Wednesday, December 31, 2014

And A Happy New Year

Hello! I'm taking a little break from my blogging hiatus to wish you a Happy New Year - I'm flying back to London tomorrow on New Year's Eve (boo!), so I'll be up in the sky when the clock strikes twelve. I've been having an amazing time in the US: sleeping in, binge-watching Netflix, binge-eating donuts ... let me tell you: I love blogging and posting regularly, but taking a break has felt SO GOOD!

We had a wonderful Christmas here with my family and took a fabulous foodie trip up to Vancouver, B.C. - which I'll tell you all about when I'm back across the pond! Usually, on the eve of my departure, I feel so sad. Luckily, I had the foresight (correction: my amazing friends had the foresight) to plan a few brunches and get-togethers as soon as I'm back to distract me from my homesickness. And I'd love to talk a little more about how I'm feeling about my eighth (!!!) year of living away from "home" in another blog post at some point.

Until then, here are a few highlights from the past ten days I've spent here in the States:

First things first: I made a beeline for Target and stood in the snack aisle for ages, marveling at all the Goldfish cracker flavors they've got (I walked away with French Toast and Vanilla Cupcake - my two favorites) and gulped as the cashier rang up $150 worth of items. Oops (BUT THERE'S SO MUCH TO BUY THAT YOU NEVER KNEW YOU NEEDED!).

I bought these slightly crazy shoes with gold and patent details which I love and John hates - but then again, what does he know? (I kid, I kid. But not really.) I also set my mom and dad up on Instagram (genius? Or huge regret?) so that they can keep closer tabs on me. Seriously, it can be exhausting and repetitive recounting what I've been up to each day - I tried to convince them to follow me on Twitter, but it seems that Instagram is a good compromise. It's visual anyway, which is easier for senior citizens parents to handle (except, my mom already managed to embarrass me in a major way on the first photo she commented on ... high school all over again). HI MOM!

Speaking of my mom, she actually complained that one of the disadvantages of having me at home is the fact that she doesn't receive any emails from me and that there are no new blog posts to read. WHAT. THE. HECK. She also sent me an email one night (which I received the next morning when I woke up) with the subject line: "ARE YOU ASLEEP YET?" I don't know, Mom. You could just COME DOWNSTAIRS AND CHECK?!


Of course, I ate one of my beloved giant sandwiches - complete with three different types of meat, two cheeses, mayo, and alfalfa sprouts (which, surprisingly, I miss in my sandwiches and salads a lot). American sandwiches are the best. Hands down.

2014 has been an incredible year for me. I know that I've been super lucky and I'm counting my blessings - I'm so looking forward to seeing what 2015 brings!

Until then, I'm wishing you health, happiness, and many successes in 2015. No matter what time zone I'll be crossing tomorrow evening, I'll raise my champagne glass (metaphorical, unless British Airways is feeling especially generous, which is seriously doubtful) to you.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 19, 2014

May Your Days Be Merry And Bright

Well, this is it.

After I turn on my out-of-office tonight, I'm heading straight home and putting Madonna's "Holiday" on full-blast, dancing around my living room in sweatpants with my hair up in a topknot, and packing my suitcase for our trip back to the States! (I'm a little bit excited, can you tell?) I also plan on opening a nice bottle of red and listening to my carefully curated Christmas playlist on Spotify, which I've been working on for a while (e.g. no to Mariah Carey, yes to Sufjan Stevens).

Tomorrow, we're heading to a small family gathering with John's cousins who conveniently live near Heathrow, so I've booked a room at the Hilton nearby (because, SPA!) so we can just relax and start our holiday in style before grabbing breakfast the next morning in the BA Executive Club Lounge (the perks of John's crazy travel schedule).

I am so excited to see my family, my heart might burst.

I'm not sure how much I'll be posting when I'm over in the USA (and Canada! Yes, taking a little side trip up to Vancouver, with John taking it a step further in the form of a mini-snowboarding vacay in Whistler with my brother) because I'll be too busy stuffing my face with donuts and the like, but you can catch up with my Christmas adventures over on Instagram, if you'd like!

Until then, I'm wishing you the happiest of Christmases and a wonderful New Year - or as we say in the States, "Happy Holidays"!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Confessions of a Real-Life Blogger: My Social Media Addiction

Before votes closed for the UK Blog Awards (which I've been shortlisted for - yay!), I was invited to submit a guest post to the UK Blog Awards website, so I wrote about something that's been troubling me for a while: my addiction to social media. As a blogger, freelance writer, and social media manager for two different companies (in addition to working at a full-time job in book publishing), I'm constantly on my phone. Constantly.

I've reproduced the post here, word for word, and would love to know what you think. What's been your experience with social media? Do you use it regularly? Or are you on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest just a little too much?

Here's what I had to say:

When I woke up this morning, the realisation that I manage 10 different social media networks across 3 different accounts (including my own), hit me hard: no sooner had I poked contact lenses into my still-bleary eyes than I began to reply to retweets, mentions, and new followers.

