Saturday, March 28, 2015


I'm holiday/vacay.

I will not be checking my emails.

I will not be wearing a watch.

I will not be wearing shoes (most of the time).

I will not be blogging (except for a scheduled Travel Link-Up post for next week, if I get around to doing it today. If not, then, whatevs).

I will (probably) be on Instagram.

I will be eating delicious curries.

I will be exploring the jungles of Sri Lanka.

I will be warding off thunderstorms and wearing a giant floppy hat on the beach.

Best wishes.

Kind regards.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Ten Most Instagrammed Images (And Their Hashtags)

Instagram is probably my favorite social media channel: that perfect square (or occasional rectangle, if I want to keep things in their original landscape format!) conveniently edits out everything you don't want others to see and captures just what you want to focus on. Deceptive? Maybe. Anti-social? Often. Narcissistic? Yes.

But it's fun.

In my defense, I'm a really "visual" person, so I love finding inspiration on Instagram - even more so than Pinterest. I typically use Pinterest for ideas, but for every day imagery, I'm constantly on Instagram. I love to see what other bloggers have been up to and I follow a lot of American fashion bloggers (SongofStyle, WeWoreWhat, HelloFashionBlog, KendieEveryday being a few of my favorites!) - plus, there's just some beautiful photography out there.

But after Instagramming for a couple of years,it seems like the same (or similar) images keep popping up in my feed. Below are the most popular shots (and their accompanying hashtags) ... and the ones that I'm guilty of overdoing.

All. The. Time.

1. The Latte/Flat White Shot #foamart #coffee #latteart #flatwhite

You know the drill: you've met your #BFF for brunch (have you noticed? It's always brunch in Instagram-land, never breakfast - no matter how early it is. If it's really breakfast, then you'd better have granola, yogurt, fresh blueberries, and chia seeds on standby) and when your flat white arrives, you can't resist snapping a quick photo with your phone.  Even better: when the table's been "styled" with fresh flowers. Eye roll (yes, I'm rolling my eyes at myself - that's the point of this post).

2. The Eggs Benedict/Royale/Florentine Shot #eggs #eggsbenedict #eggsroyale #eggsflorentine #brunch #food #foodie #instafood

Continuing on the brunch theme, I'll sit back on Saturday mornings and wait for images of runny, orange egg-yolk to saturate my Instagram feed. WHY DOES EVERYONE ORDER THE SAME DAMN THING? IN DIFFERENT PLACES? BUT AT THE SAME TIME? INCLUDING ME???  Btw, that eggs royale pictured above was seriously overpriced. My wallet hurt more than those eggs that were being sliced into.

(Sidenote: I can just about bring myself to use the #foodie hashtag in some of my posts, though I do gag a little when I do it, but I can't do #foodporn or #foodgasm. Gross. My fingers refuse to tap out the words.) 

3. The Macaron Shot #macarons #dessert #sweets

Doesn't matter if there's one (or a thousand, as it seemed like when I stumbled upon this stand in Borough Market); if they're behind glass or on a plate; if they're being sold in England or America or France, macarons are the most Instagrammable dessert to grace social media. I don't know what it is about these meringue-based almond flour confections, but they're everywhere. Oh wait, yes, I do - they're pretty (and delicious). They're also expensive (let's be honest here), so they're seen as a luxury and a treat.

4. The Ramen Shot #ramen #food #foodie #instafood #instagood 

Funny story: I had a spontaneous ramen date with a friend of mine on Monday, and I Instagrammed my bowl of tonkotsu ramen while I was there. By the time I'd gotten home, two more people in my feed had Instagrammed their bowls of ramen at the same restaurant - taken at different times. Funny or crazy? What's Instagram's (my) obsession with ramen? Oh yes, it's "trendy" and nice to look at. Well, I'm waiting for congee to make a comeback. Oh, but wait - it never will, because it's just ... white. With unidentifiable ingredients floating in it (but so delicious).

5. The Oh-Look-It's-Just-Me-Holding-A-Product-In-My-Hand Shot #icecream #saltedcaramel #food #foodie

This is perfect for, when - excited by a new discovery (as I was when I discovered this £6 tub of Jude's Salted Caramel ice cream, which was worth every pence) - you want to share it with EVERYONE, but just want a photo against a flat, white background. I see a lot of beauty bloggers do this, which is effective, since all the focus is on the product and nothing else.

6.  The Outfit-From-Above Shot #fwis #ootd #widn #fbloggers

It's tricky to try and pretend that taking a photo like this isn't narcissistic, when it totally is (guilty!). But sometimes (and believe me, it's rare), I'm like, "Hey! I like what I'm wearing today. What the heck - I'm going to share." And then this happens.

7. The Watch/Bracelet Shot #armcandy #wristcandy #accessories #fbloggers 

Actually, I took this photo for a serious post that I wrote, but I see drool-worthy images of bloggers' stacks of bracelets and watches nearly every day and then it's like someone pressed a button in my head that goes, "MUST. GO. TO. TOPSHOP. NOW." Bad, right?

