It's not unusual to learn a lot of information about someone in a short space of time, and therefore feel close and connected with that person relatively quickly. In the UK, it's a different set of rules. People, as you might have heard, are a lot more reserved. And there are often limits to how quickly they want to get to know you - and for you to know them.

So, don't tell me to "go make some friends". You go make some friends. Some real friends. Tell me how that goes. And let me know how long it takes you. Because it took me a long time. I tried really hard. But I have some of the best friends I've ever had now. And I'm so grateful for that.

Photo source

Ramen Delight @ Tonkotsu East, Haggerston

Ramen is a booming, popular enterprise in London. Aside from eating air, hipsters also apparently like to eat ramen. And so, those seeking their noodle fix and also hoping to be-in-the-know when it comes to food trends, wait in line for longer periods of time than they'd wait for the newest iPhone for a bowl of the slurp-worthy, steamy stuff at places like Shoryu Ramen on Regent Street and Bone Daddies in Soho.

Now, I haven't been to either - mostly because I'm lazy and impatient and if I need to be in the West End other than for work, there had better be a damn good reason (like seeing Book of Mormon next week) and I definitely should NOT be waiting in any kind of line, whatsoever, in order to be fed. So I was super excited when Plum of Plumdiddlyumcious tweeted that Tonkotsu on Dean Street had opened a branch of its popular restaurant in the heart of hipster-ville, Shoreditch - which also happens to be very close to where I live. And because Eric and I had a long-held ramen date for last night, I decided that we should both head East to Tonkotsu East, rather than West.

Finding the restaurant itself proved to be a challenge: you know when your mom tells you not to walk down dark, strange alleys alone at night? I had to do just that. Tonkotsu East is so new, it's not named on Google maps yet, so I found the address via a few online reviews instead. Housed in a railway arch (as other of-the-moment restaurants in that area are, namely, Beagle London and Trip Kitchen & Bar - also very new), it's a little tricky to find in the dark. Getting off the bus at Haggerston, I gingerly click-clacked my way across cobblestones down Acton Mews, past Trip, and squinted ahead, where the bright lights of ramen shone.

Prior to my visit, I had expected to wait in line (given how new restaurants' reputations spread like wildfire in that part of London), but to my surprise, it was completely empty at 6:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night (though not for long, the host assured me). I'm sure that, a couple of months - no, weeks - from now, you'll have to reserve a table in advance to even contemplate getting a seat.

We were hungry and feeling a little gluttonous, so we started with salted edamame beans (served hot and steaming), the crab korokke (perfectly crispy on the outside, oozing with flavor on the inside), and of course, the pork gyoza, which I couldn't resist ordering (my weakness). For me, the gyoza was the winner of the three. I'll go as far as to say that it was absolutely perfect - the best I've had in London. They're handmade and the wrapper is very thin and doesn't taste of oil at all, which is impossible to find at other London Japanese restaurants (usually, you'll find that the outside is thick and doughy and often charred, tasting of burnt oil). The pork filling was juicy, steamy, and delicious.

Tonkotsu East is BYOB, so aside from bringing your own beer or wine, you can also order one of their mocktails (all priced at £3.50) and add your own kick of vodka, gin, or other suggestions they include on the drinks menu. I can't remember the name of the one we ordered, except that it was sweet, citrus-y, and very, very good. 

Then our ramen arrived.

It was kind of magical.

Eric and I had both ordered the tsekemen ramen, or dipping noodles, which are served cold with a variety of toppings (we chose pork) and dipped into the steaming, flavorful broth before being consumed. It truly exceeded my expectations. I loved that the ramen was homemade, which you could really taste. Homemade ramen, like homemade and hand-pulled pasta or biang biang noodles, has a certain consistency and texture that tastes unlike any other factory-produced ramen. At £11 per bowl, it might seem pricey, but to be honest? I thought nothing of the cost, considering how delicious and fresh the ingredients were. And like any other well-practiced Asian, I heaped chilli oil onto my spoon in my left hand, and dipped twice with chopsticks in my right hand - once into the broth and then into the chilli oil - before depositing the noodly-goodness into my mouth. Mmm ... yum.

In short, I'm ecstatic that there is such an amazing ramen restaurant on my doorstep. I'm going to be a repeat visitor before the secret's completely out of the bag and it's impossible to get in to (the restaurant was 3/4 full by the time we left at 8:15 p.m.).

A word of advice? Wear a splash-proof shirt. Because you'll be slurping appreciatively, that's for sure.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Columbia Road Flower Market

Columbia Road Flower Market is one of my favorite markets in London - especially at this time of the year. It feels so festive and full of bright, vibrant colors.

