Monday, February 24, 2014

Oh, Mount Holyoke, We Pay Thee Devotion

I was devastated when I lost my Mount Holyoke white gold signet ring. My parents bought it for me when I graduated and it had my initials and class year carved on the underside, with the college's seal stamped on the top. I wore it nearly every day on my right hand, and especially on days when I thought I needed an extra bit of luck or strength. I keep hoping it'll find its way back to me some day. While I know I could easily purchase a new one, that ring in particular has seen me through some trying times.

And while this isn't the same, I was thrilled when I came across this Wedgewood plate of Skinner Hall on eBay. When I clicked on the item's details, I was surprised to see that it was shipping from Devon, England. Luckily, the plate had a "Buy It Now" option, so I didn't have to bid against anyone else, but as soon as I saw it, I knew it had to be mine. Now, I'm not obsessed with collecting MHC paraphernalia, but it felt like it belonged to me - just like I felt like I belonged on the Mount Holyoke campus when I first visited as a high school junior over 12 years ago.

Skinner Hall, though home to the Economics Department (I was an English major), holds a very special place in my heart. I have wonderful memories of sitting on Skinner Green with friends during the spring - when the campus was at its prettiest - lounging on Adirondack chairs and looking across at the hall. It was also where my First Year Honors Tutorials with Professor Jim Hartley were held (I think the College has since discontinued these tutorials). We were a small group of five: we met once a week to discuss Great Books of the Western Civilization, with Professor Hartley (or "J-Hart", as we affectionately decided to dub him - both outside of class and to his face!) offering moral quandaries as discussion topics that were reflected in the works we read by Machiavelli, Dostoyevsky, and more.

When I look at this plate, I feel as though I'm standing there on Skinner Green, looking at the doors to the Hall. I can hear the noises of campus and think that, if I just turned around, I'd be facing Blanchard Student Center and I could walk in to buy a Chef Jeff cookie and meet my friends for lunch - just like I used to. Or, I could turn right and head towards Mount Holyoke's beautiful library to work on my senior thesis - experiencing the sounds of excited chatter bouncing off the sky-lit atrium and the quiet hush that falls as I ascend to the glass-stained hall of the main library.

These are the overwhelming feelings of nostalgia I get when I look at this plate. I may never get my ring back, but this will do in reminding me - every day - that I went to college at a spectacular place, with spectacular people, during a spectacular time.

Mount Holyoke, forever, shall be.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Rejoice, Americans: Cadbury Creates a Ritz Cracker Mash-Up

Although the US may be the unspoken leader when it comes to creative flavor combinations (e.g. peanut butter and jelly, chocolate covered salty pretzels, vanilla cupcake flavored Goldfish crackers, to name a few), it seems as though the UK is catching up.

Recently, Cadbury released these small, snack-pack bars of Ritz crackers encased in Cadbury milk chocolate. Genius, no? I found them when I was whizzing through my local Tesco Express, engrossed in my shopping list. I walked past the stand and then did a slow-motion backwards walk (yes, really) after doing a double-take. At 50p per bar, I grabbed two, then two more on a later excursion with John to the same Tesco. I tend to hoard junk food like there's going to be an apocalypse and the only foodstuffs we'll be able to survive on are calorific, artery-blocking gems like these. If the zombies come, you'll find me in the boiler closet, wedged between a stockpile of toilet paper and Kleenex, clutching my Cadbury Ritz bars.

Anyway, they're delicious - obviously. I think they've added a bit more salt to the Ritz in these bars, however, as I don't think Ritz crackers out of the box are normally this salty. All the better, as the milk chocolate and salty cracker crunch make a terrific combination.

And true to form, one of my British followers on Twitter tweeted me the following comment after I posted the photo above online: "That looks disgusting."

Happy eating your emotions. You'll thank me later.

Coffee Pit Stop @ 52a Coffee House. Shop. House. Or Shop.

Happy Monday!

What did you do this weekend?

The weather was bee-yoo-tiful yesterday! Yes, I timidly poked my head out the window to feel the temperature as I suspiciously waited for the first drop of rain ... but there was nothing but blue skies and sunshine for the whole day (don't worry, it's raining and grey again today). The magpies were chatting to each other, people were playing tennis in Rosemary Gardens, I had my sunnies and ankle-skimming jeans on ... it almost felt like spring.