At a recent foodie meet-up for bloggers, we sat patiently as dish after dish appeared from the restaurant’s kitchen and were placed before us on the elegantly laid table. No one dared touch the food before every DSLR and phone had been whipped out for the perfect photo – and the perfect corresponding hashtag.

Managing it all (along with a full time job) has become exhausting; and it isn’t just my eyesight or sleep that’s been disturbed. I’m worried that it’s affecting my relationships as well.

“Keep talking,” I recently said to my husband, whilst selecting a VSCOcam filter for Instagram. “I’m listening.” But was I really? How much attention can you give when your eyes aren’t on the person you love and you’re only half listening?

I’ve always prided myself on being a multi-tasker, but the way social media has taken over my life lately, I feel as though I’ve gone a bit too far. I’d love to have some “off-time” from social media, when my phone’s not within reaching distance, or when I just turn it off altogether, but my fingers twitch when it’s not at my side.

At lunch with friends, unable to be completely wrenched away from my precious phone, I’ve kept it on the table, but turned it facedown, to show the person sitting opposite me that I’m giving them my full and undivided attention – almost.

Social media garners instantaneous reactions, and because of this, it’s addictive. It has also been a terrific way for me to share my blog; I’ve received such terrific feedback and comments from readers all over the world on posts I’ve written that have affected them in some way, which makes tweeting and posting all the more worthwhile.

‘I wonder if anyone has favorited or retweeted my tweet,’ I’ll wonder, as I’m waiting for the bus. I then proceed to check Twitter for the entire bus ride. I can’t wait to respond to mentions, as I feel those people – these strangers that I’ve never met – can’t wait.

But in the last week or so, I’ve realised something truly important: they can wait. My best friends, my husband, and my family? They can’t wait. And they deserve so much more from me.

So I’ll keep tweeting and posting and pinning – but when it’s time to turn off my phone, I’ll make sure I do so. No twitchy fingers.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

#ZomatoMeetUp: Nikkei Cuisine and Pisco Cocktails @ Chotto Matte, Soho

Last week, I had the fantastic treat of attending a #ZomatoMeetup at Chotto Matte, a restaurant in Soho specializing in Nikkei cuisine (a blend of Japanese and Peruvian cuisine). Fans of Nobu will recognize the names attached to Chotto Matte as it's the brainchild of Nobu restaurateur Kurt Zdesar, with Executive Chef Jordan Sclare (of Aqua Kyoto and Nobu) at the helm.

Whilst I'm usually skeptical of fusion cuisine, the concept of Nikkei is legit: with its roots in Peru, Nikkei simply brings together the existing, yet complementary, flavors of Japanese and Peruvian staples. For example, coriander and wasabi were added to tuna sashimi, which was then carefully placed atop a crispy corn tortilla to form a delicious tostadita. The addition of jalapeno gave it a fiery kick, while the wasabi provided a different kind of heat. All sorts of yum.

And let me tell you: it definitely works. So damn delicious.

We were lucky enough to sample some of these tasty tostadita creations after watching Head Chef Michael Paul's demonstration:

I'm a huge fan of ceviche and sashimi, so these melt-in-the-mouth spoonfuls suited me perfectly!

Before taking a tour of the restaurant, we sampled some amazing cocktails made from Pisco (which I loved, since I'm a huge fan of dessert wines and brandy) and a blend of Pisco and sake.

From Pisco sours to the Chotto Matte's signature cocktail (and my personal favorite) Cuatro Uvas (Acholado Pisco, St Germain, Akashi-Tai sake, lime, grapes and celery bitters), we tried them all. I was surprised I was still standing at the end of the evening!

Chotto Matte's Head Bar Chef, Fabiano Latham, talked us through each cocktail as they were being prepared.

I loved the Cuatro Uvas cocktail (as shown being mixed by Fabiano above): sweet, light, and refreshing, it's the perfect cocktail to sip pre-dinner (unless you're me, of course, in which case you should consume about 20 tostaditas prior to sipping to avoid any early drunken embarrassments).

From there, we headed for a tour of the restaurant, which blew my mind. There's just so much going on at Chotto Matte.

Downstairs is the extensive bar area, where delicious Pisco and sake cocktails are mixed and served alongside salmon guacamole, tuna & yellowtail tartar, and yellowtail yuzu truffle tostaditas, but venture upstairs and you reach the main restaurant, which consists of the amazing exposed Robata grill (serving smokey Nikkei BBQ) and Chotto Matte's long sushi bar, where Sushi Chef Keita Sato (not pictured) nimbly rolls sushi faster than the orders can be put through.

I did capture some sushi making though, and had to keep my mouth clamped firmly shut lest I drool over the counter ...

We were also lucky enough to get a "backstage" tour of the busy kitchen, which included a glimpse of the huge vat of bubbling oil where tempura is made (mmm ... tempura!) and the neverending supply of rice. So. Much. Rice.