I'm lucky to live at the intersection between Dalston and Islington, so I'm still close to Columbia Road and Broadway Market (another favorite). I texted Hannah this morning and we met up near Hoxton to walk over to the market, which was already very crowded by the time we got there: 11:30 a.m. If you're ever in the mood to browse, I'd suggest you get there about half an hour or an hour after it opens at 8 (I know that's early for a Sunday!). Otherwise, you'll be stuck in a very slow and frustrating conveyor belt of tourists and other hipsters trying to take photos and awkwardly clutch oversized bouquets (or in one instance, a potted fern, which nearly took my eye out).

Beautiful flowers always put me in a good mood - especially if said flowers are being offered at a fraction of the price of what you'd find in a typical London florist's.

Although I get easily overwhelmed and indecisive when I'm at the market, I immediately chose this gorgeous autumnal selection for a mere £5, which the stall holder had nicknamed the "festive" bouquet:

Isn't it lovely? And it was only £5! If I bought this at the flower stall outside Holborn station, everything would be wilting and it'd probably set me back about £35. I'm not even kidding. I'm a huge fan of cabbage roses (someone recently told me she hated them, and I looked at her like she was crazy - roses that look like cabbages? What's not to love?) and the orange, yellow, and red colors in the rest of the bouquet immediately made me think of cinnamon sticks and mulled wine. Mmm ...

We had just enough time to browse some of the boutiques on either side of the road, and I got sucked into buying this whimsical scarf from L'Orangerie, a store that's filled to the brim with vintage and new jewellery, scarves, hats, and other accessories:

I'm currently rotating between two scarves at the moment: a super warm and soft navy oversized one from Zara (that also doubles as a blanket at work when I get really cold) and a monochrome patterned voile scarf from & Other Stories that I bought over the summer with Sophia that I just can't get enough of. So when I spotted this hot-air balloon motif with bright orange and baby blue details, I knew it had to be mine - even when the price rang up to be £4 more than originally quoted to me by the shop assistant. Le sigh.

On my way back to my flat, I stopped in at 52A Coffee Shop for a soy chai latte and a piece of their orange bread. The spices filled my nose and I smiled all the way home, on cloud nine ... that is, until I narrowly avoided stepping in a huge, smeary pile of dog doo doo. Oh well, there's always something to bring me down to earth ...


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The "British" Colloquialism I Won't Say ...

... is "cheers".

Not "cheers", as in clinking glasses together, but "cheers" as in a substitute for "thanks". It just sounds so awkward coming from an American's mouth. So cringe and inauthentic. Like hearing a Brit say "awesome".

I'm sure Brits would disagree and wouldn't think twice if I uttered "cheers" at the bar when handed a drink, but it honestly makes me shudder.

When I lived up north in York while studying for my MA, people would say "ta" as a substitute for "thanks". I sometimes hear it in London too. I especially love the phrase "ta very much". But as endearing and sweet as I think it is, I would never even think of using it.

And you know what? Brits rarely say "you're welcome". When you say "thank you," they'll either say "thank you" back (repeat x 4) or "that's alright" or "[my] pleasure" or "not at all". It's almost like they can't accept your thanks* (*of course, if you're in London, you'll probably only get thanked for your business 50% of the time in shops and cafes, since this city tends to cultivate some of the worst in customer service).

That Thing Brits Do Which I Find Disgusting ... But Now I Do It Too

The first time I ever saw John squeezing ketchup next to his Pizza Express thin-crust pizza that we baked at home, I was horrified. "What are you doing?" I screeched. He paused, mid-dip. "Dipping my pizza into ketchup?" he responded, with a confused expression on his face. "That's disgusting," I said emphatically, biting into my own slice sans the sweet, tomatoey condiment. "Oh, that's a bit rich, coming from an American," John said with his mouth full. "You're known for some of most disgusting combinations on earth! Peanut butter and jelly. Ewww!" Sigh. Poor, ignorant soul.

Then, the other day, when John was still at work, I baked a frozen pizza for myself as I chatted to my Dad on FaceTime. After taking it out of the oven, I absentmindedly reached for the ketchup and squeezed a generous helping onto my plate. "What - what is that? What are you doing?" my Dad said in a horrified voice, through the internet. I froze. "Putting ketchup on my pizza," I said nonchalantly. "YIIUUUUUCKK! Yuck, yuck, YUCK!" my Dad exclaimed, scrunching down the corners of his mouth and sticking out his tongue, as if he'd just eaten something extremely bad tasting. "It only works with thin-crust pizza! They do it here all the time," I hastily explained. He didn't look convinced. But my Dad is such an Anglophile, he shrugged after a while and said, "Okay."

Like I said, I don't do it all the time with pizza, but if I'm baking a thin-crust pizza? I most certainly will. It adds a bit of tangy sweetness that the pizza otherwise doesn't have. I can't really explain it. You can't knock it 'til you've tried it. Honestly.

Baked beans and pizza, however ... now, that's disgusting.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Spa Treats Galore, Courtesy Of Stylist Magazine

Stylist Magazine is one of my favorite magazines to read in the UK. It's current, aspirational, witty,  intelligent, and - perhaps the best part - it's free. Yup, it's handed out every Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning to thousands of commuters in London, among other major UK cities. Sometimes, I make a detour in my usual Wednesday morning route just so I can grab a copy. I'm always disappointed when I arrive too late and they run out.