We stopped by the small but adorable café in De Beauvoir, 52a Coffee House (or Shop ... it can't seem to decide), which I love to visit for its range of delicious homemade cakes, pastries, cookies, and delicious hot drinks. In particular, I love their soy almond tea latte, which is thick and creamy with a light almond flavor. And their spiced chai tea latte - along with their super friendly service - always puts me in a good mood.

Along with baked goods, they've also started to carry a small range of produce (which you can almost see in the photo above), including these organic eggs:

I had to take a photo for my mom because she made the observation that we typically only have brown eggs here in the UK, whereas eggs in the US (or at least, where I'm from) tend to be white and brown eggs are a little bit of a novelty. So, this was the first time I'd ever seen white eggs in the UK! Oh, so much excitement for this American.

John and I took our drinks outside to soak up the sun while it lasted and it felt positively luxurious to be bathed in a momentary warmth ... in England ... in February.

Have a lovely week. :)

Friday, February 14, 2014

My Valentine's Dinner: M&S Dine In For Two

Yeah, I had a little tantrum when I found out that my favorite steakhouse in London, Meat People, had run out of tables for Valentine's Day. So what if I hadn't booked three weeks in advance? I needed that steak!

But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise really, since I'm still kind of feeling blah after my operation and John has, once again, been traveling non-stop this week for work (plus, the weather is horrible). The more I thought about it, the more I was looking forward to going home, slipping on a slinky dress getting into my fleece robe, and sharing a bottle of wine with my favorite person, while watching the Winter Olympics highlights on our projector before falling asleep on the floor (and also giving John his Valentine's gift of anti-age eye cream, which I thought was an incredibly romantic gesture at the time of purchase).

But I did better than that. Yes, during my week of recovery, I was bombarded by ads on TV advertising all the Dine in for Two deals at grocery stores like Tesco, Waitrose, and M&S. After watching these commercials closely, I decided that the M&S option looked the best, so I headed out there at lunchtime and BAM! Like a sniper taking his shot, I did a rapid-fire grab of random items and ended up with the above - which, in case you can't tell, consists of:


Coquilles St Jacques

Sirloin Steak

Fresh Chips

2 Valentines hearts (Passionfruit & white chocolate and Salted caramel & dark chocolate)

Chocolate Hearts

Cava El Padruell  

All for £20.

Okay, so, side note: you know how I always complain about British grocery stores (especially in big cities like London and their lack of variety, etc. etc. etc.? Well, I have forgotten to name one crucial and redeeming feature of places like Tesco, M&S, and Waitrose, which is their frequent Dine in for Two meal deals. These aren't always on offer, but when they are, usually consist of a main course, side dish, dessert, and a bottle of good quality wine for £10. 

The first time my mom accompanied me on a shopping trip to purchase such a deal for dinner, she was gobsmacked. "Whaaaaaat?" she cried, as I began loading up my basket with items. "You get all that? AND dessert?" I carefully selected a rather large box of profiteroles, balancing precariously on top of each other in a beautiful pyramid. "Aaaaand a bottle of wine? For £10?" she exclaimed in wonder. 

"Wow. That sure beats the US. We don't have anything like that over there." And that, my friends, is one of the few times my mom has praised anything in this oh-adopted-country-of-mine. Usually it's: "These sponges are weird" or "Ugh, what a pain it is to air-dry clothes!" or "I hate all this walking in the rain!" or ... well, you get the idea. Although, I did excitedly show my mom the picture above this morning and she was like, "But you have to cook it though." I was like, "Yes, but look at how amazing this is! It's so pretty! And all that food for £20!" (pause) "But you have to cook it though."

So yes. Aside from buying my designer rip-off shoes from M&S, I also buy my food there. It's great.

Happy Valentine's Day, y'all.

Lace Sneaks For Less: £450 vs £25

I have been obsessing over the slip-on sneaker trend lately, which - I'll admit - is reminiscent of my junior high school years, when Vans were all the rage. Of course, they've received a sharp update since then from designers such as Céline and Givenchy, with added details of lace, leopard-print pony skin, and naturally, lots of leather.

I was particularly taken by this pair of Givenchy macrame lace slip-ons, especially for their two-tone lace and thick, luxurious leather piping:

At £450, however, my publishing salary couldn't really stretch to such a splurge (nor would I really want to splurge on a pair of at-the-moment slip-on sneakers, tbh). And though there have been significantly more affordable lookalikes at Kurt Geiger and Bertie, for example, even those (running between £65-95) made me a little reluctant to take out my Longchamp wallet and punch in my pin.