I always love taking a peek into the kitchens of busy, successful restaurants (even though I feel bad because I feel like I'm totally in the way). I'm always struck by the contrast between the calm, cool front-of-house and the frenetic pace of the kitchen - it definitely offers a glimpse into the "real" side of the restaurant industry and show just how much effort and artistry is involved in creating beautiful, delicious dishes.

And when I got home, I opened the goody bag we were given to find these adorable treats:

Too sweet.

The food and cocktails at Chotto Matte were incredible. I can't wait to take John there and am trying to book a table as we speak! If you haven't tried Nikkei cuisine before, Chotto Matte's a great place to start. 

Special thanks to Chotto Matte and ZomatoUK for hosting us at an incredible evening!

Click to add a blog post for Chotto Matte on Zomato

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Last weekend, when we were in Leicester visiting Alison, John took me for a walk after I received the awful news about my friend. My head was spinning and I was experiencing so many different emotions - but mainly, anger. As we reached a clearing, I looked across the fields and burst into tears: the grey sky, desolate landscape, and the wind softly whipping through the grass conveyed everything I felt in my being at that very moment: total and complete sadness.

In contrast, when we returned to see his dad this weekend (who lives in a different part of Leicestershire), the views couldn't be any more different: sheep grazing against the backdrop of the purest blue sky and the sun shining defiantly through skeletal branches of ash trees made me take off my woolly hat and revel in the warmth.

It was beautiful, it was restorative, it was healing.

Borrowing a pair of Hunter wellies from Nicole, I walked across frozen cow pies and squelched through mud. We found a mini stream that resembled the Thames and John took a picture while Andrew and I stood on a little dip in the grass which we jokingly referred to as the Isle of Dogs.

I can't remember what we talked about on that two-hour walk; only that I returned to warm my feet on the Aga with flushed cheeks and the smell of wind in my hair, feeling freer and lighter than I had in a long while. In the evening, we went to a party and drank far too much wine, before stumbling into bed for a deep sleep.

The next day, Nicole made a delicious lunch of prawn, courgette, long bean, and parmesan linguine (so good!) and we shared belly-laughs over anecdotes and unwrapped Christmas presents early. We were given a gorgeous set of Laguiole cheese knives (coincidentally, I just replaced our old, blunt IKEA kitchen knife block with a brand new set from Laguiole) and this beautiful Jamie Oliver pestle and mortar - perfect for grinding peppercorns and herbs. It was the loveliest way to spend an afternoon before heading back to London.

John's childhood home looked so beautiful in the morning light - I couldn't resist snapping this photo before I left:

I can't believe that Christmas is next week and that I'll be on a plane soon, making my way across the Atlantic, over Greenland, over Nova Scotia, over Vancouver, and touching down in Seattle to be with my wonderful family.

Things can get hectic around this time of year. I hope that you find time for a restorative walk or calming activity this week, and that you have a wonderful holiday season.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Thank You.

Thank you for all your messages of support, kindness, and love in the past week. They have been so appreciated.

And thank you - even more so - for sharing your personal stories about grief and loss with me. I've blinked back tears after reading many of them, but your words have helped lift that heavy weight from my chest that I felt pulling down on my neck last week like an anchor.

When a friend or family member passes away, they always visit me in my dreams, where we have magical conversations and I wake up with a tear-stained pillowcase. I "see" my beloved grandpa, who died while I was studying for my Master's degree at York, about once a year or so. We often "meet" in an airport, or at his condo in California - sometimes at his apartment in Hong Kong. Often, he doesn't even speak - he just smiles his sweet, benevolent smile. I tell him how happy I am to see him, how much I love him, and above all, how much I miss him. He knows.

I am patiently waiting for my friend to visit me there. 

In some happier news, I also wanted to thank you for all your votes in the UK Blog Awards. I am so excited to announce that Angloyankophile has been shortlisted in the Travel Individual category, which I wouldn't have been able to do without your generous support.

So, thank you. I don't write this blog to win awards, or to network, or to enjoy free meals in fancy restaurants (although, I must admit, that's a lot of fun!). I write because you're reading it and because it makes me so happy that you are.

All my love.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Moving Through The Thickness of Grief

I wasn't completely honest with you today.

I tried to write a chirpy post about my weekend in my usual way, but as soon as I clicked "publish", I felt like a fraud. I wasn't telling the whole truth.

The truth is, a friend of mine died this past weekend in tragic, terrible circumstances. And I am reeling from her death.

I am moving through the thickness of grief, as if it were gelatin and my arms and legs are stuck in it.

Tributes to her are pouring in on Facebook and I cannot focus. I cannot level my gaze to that space that demands complete concentration and awareness because that's when I feel pain. And I don't want to feel the sharpness of pain. Just the dull, round edge, like the metal bars you hold on to when you're on the bus.

That kind of pain is okay.