I love their trend lists and editorials, not to mention their interviews and beauty reviews - basically, I love it all. So I was thrilled when I was invited to be a part of the Stylist Inner Circle, an online community devoted to helping Stylist further develop their brand and magazine.

In return for participating in discussions, members are entered into a prize draw for vouchers and, more recently, luxury packs consisting of products that the Stylist team have been sent to review. Before our meet-up last week, I was selected as one of the lucky winners of a luxury pack and took home these amazing goodies. I was a little taken aback and embarrassed! Sometimes, I feel bad when I win a prize, like I should dole them out to other people! I won a Kindle from Trinity Hospice for helping to raise the most money for an event a few years ago and instinctively felt that I should give it back (I didn't).

Anyway, my "luxury pack" had some fancy products: Rodial body scrub, Nails Inc and Mavala nail polishes, L'Oreal Revita-lift serum (which really works!), a Korres travel set (one of my favorite brands), a gorgeous candle that I can't bring myself to use, and some other luxurious moisturizers and body oil.

I also received the nicest lipstick I've ever owned, by Armani:

I'm used to buying Rimmel (in fact, I had just purchased one that evening using my Boots Advantage Card Points - yeah!) and at most, Bobbi Brown or Mac (which I hem and haw over for months before finally buying ... at Duty Free when I'm flying international), but this one really took the cake. IT HAS A MAGNETIC LID. I spent about 20 minutes simply flicking the lid up and down in the living room when I got home, as excited as a child on Christmas Day. John watched as I did this, amused and concerned all at once. "Don't get too used to the luxury," he admonished. Oh, boo hoo to you too, Mr. Grinch.


Monday, November 4, 2013

Choose Your Own Adventure @ Burger & Lobster

So, I'd been wanting to try Burger & Lobster since it opened last year. I was attracted to its simple premise of serving only three items on its menu: lobster (steamed or grilled), lobster roll, or a juicy burger, all for £20 each and served with a side salad and fries. You can also order individual lobsters by weight, which are displayed on a chalkboard above the bar - these are accompanied by never-ending fries and salads, apparently. How Olive Garden of them.

Anyway, I occasionally have a serious hankering for lobster, being torn away from the Pacific Northwest and all that, where a measly 4 ounce lobster tail can set you back $48 (as this past summer proved at Salty's restaurant). I love lobster, hands down. One of my favorite, decadent dishes is lobster noodles, served with a light, creamy sauce, which is available in a select number of restaurants in Hong Kong. My grandfather found out I secretly loved this dish (but would never order it because it was far too expensive) and would order it every time I was at the table.

But I digress. My Burger & Lobster dream came true when John suggested we go there with Iain on Saturday night for dinner. "We'll never get in," I said dismissively when the idea was raised. "Well, I called and was told that as long as we arrived before 7, it should be okay," John replied. This was a restaurant that takes reservations months in advance - because that's how popular it is. And yes, I witnessed people running in order to get in first, beating other prospective diners to the line. Um, intense, much?

But we didn't have to wait that long: John was on his way from work (yes, on a Saturday, AGAIN - we'll discuss that later) and because Iain and I had arrived earlier, we couldn't be seated until John had arrived, so our names were taken and we were directed towards the bar, where Iain bought me a delicious honey and ginger sparkling libation and a rooibos iced tea for himself. John arrived soon after, just before 7, and we snared one of the last tables in the house. Soon after, eager and hopeful couples and parties of four or six would arrive, scanning the restaurant quickly as they approached the hostesses as if to assess the wait. By now, the restaurant was completely full and buzzing: it was 7:10. The bar was also filled to the brim of people waiting to be seated.

I'd been rehearsing for months what I would order, and my mind would not be changed: lobster roll it was for me. John went for the grilled lobster with garlic and lemon butter, while Iain opted for the burger instead (served with optional bacon and cheese at no extra charge).

Evidence below:

My lobster roll was exquisite to say the least. The filling was very lightly tossed in mayonaise and marinated, I believe, and served cold with a sprinkling of chives on the top. The brioche was warm, lightly toasted and very buttery. The skinny fries were a perfect accompaniment and I even liked the salad. For a second, I forgot that I was in a trendy, City restaurant and imagined that I was at an American bar and grill instead.

John's lobster, on the other hand, was a whole other ball game: it was delectable. And good thing he doesn't mind sharing! I savored every morsel of buttery goodness he forked my way. 

Iain's burger, piled high, also looked delicious, but understandably not as impressive as the lobster selections. Rookie mistake.

After we patted our full bellies, we were offered the option of ice cream or cheesecake to finish, but we decided to skip dessert and go for a drink elsewhere instead ... although we ended up at Ping Pong ordering dim sum desserts. Oops.

Square Meal
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