So I was thrilled when the SheerLuxe newsletter popped into my email, advertorializing (yeah, that's not a word - I just made it up) the £25 version I'm wearing above from Marks & Spencer's Limited Edition range. They also have the company's famous "Insolia Flex" technology, which simply means it doesn't feel like you're walking on cardboard all day. They're cushy and very comfortable to wear.

I literally read that email, clicked on the link, selected my size, had them shipped (free of charge) to my nearest M&S, and collected them the next day. Now, if that's not effective advertising, then I don't know what is. Or maybe it's simply evidence of my shopaholic tendencies. Dangerous. So dangerous.

My version of the shoe may not look as luxe, but for a here-today-gone-tomorrow trend that I've been desperately wanting to try, they'll do, I think.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Lara Melchior Jewelry Collection @ & Other Stories

I am head over heels in love with this simple but beautiful costume jewelry collection by French designer Lara Melchior at & Other Stories. I visited yesterday (when I finally felt like I had enough strength to manage a lunchtime excursion to Oxford Street - and trust me, that takes a lot of strength; both mental and physical) and was completely enchanted by the delicate honeycomb ring (shown above) and also the gorgeous ginko bracelet. And at very affordable price points (the rings are around £29 and the bracelet is £65, for example), it's the first line of jewelry I've seen on the high street that has gotten me really excited.

I feel like there are so many other "options" in the US than there are in the UK when it comes to accessories shopping: we boast a good selection of high-end but independent designers and affordable, cheap thrills at places like Target and Forever 21. I often feel frustrated that I can't find the same here in London. It's heartening to know that these sorts of limited edition, short-term collaborations are popping up with increasing frequency in standalone stores.

Hint: these also make a terrific present for Valentine's Day ... if you're so inclined! 


Monday, February 10, 2014

Post-Op Sum-Up: Dreamt Of An All-You-Can-Eat Buffet, Totally Disappointed To Wake Up In The Recovery Room

Yeah, so I had surgery last week for the 4th time in 10 years ... I have a reoccurring cyst in my upper jaw which affects my sinuses as well. I've had two operations in the US and this was my second procedure in the UK under the NHS.

The initial reaction I received from Brits and non-Brits alike when I told them I was due to have an operation at an NHS hospital was alarm, and then: "But can't you go private?" Though I do have access to private insurance here in the UK, I politely but firmly assured them I was totally against this, as the consultant I've been seeing was recommended to me by my surgeon in the US (they're good friends) - plus, I had such a wonderful experience at The Royal Surrey County Hospital the last time around, I had no intention of paying extra to receive the same (if not worse, in my opinion) kind of treatment with the same doctor but in a slightly more modern building.

The Surgical Short Stay Unit is a separate arm of The Royal Surrey and is set off to the side of the hospital in a small building. It's for minor (and in some cases, more serious, as I learned while I was staying "on the ward") operations and patients may be discharged the same day though they usually stay overnight.

I was admitted at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning, but was apologetically told by my consultant that since I was "quite low" on the priority list, my operation would likely be that afternoon. Now, I don't mind waiting, but having not had anything to eat since my delicious Jamie's Italian meal the night before around 7 p.m., and not being allowed to eat or drink before my procedure, I wondered how I'd make it through the awfully long hours ... particularly since every magazine I brought happened to mention, in detail, recipes for thick chunky stews or the most delectable appetizers. An article in Grazia, clearly written to torture me, even profiled a day-in-the-life-of a food taster. I kid you not.

In the meantime, I had my paperwork and vitals recorded by the nicest nurse ever (who then periodically returned to check on me while I was waiting, making sure I was warm enough, etc.), and was visited by my anaesthesiologist (who I remembered and really liked from my last operation at the hospital) for a pre-op chat. I was then assigned a bed around 10:30 a.m. or so and spent the rest of the afternoon mindlessly flipping through magazines and avoiding all mentions of food.

By 2 p.m., I wanted to eat my hospital gown. And the sheets. I was so hungry. Being on a ward of 6 other women doesn't afford much privacy, so I was a little embarrassed but saddened to hear that the woman on the other side of the curtain next to my bed was there for a laparoscopic hysterectomy due to cystic fibrosis. I had glanced up only briefly when she entered the room with her partner, and she didn't seem that much older than me - maybe by 10 years? So although I'd been feeling sorry for myself that morning, I was quickly put in my place upon overhearing her consultant discuss her procedure and the risks with her.

