Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Sustainable Deliciousness at Season Kitchen & Dining Room, Finsbury Park

Have I told you about Season in Finsbury Park? I love it. It's becoming one of my favorite restaurants in London. And luckily for me, it's right near Tom and Cristy's place, so it's likely that I'll be back frequently - especially now that their adorable baby is home from the hospital and I'm jostling for a place in line to be a babysitter. Aunty Angloyankophile has a nice ring to it, don't you think?

But I digress.

Unlike my other restaurant reviews, I'm going to give you a list of reasons why I love Season so much - plain and simple.

1. Their bread. Is. Amazing. Dense, nutty, with just a hint of sweetness, I would eat it up all by myself, if I didn't have to be polite and share it with my table guests. (I actually wanted to ask for seconds, but I thought that would be a) rude b) greedy and c) all of the above)

2. Their menu (which is short and simple) changes regularly, according to whatever produce is fresh and in season (get it?). The ingredients are sourced as locally as possible (which reminds me of that slightly-annoying-because-it's-so-OTT Portlandia sketch where they leave the restaurant in search of the farm where their free-range chicken is raised and become absorbed into a cult), which means that what you're eating is sustainable.

3. Their bathrooms are cute (yes, I took a picture in the bathroom - so judge me):

4. Their wine list is (like the food menu) short, but sweet. Selections have been carefully chosen to complement the flavors of the food and they are explicit about having a low mark-up policy on the wine. I like that a lot.

5. They're really nice. They make you feel welcome. I mean, you'd be surprised at how difficult it is to greet guests with a smile when they walk through the door of your restaurant but APPARENTLY, this is REALLY hard to do in London. So, when I get even an inkling of friendliness - like, genuinely, "Hi, I really care about your experience here" kind of friendliness - at a restaurant, I fall head over heels in love.

6. The food is delicious. So, I ordered the clam and bacon chowder last night as my main and the smoked salmon with blood orange and crispy seaweed (a magical combination, if you were wondering) to start - and it was all just, utterly, delicious.

Sure, the clams were a laughable size compared to those we have in the Pacific Northwest, but, considering that they're only working with the ingredients they have, the sweet yet smokey flavor of the soup won out and for the rest of my meal, I was in seventh heaven.

7. They do a fantastic early bird deal: any main course plus a glass of house wine/beer/soft drink for £15 before 7 pm. I think this is important because I like to see restaurants offer terrifically cooked, fresh food that is as accessible and affordable as possible (though I am acutely aware that £15 for a meal may be a splurge or totally impossible for some).

8. The restaurant is always buzzing, but never too noisy. I like enjoying my lunch or dinner in a place where I don't have to shout (and then subsequently become hoarse or even worse, develop a sore throat later on) to be heard. The ambience of Season fosters a lovely and unassuming, but lively, environment where you can enjoy your dinner, but also the presence of your table companions.

So there you have it: all the reasons why I love Season and why I highly encourage you to try it for yourself. Sure, it's a little outside of central London (N4), but it's a 5 (or less?) minute walk from Finsbury Park tube station. And totally worth it.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Attention, US Expats! Tesco Expands Its "American Foods" Aisle

I was in my usual, dramatic, mid-rant to John about something in the middle of Tesco Finsbury Park when something caught my eye: Apple Jacks. Except, I didn't just walk over to have a look, like any normal person would. Instead, I screeched, "APPPPLLLLLLLEEEEEEEE JAAAAAACKKKKKSSSS!!!! OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GODDDDDDDD!!!!!!!!!!" in the middle of the busy store. And then suddenly, it was, "A1 SAUCE!!! OH MY GOD I NEVER HAVE TO EAT BORING STEAK AGAIN!!!! OH MY GOD I'VE BEEN LOOKING FOR THIS EVERYWHERE!!!" John looked on, bemused, as I began to do a supermarket-sweep of the shelves.

Yes, Tesco now seems to have very well-stocked shelves full of American goods in its Metro stores. And just imagine: if this is what the Metro stores hold, what might the mecca of regular-sized stores have? Goldfish crackers? Graham crackers? The possibilities are endless.