8. The Landscape Shot #spring #bluesky #country

You know this one. Where the famous "rule of thirds" is invoked and you see a whole lot of sky and it's outrageously blue and the grass is outrageously green because the person behind the shot (in this case, me) has clearly played with the saturation and the brightness and the contrast? That one. Everything looks so peachy keen and dandy in this shot, doesn't it? Until you realize that the person taking the photo (me, again) has stepped in a cow pie and tripped over a turnstile because she's wearing borrowed Hunter boots that are two sizes too big for her. #reallife

9. The Flower Shot #flowers #floral #spring  

Flowers. Of any kind (BUT MOSTLY TULIPS). At any stage (BUT MOSTLY TULIPS IN FULL BLOOM). Taken from above. Or the side. Or the front. Or the back (do flowers have "backs"?). Mostly at Liberty.

10. The Cloud Shot #clouds #sky #cloudp*rn

Just clouds. In the sky. Doing their thing. Yet, attractively so.

Are you on Instagram? Are you guilty of any of the above offences? I'm at @angloyankophile, if you'd like to see!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Expat Talk: Long-Distance Friendships

My three best friends are coming over to visit me in May, and I cannot wait. These are the girls (and yes, in my mind, we're still "girls", not "women"!) I went to college with, who travelled cross-country to attend my wedding reception in Seattle, and who cried with me at the airport when we had to say goodbye.

These are the girls who, when I'm feeling inexplicably down, will act as mindreaders and know precisely when to send a text, a letter, or a hilarious anecdote out of the blue - just to remind me that they're there. That they exist.

Occasionally, I'll come home and find an envelope stamped from San Diego, California from the makeshift cardboard "mail box" in the communal hallway. Without stopping to take off my shoes or coat - the buzz of my music still playing in the earphones I've now taken out -  I'll sink onto the carpet in our entryway, eagerly tearing open the envelope and excitedly scanning the letter for news, for laughs, for love.

It's that kind of friendship.

We have a term for this kind of friendship: "soul sisters". That is, that you have the ability to intuit each other's moods, feelings, thoughts even from thousands and thousands of miles away. And you have a secret code when you're together. Normal occurences become fodder for tales that will be retold for years to come. In advance of my friends' visit this May, I've sent a group text that read (on more than one occasion), "I can't wait to make new memories with you all!"

Because when they're around? Everything is more fun. Everything's sunnier, brighter, clearer.

While I love and adore the friends I've made during my time here in London, it sometimes makes me sad that there's no one here (besides John) who really "knows" me the way my three best friends do. I miss the completely easy, effortless friendships that we have. It's part of having a shared history, isn't it?

I've talked about long-distance (romantic) relationships before, but I'd love to hear from you about long-distance friendships. How are these friendships tested when we move abroad? Or simply, when we've relocated to a different city, a train or a plane ride away?

If you're an expat, how often do you keep in touch with friends from "home"?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Bach in the Subways 2015 at Tottenham Court Road Tube Station

It's funny how I'll make jokes like, "I'd love to perform at Cadogan Hall!" or "I'd love to busk in London!" and so far, both of those jokes have come true. Though technically we weren't "busking" ... read on.

Bach's 330th birthday was on Saturday and to celebrate, hundreds of musicians performed Bach (for free!) in hundreds of subway stations around the world as part of Bach in the Subways 2015. Founded by NYC-based cellist, Dale Henderson, Bach in the Subways was originally envisioned as an opportunity for people to experience classical music live - without paying a single cent/pence.

So, on Saturday morning, a few of us from The Royal Orchestral Society gathered at Somerset House for a quick rehearsal before heading to Tottenham Court Road station to perform Bach's Brandenburg Concerto #3 (you definitely know it: it features in most weddings/office parties/events - I seriously never want to hear it again, after playing it five times in a row!).

If you haven't been, the station has recently been refurbished - it looks amazingly shiny and new. There were more of us than anticipated (16, I think) and we played on the "mid-concourse" level i.e. the bit where everyone filters into when they step off the tube, so we got a lot of traffic. I mean, a lot.

I was surprised at how quickly crowds gathered and how many people stopped to listen! At first, it was just a group of young Italian tourists with cameras at the ready, but then more and more people stopped to watch. It was amazing. Before we started, I thought most people would walk past and ignore us, but the opposite was the case: station staff had to keep the area clear because people were standing directly in front of the escalators!

I think it was during our third performance of the concerto that I saw - out of the corner of my eye (when I wasn't wrestling with an intensely difficult passage played at breakneck speed!) - a couple of kids with their parents rushing past, when the dad tapped his small child on the shoulder and waved him over to stop and listen for a while. I loved that.

While I didn't catch everyone's reactions, seeing the looks on peoples' faces when we finished a movement to applause was wonderful. Smiles all around, cheering, and lots of "Bravos!" shouted at us. It was very sweet and encouraging.

I love this photo because you can see the people craning their necks to watch us as they go up the escalator. Watching/hearing classical music performed live is such a powerful thing - the mathematical precision and harmonies of Bach's compositions have a wide appeal.