And then I went to yoga today - mostly because I needed to use up my pass before it expires on Thursday (but also because I'm eating out every night this week and I need the exercise). And we began the class on our backs, in savasana. Corpse pose. Feet turned slightly outward, palms up, arms slightly away from the body, face relaxed. And as we lay there, taking deep breaths in and letting them out through our mouths, the teacher began to talk about our lungs. How our lungs hold our emotions. How our lungs, specifically, hold grief. And how, as we allow that grief to rise to the surface, we also allow our anxieties to be released.

So I breathed in through my nose, and cried silently on my mat.

How can we navigate through this thickness of grief? This fog that makes us dumb and silent?

How do we survive an absence that is permanent? How can we convince ourselves that this is real? That this is the truth? That this is not a joke?



I Don't Even Deserve Christmas

We had a lovely weekend in Leicester, celebrating the first of our early "Christmases" with Alison (next week, we're with John's dad, Andrew) since we're away in the States for the real thing.

On Saturday, we ventured into town and saw a fun 12 Days of Christmas display (above) in Town Hall Square and did a supermarket sweep in Rituals, buying a final few gifts for people on our Christmas gift list and scoring a giant three-wick candle for ourselves in the process. Win* (*except, the candle made the bag so heavy, it broke mid-way during our trip to London and at one point, I was left standing in the middle of the road, trying to balance a candle with lotion sets and a giant reed diffuser. So. Not. Cool.).

When we got back to Alison's house, we played Jenga and I lost miserably:

As you can see, I don't take losing (especially to John) very well. Ahem. Then again, he does have a degree in Engineering.

But anyway.

Alison cooked up a delicious Christmas meal with "all the trimmings", as they say here, including pigs in a blanket, bread sauce, brussel sprouts, and fabulous roast potatoes.

ALSO: I feel terrible. When we piled into Alison's car on Friday night after being picked up by her at the train station, my first greeting was not, "Hello! How are you?" It was: "Do you have any caakkke?" Yes, I know.

Of course, Alison did bake a cake ... just not the cake I wanted. "But I don't like fruit cake," I said from the backseat like a petulant child. "I want a chocolate cake." Of course, I was only joking. Almost.

Anyway, on Saturday afternoon, while Alison was preparing her epic Christmas meal, I heard her in the kitchen whipping something up with flour, sugar, chocolate and ... oh no. "What are you making?" I heard John ask in the kitchen. Dread filled every inch of my being. "A chocolate cake for Jaime!" she responded brightly, continuing to mix, stir, and roast potatoes all at the same time.


So, um, what did you do this weekend?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Christmas At Selfridges: Paddington Bear and Personalized Nutella

After exchanging my birthday gift from John for a smaller size at Monica Vinader in Mayfair yesterday, I realized that I was standing just yards away from Selfridges. And so, I did what any insane person would do at this time of year ... I stepped right through those doors. Yes, that's right, I went right for the jugular: the Christmas shop on the 4th floor.

But I had a very specific goal in mind. Weeks ago, I read about the personalized jars of Nutella that Selfridges was producing in their Food Hall and decided that I just had to get one for my best friend, Udita, who's a Nutella ... nut. Of course, since the article was published, these little pots of personalised hazelnut spread became so popular, they had to move the Nutella station to the 4th floor because the lines were overcrowding the Food Hall. Gulp.

As I made my way up to the top of the store (and accidentally gatecrashed a much-cooler-than-me Wildfox party that was in full-swing in womenswear ... oops. #definitelyinmythirties), I saw the line for the Nutella station and paused: roped off and managed by staff, there were probably about 25 people in line and I was told that it'd be about a 20-minute wait.

Undeterred, I jumped in and was given a slip of paper to write the names I wanted on my jars (each customer was limited to 3 jars, and each name had a limit of 9 letters. Sorry, Cassiopeia.) At first, I'd only wanted to make one for Udita, but at £3.99, they were fun little gifts, so I added a couple more to my list (including one for my Secret Santa gift at work!).

In reality, the line moved quickly, so I wasn't standing around for more than 8 minutes or so. Once we paid for our jars of Nutella, staff would print the labels on printers attached to laptops and stick them on the jars - not rocket science, but it's been funny to see all the flabbergasted comments on Udita's Instagram and Facebook feed this morning, including, "WHAT?? HOW???"

At the end of the whole process, I left with this:

Isn't that fun? They were also doing personalized Christmas ornaments, Christmas cards, stockings, and even personalized Mr. Men and Little Miss prints and mugs. Definitely a great place to swing by if you're feeling stuck for Christmas gifts - and it wasn't even that busy at 7 p.m. on a Thursday night.

I then made my way back down to the Food Hall to finish up buying some presents for people back home and tried a mince pie martini (so delicious), made from Tipplesworth mince pie syrup, dark rum, and pressed apple juice. I loved that the lady who made the cocktail was actually the brains behind the Tipplesworth mince pie syrup, so I walked away with a bottle for a friend's birthday present (you can also put it on waffles, pancakes, etc.!).