In the end, this is what I walked away with (carried in my arms like a crazy person, of course, since I hadn't intended to buy anything when I arrived and was too far away from the baskets to grab one ... I also had an irrational thought that if I walked away from the Apple Jacks, it might have all been a mirage after all ...):

I can't wait to use the A1! At £4.75, the family size Kraft Macaroni & Cheese was probably my priciest purchase, but seeing as how I just finished the two packs I had brought back from Target, I thought it'd be worth it. I also got some mint M&Ms, but those were all eaten before this photo could be taken (and I'm pretty sure the beef jerky packet above was empty as well).

Then, when I was shopping for ingredients for John's birthday cake at the Tesco Metro in Covent Garden yesterday, I came across this:

I'll pass on the Hershey's (ew, gross, ick - who eats Hershey's in the land of Cadbury???), but two words: LUCKY CHARMS. LUCKY CHARMS, people!!! Next thing you know, they'll be stocking Cinnamon Toast Crunch! And, you see those bottles in the middle? That's root beer. Previously, I've only seen root beer at Byron's, when I order it every time with my burger.

And the prices aren't too insane (though I did get Pretzel M&Ms at my local dollar store in Washington for 75 cents and they're £1.50 here ...). Just insane enough for central London. I couldn't be happier.

Watch out, Britain - us Yanks are taking over the world. One Tesco Metro at a time.

p.s. Peanut butter and jelly. Yes, it's real. Get over it!

Sunday Brunch: French Toast With A Twist

On Friday, John and I were thrilled to receive the news that our niece had been born! Tom and Cristy are now proud parents to a beautiful, absolutely perfect baby girl - needless to say, everyone is smitten. I clicked on her first photo about 46 times on Friday and John's already saved it as his phone's lock-screen/wallpaper! John took a half day off from work to see her in the hospital and I was dying to see her myself, but couldn't make it until the next day.

My mother-in-law was staying with us, so in my excitement, I decided to make French toast for brunch on Saturday morning. One of my most-requested meals when I'm at home is my mom's delicious French toast. She uses a very thickly sliced white bread and manages to cook it evenly and perfectly, so that the buttery, egg-y goodness aroma fills the house and the slices are served up warm and soft inside. I usually just eat it drizzled with a generous helping of Aunt Jemima Original Syrup (which is very pricey here, in case you're wondering), but since I didn't have that on Saturday, I made up some cinnamon sugar, and tossed in a handful of blueberries with golden syrup instead.

Though the slices weren't as good as my mom's (and the bread was sliced considerably thinner), it still made for a tasty brunch and it's super easy to make. I usually like to make American-style pancakes as weekend treat, but French toast is a quicker and easier alternative if you're starved for time or just feeling a little lazy.

My method is low-key and simple: I whisk two to three eggs together (depending on how many people are eating!) and add milk to the mixture until it's about 2/3rds milk. I then transfer this mixture into a shallow plate so that I can easily dip and coat each slice of bread into the mixture before placing it into a medium-hot pan that already has a pat of butter melting away. I like to use chopsticks to flip my French toast because it's much easier than using a spatula, and you can press little corners here and there that aren't getting cooked evenly without flattening the whole thing. Once they're golden brown on each side, you're ready to go!

What's your favorite French toast topping?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

My Top Travel Essentials For A Jet-Lag Free Flight

When I landed in London after spending two weeks in Seattle, I expected to suffer from jet-lag quite badly during the following week. But it actually took me less than two days to fully adjust to the GMT time zone again! I was surprised, but chalked it up to the following products that I always stash in my carry-on and a few other strategies I have for long flights. I thought I'd share this with you since so many of my readers are globe-trotting jet-setters and it's something I often think about during my trans-continental trips.

1. I always carry a huge bottle of water on the plane. I really dislike the taste of Dasani (which is one of two options available at SeaTac airport) but I usually pick up a bottle of Evian at Heathrow. Although water is periodically served on the plane, cabin air is extremely dehydrating, so you'll need more than one measly plastic cup of water during the flight. I glug as much as I can during the flight (hence the reason why I always request an aisle seat!) and make it my goal to finish the whole bottle before I disembark. I strongly believe that keeping hydrated helps fight jet-lag on the other side.

2. Now, I don't know about you, but my skin feels awful when I'm on the plane. Dry, parched, and stretched tight, it doesn't matter how many moisturizers or serums I've slathered on pre-flight - 6 hours later, it's feeling pretty uncomfortable. My secret weapon is, without a doubt, the Avene thermal spring water spray. It comes in a convenient travel-size bottle (and is TSA approved) and is very inexpensive. I mist this over my face every two hours or so and it instantly soothes and refreshes my skin (I do it to John too on long-haul flights and even he admitted that it felt nice!). Of course, there are arguments that it's "just water", but I've been using this on my face consistently for the past few years or so and I really feel that the mineral qualities of this particular type of water have had positive effects on my skin.