I was finally wheeled in my bed to the operating theatre around 4:30 p.m. or so, where I was prepped with a cannula. The last thing I remember was the nice anaesthesiologist telling me that I'd start feeling like I'd had a few beers shortly and me joking that it only takes a sip of beer to get me drunk since I'm such a lightweight. I then asked feebly, "I won't wake up though, will I?" And he assured me that I wouldn't.

And then.

I (as I always do when I'm under general anaesthesia) had the best dream. EVER. An all-you-can-eat buffet with lots of fried chicken and juicy pieces of steak danced tantalizingly in front of my eyes, the steam rising from the mountainous trays of food as if everything had just been freshly prepared for me (during my very first operation in Seattle, I dreamt that I had scored an excellent pair of Marc Jacobs heels at the Nordstrom sale and subsequently yelled at the recovery nurse for waking me up just as I was about to "pay").

I took a step towards the gleaming plates and, of course, opened my eyes to bright lights instead. And pain. So I did what I always do in these situations: I bawled. I was mostly crying at the injustice of being denied the steak and realizing that I probably wouldn't be able to chew steak for at least another two or three weeks. "I'm so sorrrrryyyy," I blubbered to the nurse, who was probably about 20 and insisted on calling me "sweet pea". "I don't even know why I'm cryyinnnggg. I-I-I-I'm finnnnnneee," I howled, as she patted my arm and smoothed my hair away from my face.

After pumping me with painkillers, I was wheeled back to my original spot on the ward and John's mom came in shortly after to sit next to me and read her book while I grumpily drifted in and out of sleep. A nurse stopped by to ask if I wanted any dinner and my mind momentarily flashed to my heavenly dream of fried chicken and steak. She rattled off a few choices, including steak pie, chicken casserole and a few other non-easily-chewable items. I glumly replied that I probably couldn't eat any of those, but she perked up and said, "I know! I'll give you a huge helping of mashed potatoes, with extra gravy, how's that?" She returned with a plateful of the promised potatoes, along with extra gravy and some carefully chosen mushrooms, which was heart-warming.

Because I was suffering from a common but rather unpleasant side effect from the general anaesthesia, the nurses decided to keep me overnight. Instead of sleeping, I spent the night anxiously pacing the hallway, close to tears, as I tried to deal with my embarrassing condition. Something similar had happened to me during my second operation in Seattle and the night nurse on duty was cold, brusque and completely unsympathetic. Here, it couldn't have been a more different scenario: the nurses offered suggestions, comforted me, scrunched their faces in sympathy, and continued to check in with me as the night progressed. I was so incredibly impressed with the professionalism and kindness of the night team on duty that evening. They worked tirelessly through the night in dispensing medications, dealing with my "drama", fielding requests from difficult patients - all the while remaining compassionate, calm, and very patient.

I've been back home for nearly a week now and I'm almost feeling back to my normal self. I have John's mom to thank for accompanying me every step of the way and taking amazing care of me as soon as I came out of the operating room (she literally had to put my shoes on for me and then stayed with me for hours!). She then stayed with me in London for a few days, cooking, cleaning, and reminding me to take my pills. I'm so, so lucky to call her my mother-in-law.

So, another op down and hopefully none whatsoever in the future. Once again, I am so grateful to the Maxillofacial Department at The Royal Surrey County Hospital and the whole nursing and medical team - especially the night team - at the Surgical Short Stay Unit. To think that the treatment I received costs around $10,000 (I know, because I was not covered under US medical insurance for my last op in the States and had to pay out of pocket for an emergency procedure) in the US but was covered by the NHS here makes me quite happy to be a UK taxpayer.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Korean Food = Comfort Food

My first-year roommate at Mount Holyoke, Deborah, is half-Korean and spent most of her life on an American army base in Seoul. On a particularly cold and bitter winter's night, I remember getting into her car (a red Camaro - I'll never forget that!) and driving to a Korean restaurant in the Pioneer Valley that she'd heard about from the other Korean students. Up until then, I'd never tried Korean food, despite the plethora of Korean BBQ restaurants in Federal Way, which only a 20-minute drive from our house in Washington state.

Deborah ordered with ease in her fluent Korean (much to the surprise of the waitress, who had assumed she was Russian, for some reason), selecting a spicy, hot seafood noodle soup called jjamppong for both of us. An hour after our food had arrived and my bowl was licked clean, my nose was running, my face was hot and flushed, but I'd never felt better.