Before I left, I snapped a photo of one of the Paddington Bear windows at the front of the store. I always love Selfridges' windows (they rival those of Galleries Lafayette and Printemps in Paris), but the display with the gold London cab and Paddington surrounded by jars of marmalade was stunning. I've got a soft spot for Paddington, as he reminds me so much of my Dad! The way he looks, with his eyes peering out from under his bucket hat with his famous duffle coat slightly straining at the seams around his belly, is so sweet and so similar to my Dad's posture (minus the belly) when he's sitting and sketching various bits of architecture and landscape during his travels. I'm looking forward to the movie.

If you can bear Oxford Street at this time of year (no pun intended), I'd definitely suggest swinging by Selfridges - at least for the Food Hall. Lots of easy gifts there and I tend to do a "supermarket sweep" type of thing where I don't think I'll need a basket, then end up balancing wine on top of panettone on top of a tin of shortbread biscuits. So, yeah. Get a basket.

Have you done your Christmas shopping yet? Are you looking forward to the holidays? Happy Friday!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Best Tonkotsu Ramen in London

It'll never get as cold in England as it did when I was studying in Massachusetts (four feet of snow and we still had to trudge to class - ugh), but lately, it's definitely been cold enough to make my lips chapped, my hands stiff, and my nose prick as if I'm about to sneeze. That kind of cold.

When it's this kind of cold, there are three things I crave: Vietnamese pho, Korean jjigae, and Japanese ramen. Pho for when I've got a cold, jjigae when I'm particularly ravenous, and ramen when I'm chilly. Tonkotsu ramen, in particular, is my favorite of them all, because the broth is thick, milky, and hearty - having been stewed for hours and hours upon end. I recently wrote an article for About Time Magazine about the top 5 tonkotsu ramen bars in London - focusing on a couple of relatively new bars, as well as chains (such as Shoryu), but avoiding the overly-hyped Bone Daddies (and don't even talk to me about their sister restaurant, Flesh & Buns - seriously not a fan of that place).

My finds were interesting: from the garlic-infused (and aptly named) "Dracula ramen" at Shoryu to the simple, no-fuss version at Taro, ramen bars have been hanging around for a while in London, but foodies have recently turned their beady (and greedy) eyes to the once-simple dish. The result? Ramen bars popping up everywhere, competing against each other by putting "twists" on their house specials and by making their ramen "experience" as unique as possible.

My favorite? Probably Kanada-Ya in St. Giles, as introduced to me by my friend Laura. It's hard to get in (mostly because it's so tiny), so expect to stand in line, if you're visting during "peak" hours. But once you're in, it's so efficient. You're given a piece of paper with a checklist of all the ingredients you'd like, plus how you'd like your noodles to be cooked (soft, firm, extra-firm, etc.) and the rich broth is lip-smackingly good. I usually order an extra Hanjuku egg (£1.80) when I go.

Tonkotsu East comes in at a close second. Their slightly thicker, homemade noodles (which are made on the premises) have a slightly elastic consistency that I love. The tsukemen noodles, which are meant to be dipped, strand by strand, into the accompanying broth, is what I crave on a cold day like today.

What about you? Are you a ramen fan? What's your favorite variation?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sparkly Birthday Pants and the UK Blog Awards

Tomorrow is my birthday (eeks!). And in searching for that ever-elusive "birthday dress", I stumbled upon these sequinned pants at H&M (more like, I saw them featured in Sheerluxe and fell in love with their sparkly goodness), which I almost bought. Almost. I chickened out at the last minute, despite plenty of Instagram encouragement to do so.

Tomorrow is also the last day you can cast your vote in the UK Blog Awards. And you know what would be a lovely birthday present? Your vote - which you can submit here. Votes will count up until midnight, tomorrow. I don't usually enter these kinds of things and they don't really matter to me, but this year, I thought, what the heck? I'll give it a whirl.

It's been a super exciting year for me and this blog. Recently, I've ...

... written about where to find the yummiest almond milk lattes for About Time Magazine ...

... joined the Zomato restaurant review network, which means I get to meet some lovely food-centric bloggers on delicious evenings out ...

... shared my love of "drunching" with Tabasco's newest brunch-focused website ...

... introduced fun, fresh, and exciting guest posts written by bloggers I know and love on Angloyankophile ...

... been featured on the front page of Waitrose Weekend talking about ThanksChristmas and Libby's Pumpkin Pie puree ...

... learned some night-time photography tips from the pros over at Nikon and SmugMug ...

... and told you about it all the while.

So, thanks. For being there. For reading. For listening. For responding and for sharing.

You're the best. Really, you are.

Monday, December 1, 2014

What It's Like To ... Perform at Cadogan Hall

Of all the classical music venues in London, Cadogan Hall is by far my favorite. Based just off Sloane Square, in the middle of swanky Chelsea, it's not the easiest to get to for me,  but I've seen some of my favorite musicians perform here, including violinist Joshua Bell, plus a very memorable concert that I took my mom to when she was visting a few years ago, featuring the brilliant cellist Julian Lloyd Webber.