3. Thirdly, my eyes hurt - SO BAD - on flights. They get so dry, I can barely blink (and that's without contacts in - never fly with your contacts in during long-haul flights, it's so bad for your eyes!). They hurt the most when I wake up from a snooze, so I use liquid gel drops. These are thicker than normal re-wetting drops and the effects last much longer. They're like an instant balm for your eyes. Magical.

4. I know I'm making my plane journey sound like the ascent up Everest, but seriously - how chapped do your lips get on a long flight? Mine feel terrible mid-flight. My trusty standby is always Burt's Bees original lip balm. The minty flavor is refreshing and the menthol is cooling on dry lips. And it's a good substitute if I forget to bring the next product ...

5. ... which is an Olbas inhaler stick. I've only seen this in the UK, but I'm sure you can buy something similar (and probably better!) in the US. I suffer from allergies and sinus problems on a regular basis, so my poor nose gets super irritated on long flights due to the extremely dry cabin air. And while I can't bring a humidifier with me on the plane (or hold any elaborate make-shift steaming sessions), an Olbas stick really helps keep my nasal passages (eww ... what a gross phrase!) clear and happy. If I don't have an Olbas stick with me, I rub a little Mentholatum or Burt's Bees under my nose for that soothing menthol kick.

6. Finally, the all-important eye shade. Buying the right kind of eye shade is extremely important. I used to love the lavender filled kind, as the scent was so comforting, it'd help lull me straight to sleep. But recently, John bought a version that cups your eyes, rather than resting directly on your eyelids, so that there's space for you to blink and you don't feel any pressure at all on your lids, which was a revelation (though my mom did giggle and point out that it looked like a mini bra when I showed it to her - sooo mature, mom). Anyway, these are terrific and have made a huge difference to how I sleep on planes. I find that I can sleep for much longer with this type of eye shade and for more continuous periods of time.

Ok, so I think my Number #1 tip for a jet-lag free flight is ... avoid alcohol. I know, I know, those little bottles of wine they serve with your meal on British Airways are so appealing and you think that wine will help you unwind and relax, sending you off to a restful night's sleep. Wrong. Alcohol is extremely dehydrating and you're more likely to sleep fitfully and wake feeling groggy when you land. If I'm really tempted by that wine, I've learned to accept the bottle and tuck it into my bag for later, after I've reached my destination (it's party time!).

The bottom line is, if you want to sleep well on a long flight or simply feel better on the other side, drink lots of water (more than you think you'll need) and stay away from alcohol! (But don't stay away from the on-flight entertainment system because that's always been my way of catching up with the latest movies :))

Happy travels!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


Our basic needs as humans are food, warmth, and shelter. I thought of this as I burrowed deep into the covers of my childhood bed at home last week, feeling happy, full, and content - comforted that my brother (who was nursing the flu and whom I convinced to stay overnight) was asleep on the couch right outside my bedroom. Even though it was January 4th, it felt like Christmas to me: everyone tucked into their beds, soundly asleep in a warm, comforting home.

My homecoming is always the same: I rush through US customs, practically running ahead of the slow, hobbling, overweight population of the plane disembarking at SeaTac airport. I check all the appropriate boxes on the customs form and answer, "just cookies," when asked if I'm bringing any food into the country and wince when the customs official (always a he) says, "Welcome home." This was my home, once upon a time, and I still refer to it as "home", but it is not. I have lived abroad long enough that I now experience culture shock when returning to the States. It certainly does not feel like home. It feels strange, foreign to me, even, as I stare in wide-eyed wonder at the size of grocery stores and SUVs on the road and genetically enhanced fruit.

From customs, I race down to baggage claim while trying not to look suspicious (drug patrol dogs are always out at SeaTac), lift my nearly-empty suitcase easily from the baggage carousel (arriving empty in order to be filled with the shopping delights of the Pacific Northwest!) and head to the train, which takes me to the main terminal.