To this day, the hot, bubbling broths and spiciness of traditional Korean food is what I turn to in the winter months when a more mild-flavored Vietnamese pho just won't cut it, and I need something more - shall we say, extreme - to open up my sinuses. I love the side vegetable dishes that accompany each meal: the pickled slices of cucumber, cold marinated bean sprouts, and of course, Korean cuisine's most famous mainstay, kimchee.

In London, I usually frequent Naru on Shaftesbury Avenue or Bi Won on Coptic Street, for the simple fact that they're near my office and both tempting locations for the occasional office lunch or dinner. I've also been to the BBQ restaurant, Arang, in Soho, which is equally delicious but quite different from the other two as it's focused on Korean barbeque.

Unlike Japanese restaurants (ranging from ramen to sushi bars), which are far more ubiquitous in major cities, Korean food has taken a bit more time to build momentum, I feel. But this is definitely changing, especially with the arrival of Kimchee, a chain of Korean restaurants offering pre-boxed, grab-and-go lunch and dinner options for busy commuters - not dissimilar to what Itsu has done for sushi in central London. The food at Kimchee is far more mainstream; it tastes less like homecooking and more like the mass-produced results you'd expect from a place that produces hundreds of these "boxes" of bi bim bap per day. But it's a quick fix, especially if you're in a rush or need to eat at your desk.

In the US, the fusion of Korean food with the traditional cuisine of other cultures has taken quite the turn in the past few years, though the UK is a little slow on the uptake. Korean taco trucks have been popping up in New York for a while now, and I blogged about John Salt's kimchee, pulled pork, and cheese fries in Islington last year.

I'm not usually a fan of lazy, thoughtless "fusion" Asian food (I stage a walk-out as soon as I see "Chinese, Japanese, Thai" together on any restaurant menu e.g. pad thai with miso broth and kung pao chicken for £6.95), but done well and intelligently, it's fun to occasionally dabble in.

I'm excited to see what direction modern Korean cuisine develops and what possibilities this might mean for new restaurants in London.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Lazy Saturday Afternoon @ The Proud Archivist

There are so many new restaurants and cafes that have opened up along the Regent's Canal near where we live on the Islington/Hackney border. Just a few years ago, the buildings along the canal were abandoned, disused, and dilapidated - but now, they've nearly all been transformed into smart, modern-looking apartments and warehouse conversion offices, making it an ideal location to buy, if not rent. 

The Proud Archivist, an intersection between a gallery, bar, restaurant, and event space, is one of these new(ish) establishments along the canal that I've been waiting to try. But when you've lived in an area for a while, it's easy to keep popping back to your favorite haunts, instead of going somewhere new.

Yesterday, I was feeling a little under the weather, and as a result, somehow managed to only move between my bed and the pseudo-couch/bed arrangement I'd set up for myself in the living room for the entire morning - only to let out a little yelp when I looked at my phone and realized it was already 3 pm! 

Neither John nor I had bothered to think about lunch, since he made a delicious fry-up at about 11 am, so we wanted to head off somewhere that was local, relaxed, and served food. So I suggested heading over to The Proud Archivist, since a short walk along the canal would provide fresh air as well - something we obviously both needed. 

And I'm so glad we went! Stretching over two floors of bright and airy loft space, the restaurant area was buzzing when we arrived. But we were quickly greeted by very friendly staff, who found a table for us upstairs in no time. I loved the arrangement of big, simple wooden tables offset with contemporary chairs and long benches. Art books filled the shelves (we flipped through a thick, Rolex tome while waiting for our food) and framed artwork hung from the windows, shelves, and walls.

We ordered the apple, chicory, and lentil salad, plus a banoffee muffin for dessert and chatted the afternoon away, which was lovely, since we've been like ships passing in the night for the past few months or so due to John's insane work schedule.

Though I love the pubs and cafes around us, The Proud Archivist just seems like the ultimate place to "hang out", you know? I could easily see myself spending an afternoon there chatting with friends, blogging, reading, or just enjoying the atmosphere. LOTS of parents brought their teeny tiny ones, which makes it a super family-friendly place as well - a plus for all the young families in the area.

The gallery runs events as well, ranging from weekday yoga sessions for women in the gallery space to mindful eating courses. There's live music from 3 pm on Saturdays, which we enjoyed, and as I said, the staff are friendly, non-intrusive, and easy-going.

I think I might have found my new "haunt"!

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