So, not only do I have incredibly fond memories of Cadogan Hall - I've also always wanted to perform there. The intimacy of the venue (it's not huge, but the terrific acoustics mean that you can sit at the very back of the house and catch the quietest of notes) and the fact that their resident orchestra is the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (my favorite British symphony orchestra) are the reasons why it's the classical music venue I visit most in London.

It's funny: some people aspire to play at Carnegie Hall (as my super talented brother did), or the Royal Festival Hall or the Barbican ... but for me, it's always been Cadogan. And this weekend, my wish came true when I signed in at the stage door.

As many of you know, I've been a violinist with the Royal Orchestral Society - London's oldest non-professional orchestra (with its royal ties dating back to its founding in 1872 by the Duke of Edinburgh) - for over 5 years. Yesterday, we performed Benjamin Britten's War Requiem with the London Chorus, the choristers of St. John the Divine, Kennington (who were adorable, if not just a little squirmy - I can't imagine being that age and having to sit still for that long!), and our incredible soloists, Geraldine McGreevy, James Gilchrist, and Ashley Riches.

If you're not familiar with the piece, it's an extremely powerful, large-scale setting of the requiem mass composed by Britten (who was, famously, a pacifist), which features the traditional Latin texts (sung by the chorus) interspersed by Wilfred Owen's moving war poems (sung by the soloists).  It was originally performed for the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral after it had been bombed and destroyed during World War II, but several performances took place just recently to mark the centenary of the WWI and Remembrance Day.  As a whole, it can be a difficult piece to wrap your ears around at first, but if you get a chance, have a listen to the first movement, "Requiem", and also the "Offertorium" (which is my favorite). There are definitely many spine-tingling and tear-inducing moments throughout.

When I arrived at our dress rehearsal yesterday afternoon, this was my view from the side of stage right: no pressure* (*except for the fact that I discovered my dress had a rather noticeable hole in it, on the side that faced the audience, who were sitting just a few feet away from me. I can hear my mom tutting at me from 5,000 miles away. Note to self: buy a new black dress).

I've sat in the audience many times before, but being on the stage (and in this particular seat!) was an incredible experience. When the seating plan for this concert was circulated, I excitedly forwarded it on to my parents. My dad's response? "PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE." Ugh, Dad. Why do you have to be such a ... dad?

On my way to the dressing room, I saw the ushers being briefed a few moments before the concert and we all waited in the stairwell to enter the stage - I was excited and nervous. The seats were surprisingly full, which was wonderful, as it's never fun to play to an empty or semi-empty house!

John managed to snap this photo of me and my standpartner consulting moments before the concert began ...

... and this photo as well, which is one of my favorite parts of performing in an orchestra: that moment before the conductor (who was, in this case, Orlando Jopling) lifts his baton. It's a moment that requires a lot of gathering of energy and focus, especially if you're visible to the audience like me! Thoughts running through my head at this moment: is the hole in my dress showing? Did I accidentally bring my phone on stage? Is there something on my back that no one told me about? WHAT AM I DOING?!

I laughed when I saw this photo because our posture is impeccable ... whereas in rehearsal, I'll slouch, sit back in my chair, or cross my legs whenever I have a break between playing. I know it's a bad habit, but rehearsing straight after work for 2.5 hours is tiring!

It was lovely to have Alison and John in the audience. John hasn't missed a concert so far and always offers to carry my violin case for me afterwards - it's very sweet. :) I was sad that my parents and my brother (who's also a violinist - not to mention an extremely talented percussionist and guitarist and songwriter) couldn't come to this performance, but John got a couple of clips on his phone so I can show them when I'm back for Christmas.

One last look at the hall before we left ...

Are you a classical music fan? Which concerts have you been to lately? Would you like to, but don't know where to start? Let me know - I'll find an event for you!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Guest Post: Becoming An Ex-Expat by Robin Reetz of Second Floor Flat

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I'll be featuring a few guest posts here and there written by bloggers I know and whose blogs I love. 

On this blog, I talk a lot about what it's like to be an American expat in London. But what happens when you're an American expat in London who decides to move back to the States? In this guest post, one of my favorite bloggers, Robin Reetz of Second Floor Flat shares her thoughts about her upcoming move home to North Carolina, and what she'll miss the most about her time in London.

In my two and a half years living in London, moving home is something I’ve thought about a lot. A whole lot. If I’m honest, I didn’t take to living abroad as well as I thought I would – an idea that still shocks me to this day. I always thought of myself as someone who would end up settling down for good in Europe. Even the word "expat" had a certain cache to it – made me feel as if I didn’t need anyone, anything, any place and would instead be a black and white portrait of a grown woman who lived in places like France and Spain, moving on a whim, settling into villages, drinking wine, not knowing worry. 