I can see it in my head now, even as I write this back in London. I rehearse every step, every moment, of my arrival to Seattle before I even get to Heathrow airport. On the plane, I pretend I'm hurtling through a wormhole that allows me to transcend time, space, distance.

I turn on my phone and wait for it to find a US carrier. I call my Dad and tell him I'm waiting under "Skybridge 3. No, Skybridge 2. I'm standing under the American Airlines sign. It's busy." I wave at the wrong Subaru a few times. Finally, he appears, grinning, and hops out of the car, helping me with my suitcase. "Hi Dad!" I say, excited and brimming over with happiness at seeing him in real life rather than over a FaceTime connection. It's the same every time: he says I stink of garlic and asks, "What did they feed you on the plane?", offers me gum, asks me how John is, asks me how Alison is, tells me about work, and I babble. We're 15 minutes away from home when he clutches at his pockets and says, "I forgot to call mom and tell her I picked you up! She is going to have a fit! She's preparing your favorite congee." I call her and tell her I'm 10 minutes away. She always says, "That was quick! There's congee waiting for you at home."

Our basic needs as humans are food, warmth, and shelter. And whenever I'm "home" for an extended period of time, I feel as though I'm enveloped in a warm, crushing, constant hug from my parents, 24/7. I snuggle deep into the covers of my childhood bed and I get tears in my eyes and I think, 'I'm too old to be treated this way.' Of course, I love it. But I feel infantile. I act that way too. I make unreasonable demands. I binge watch TV because I can and there's no one to stop me or make me feel guilty from indulging too much. I eat everything and anything I can get my hands on that's off limits or unavailable to me in London: soft, glazed donuts by the dozen, Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies, beef jerky from Costco, every last morsel of my parents' cooking. Instead of learning how to recreate their recipes, I nap and miss it all, waking only to consume and repeat. This makes me sad and angry with myself, but I do it anyway.

Then there are the role reversals, which are more disorienting than anything else: my (little!) brother correcting my grammar at the dinner table; my mother in the backseat of the car, engrossed in Candy Crush Saga on her iPad for the duration of the ride; me arguing with my mother that the dress she bought for me is far too short for my liking; and finally, me pleading with my father to bite the XXL grapes he was eating in half first because I was scared he'd choke on them, to which he responded by gleefully popping two, no three, at a time into his mouth. Since when did I turn into the parent?

When I return to London (which is also not my home) two weeks later, I feel very - most overwhelmingly - alone. With no one to constantly monitor and ask about my basic needs every half an hour, I feel abandoned and left to fend for myself. My body, grown accustomed to being driven everywhere and hardly moving a muscle, feels bewildered in having to walk the short but frequent distances to the bus stop, to work, to the grocery store. I feel sorry for myself when my umbrella turns inside out and the rain whips around my ankles as I wait for four full buses to pass before I can get on one that will actually fit me to take me to work. I feel sorry for myself when I wake in the middle of the night, hungry from being jet lagged, and there are no delicious cocktail buns from Hong Kong that have been frozen and then defrosted for my arrival that I can simply warm in the microwave. I burst into tears when I go to the small Tesco Express by my flat after work to find some dinner and am faced with the same, limited options I have every day: chicken, chicken, or chicken. I long for the oversized grocery stores of the US, which sell genetically engineered fruit accompanied by tubs of caramel dip and clever fruit peeling gadgets. John says I feel sorry for myself too often. I can't help it, after two weeks of being treated like a child at home.

At work, I sneak into the bathroom to take photos in the mirror of the outfits I bought with my mom using the birthday and Christmas money my parents gave me and email them to her when I'm back at my desk. Then I return to lock myself in a stall and cry for about five minutes or so.

My friends at work are sweet and understanding. Seeing my red-rimmed eyes, they offer suggestions to cheer me up and come up to visit me at my desk one-by-one. "Let's have lunch!" "Let's get drinks after work!" "Why don't we see a movie together this week?" I sniff, reach for a tissue, and nod, mumbling my thanks. "I'll be fine in two weeks, I promise," I say, smiling wanly.

And then six months later or so: lather, rinse, and repeat. It's getting better though - I'm starting to feel less alone. Rather, I feel love from both sides of the ocean. And I realized that this love has always existed. I have just opened and closed the valves of my heart every time my plane touched down in a different airport. This time, I am leaving it open to receive - to truly receive - the love that I know and feel to be deep within me.

I am getting closer to "home", I think.

© angloyankophile

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