Imagine my surprise upon landing in the UK and struggled. Really struggled.

Now over two years later and I’m a soon to be ex-expat, or “re-pat” as some say, and while I don’t know how to feel, I have had this feeling before.

I moved to New York right out of university, so when I made plans to leave five years almost to the day that I arrived everyone wanted to know about my New York bucket list. What restaurants would I eat at? What museums would I go to? What would I spend my final days in New York doing?

The answer was preparing for a move. For me at least, once I make a decision to leave a place, I’m pretty ready to go.

This time around, it’s not quite so simple – international moves are never easy, but add in another person and it gets more complicated. My husband will come over next year, but in the meantime I’m already having anxieties about his adjustment to living in my home country. 

For those of you who wonder what it would be like if you left, here’s what I’m doing during my final London days: working, packing, then brunching and drinking with friends as much as I can. 

I'll miss London as the great city it is with all it has to offer, but the things I'll miss so much more are the normal things. Our park. Our walks. Our local cafe. It's not everyday that I ride the London Eye, but it is everyday that I love and cherish our neighbourhood. The neighbourhood that my husband and I lived in together as a couple, for the first time, after years of long distance.

One of the most frustrating experiences I've had as an expat is the feeling of having a unique cultural experience – one that the people closest to you can’t relate to. It’s the fact that the people who have known me my whole life won't know how I feel no matter how hard I try to tell them how I feel.

The fact that the man I love also won't, and I won't know how he feels when he arrives in the States.

It’ll all work out fine, and a year or two from now this will be an experience I look on as a time of learning and growth – I can already tell. By then, this will feel like a million years ago, and I might not relate then to who I am now. But I’ll know, and I’ll grow, and I’ll re-adapt as an expat in home, country, and spirit.

Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful words, Robin! I'm sad you're leaving, but glad we finally had the chance to meet. Stay tuned for more guest posts in the future.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! How are you celebrating today? I'm having a couple of friends over tonight for a "Friendsgiving" dinner, which I'm really looking foward to, despite feeling a bit under the weather. I chopped all my veggies last night and got up early this morning to make a pumpkin pie, so hopefully there won't be *too* much to do in terms of preparation by the time I've dashed home from work. Every year, I bring in two dozen Krispy Kreme donuts to work, much to my co-workers' delight (I've had 2.5 already this morning ... oops).

As an American abroad, Thanksgiving is the one day each year that makes me feel the most homesick. I miss my family on this day more than any others - not even on my birthday or on Christmas! In fact, I loved spending Christmas in the UK last year but I can't remember the last time I spent Thanksgiving with my family - probably when I was in high school.

I have terrific memories of being "adopted" by friends' families in college because Seattle was too far (and expensive) of a flight to do for one weekend. So instead, I'd go over to my friend Ed's house near Boston or Kara's then-family home in Newport, Rhode Island. We'd spend Thanksgiving Day playing Scrabble, drinking delicious red wine, eating copious amounts of pie, and taking long cliff walks past the mansions in Newport.

I love watching 'A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving' and the Macy Thanksgiving Day Parade on this day. It all contributes to a very exciting build-up toward Christmas but it's also a day that I love to spend with my mom, dad, and brother. We're in three different time zones at the moment, with me here, my mom and dad in Hong Kong visiting relatives, and my brother back home in Washington state, but I'll definitely be thinking of them when I tuck into my turkey tonight.

I've got so much to be thankful for this year and I'd love to thank you for reading and supporting Angloyankophile. Your comments mean the world to me and I'm so grateful that you keep coming back for more!

Wherever you are in the world, I hope you have a wonderful day. xo

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Crafty Christmas Present: Personalized Christmas Stocking

It's my baby niece Dorothy's first Christmas and I wanted to give her something special. Initially, I'd ordered a few things for her from designer babywear retailer Alex and Alexa, but when my friend and co-worker Natalie showed me the sweet, personalized Christmas stocking she'd made for her niece, I knew I had to make one too (don't worry - her birthday's in January, so all the Petit Bateau goodies won't go to waste!).

Natalie kindly supplied me with the template she used and gave me instructions on how to get started, as well as a shopping list of materials I'd need for the project. On her advice, I bought the fabric and velvet ribbon from eBay, which only amounted to about £11 in total.

Originally, I'd wanted to use Christmas-themed fabrics as Natalie did for hers (it looked amazing), but because I'm utterly boring and minimalist, I went for this light blue chambray-type of material with a star pattern and bought the corresponding fabric in cream for the inner lining, plus some velvet grey ribbon for the trim.

"She's a baby, for goodness' sake," joked John when he saw the colors I had chosen. "Not an adult!"

But I adored those tiny stars and the pretty blue color.

At work, I nicknamed Natalie "Perfect Natalie" because of her insanely good crafting skills, baking prowess (she turns out the best brownies you've ever had), and also because she's incredibly smart and, not to mention, super pretty. You'd probably hate her if she wasn't also ... just. So. Ridiculously. Nice.

So of course, when Natalie heard that I didn't have a sewing machine (ha! Me? With a sewing machine?!), she invited me over to her beautiful flat in West London for an evening of crafting and even fed me dinner (obvs, because she's Perfect Natalie). I finally learned how to use a sewing machine (with Natalie patiently sitting at my elbow because I refused to let her leave my side, saying, "Yup, still fine. Yes, keep going. Just. Keep. Going.") and by the end of the evening, I had this:

... which I was pretty pleased with! It's not as perfect as Natalie's, but it's not too bad for a first try, I don't think.

I'm now kind of obsessed with bondaweb (that sticky stuff you iron on to the fabric to make it stick), which I used for the lettering and am thinking of all the other crafty things I could make with it. Personalised totebags, anyone?

Have you ever made a gift for a friend or family member? How did it turn out? I'd love to know.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Last Weekend: Christmas Shopping, Cake Eating, and Sleeping

Happy Monday Tuesday. How was your weekend? I was exhausted. Sunday night, I climbed into bed at 6:00 p.m. - no joke - and slept until 9:30 p.m., before waking briefly to brush my teeth and blindly stumble back into bed, where I slept until 7:00 a.m. on Monday morning. I totally skipped dinner (though we had a huge late lunch at Tom and Cristy's as part of our pre-Christmas celebrations!) and just passed out.

I don't know about you, but November and December are always the busiest months of the year for me. Thanksgiving's on Thursday, my birthday's next week, and I am so behind on organizing anything. And because we're off to the States this year for Christmas (yay!), I feel extra pressure to get everyone's Christmas presents sorted out well in advance.

Last weekend felt like ... the last weekend I could fit everything in. I woke up early on Saturday to write all my Christmas cards (and tried to multi-task by listening to Britten's War Requiem, which I'll be performing with the Royal Orchestral Society at Cadogan Hall this Sunday - eeks!) and spent hours browsing potential Christmas gifts online.

I met Robin of Second Floor Flat for breakfast at Homa in Stoke Newington, where I had the most delicious plate of Eggs Royale: an English muffin topped with smoked salmon and two perfectly poached eggs with bright orange, runny yolks.

It was so nice to meet Robin and chat with her before her big move back to the States - something that I've always toyed with the idea of doing, but can't see myself actually doing any time soon. It's a huge move - both physically and emotionally - and because Robin's such a gifted writer, I've been reading all her posts lately with a mixture of curiosity, envy, and admiration.

After breakfast, John and I blitzed through our Christmas shopping list in Angel and visited two of our favorite interior design shops on Upper Street: twentytwentyone and Chest of Drawers, where John fell in love with this French ceramic lamp, which is handmade and glazed to order in France. It's fun to visit such beautiful, design-led stores, but it's a little frustrating as well when we find ourselves holding off on buying any of it for ourselves until we're homeowners ... which seems like such a distant, out-of-reach goal when you're currently renting in London.

Midway through our shopping spree, I got a little cranky and tired (because I'm exactly like a child) and made us stop for some tea and cake at Euphorium Bakery.

Then I decided to leave poor John with the rest of the shopping list while I went home and crawled into bed for a nap (I need my sleep!) before going to a friend's party later on that evening. What can I say? I'm such a granny. I have to nap before parties.

On Sunday, we went over to Tom and Cristy's for some pre-Christmas celebrations before they jet off to Australia (where Cristy's from) with their little one, our darling niece Dorothy. They whipped up an ah-mazing roast and decorated the table with Christmas crackers, napkins, and paper Christmas trees! It was so sweet.

Tom prepared a delicious romanesco cauliflower as one of the dishes - have you ever seen one of these little guys before? I've only seen them in photos and have never tried one; it was delicious and tasted just like cauliflower.

It's also incredibly beautiful, no? It made me want to get a veg box too, for the sheer variety of vegetables you get each week. Knowing me though, they'd probably rot in the salad drawer of my fridge before they saw the heat of a pan or oven ...

After our late lunch, we sat around playing the "guess who I am" game from our Christmas crackers (John couldn't seem to guess that he was Miley Cyrus for the life of him. "Am I American?" "Yes." "Am I a singer?" "Yes." "Am I female?" "Yes." "Am I Madonna?" "No.") and spent lots of time watching Dorothy perfect her latest skill: walking with a little walker! I managed to mangle the words to a baby's book while John made her cry with a pair of scary elf ears, but by the afternoon, we were BFFs. And we totally wrecked her nap time (sorry, Tom and Cristy!).

We ended the afternoon by tearing off pieces of this delicious panettone and talking about British politics, as you do.

I've never been a huge fan of panettone, but this one was so good. It had a very subtle orange flavor and the sugary, perfectly baked top was positively yummy!

What about you? What did you do this weekend? Hope you're having a less sleepy start to your week than I am! Yawn ...
© angloyankophile

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