It's funny - though I've performed with this orchestra a number of times (whose members are a mix of professional, ex-professional, conservatory students and amateur musicians), I don't know how we sound to the audience, so I usually rely on John to tell me ("The brass sounded amazing in the beginning!" or "The violins were a little shaky in the last bit of the Mendelssohn."). So when I watched a replay of our performance that someone had posted on Facebook, my initial reaction was, "Ha! Someone dubbed a recording of Brandenburg over this, how funny!" until I realized, "Oh wow, that's us - and we don't sound too bad!"

(This is me trying not to fail.)

Two of my friends showed up, which was a lovely surprise, but unfortunately, John missed us because we started earlier than we'd originally anticipated! Also: right after we packed up, Tom and Cristy arrived with little Dorothy in a sling ... they'd also just missed us by a few minutes. But funny story: Tom and Cristy's friend Mary was also performing with us, but we didn't know each other until we were introduced by them!

Afterwards, we went out for a burger at Byron (which tasted so good after playing while standing for two hours) and I slept for like, two hours when I got home. I'm such a baby.

So, that was fun. And something I'd never expected to do! That's another thing ticked off my bucket list, then.

Do you like classical music? How often do you go to concerts? If you live in London and have yet to see a classical music performance, I'd suggest forgoing some of the bigger venues like the Barbican or Royal Festival Hall for King's Place - a super cool, new(ish) and small classical music venue near King's Cross. They do fantastic concerts for low prices and I think it's a fun, accessible venue. I went recently to see a young, Finnish quartet perform Shostakovich and they were fabulous.

Photo of me taken by Yannick Pucci. Awaiting photo credit for other images.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Have a Beautiful Weekend.

Have a beautiful weekend. What are your plans?

On Saturday, I'll be performing with a few members of the Royal Orchestral Society at Tottenham Court Road tube station as part of Bach in the Subways Day 2015 (and fulfilling my dream of busking in London, although I was seriously chastised on Twitter by the organizers for using the term "busking", since we are supposed to "give the gift of Bach", not accept money for it - eye roll). Nerdy and not the least bit cool. If you're in the area and want to stop by, there's more information here.

I've just frozen my butt off by going outside to try to catch a glimpse of the solar eclipse, but London smog has eclipsed the eclipse. Did you notice anything different?!

Other than that, I kind of want to start packing early for our trip to Sri Lanka next weekend - I'm so excited! We're staying here, here, and here. If you have any tips, I'd love to know!



Tuesday, March 17, 2015

French Pharmacy Brands: Why They're Worth The Hype (And My Skincare Sob Story)

So, this isn't a "usual" post for me,  but I've got a story to tell (and it's kind of related to being an expat), so don't run away yet!

As "no make-up" selfies exploded on Twitter and Instagram a few years ago, I was thinking of another kind of skin explosion:

Acne. Not a glamorous topic (nor one that bloggers would readily admit to), but something I've dealt with nearly every single day of my teen and adult life. Yes, even now. Any acne-sufferer would know just how "brave" leaving your front door without a single drop of foundation, concealer or tinted moisturiser actually is.

Because I was once emotionally-crippled by acne.

As an acne-ridden teen growing up in Small Town, western Washington (that's State - not D.C.), my skincare choices were limited to drugstore brands like Neutrogena, Clearasil, and sometimes Clinique, if I ventured to the mall. Then, ProActive came along and my parents shelled out so much money on the subscription skincare service for me.

Unfortunately, the harsh ingredients in these cleansers, astringent pads, toners, and moisturisers only seemed to aggravate my combination skin and make it worse: dry patches continuously peeled and became scaly, while my acne flared up more than ever. We're talking on the scale of volcanic eruptions here.

Attractive, right?

Try being a 14-year-old Chinese-American in Small Town, western Washington with acne and I'll show you how "self-conscious" feels. I'd be laughing, having a great time with my friends - then I'd catch the sight of myself in a mirror, or even in a photo, and immediately stop smiling.

Yes. That bad.

By the time I reached college, my acne hadn't really subsided. I'd tried Chinese medicine. Western medicine. Changing my diet. Facials. Peels. Everything. My mom would spend mornings looking at me sadly over the breakfast table, slowly shaking her head and saying, "Your skin is just ... so terrible. Isn't there anything we can do?"

Visiting my Chinese relatives was the worst: over lunch, my aunts and uncles didn't mince their words, pushing bowls of "skin-clearing" soups toward me and chastising me when my chopsticks even dared enter into fried-dumpling territory saying, "That's just going to make your acne worse! Have some watermelon instead! We're only trying to help!" On such occasions, I'd bite my tongue and smile appreciatively, even though I felt mortified as the tears welled up in my eyes.

Then, during a life-changing trip to Hong Kong, my mom made an appointment for me with my cousin's aesthetician, who specialized in light and laser therapy for cystic acne. I say life-changing because, over the course of the sessions, my life changed. The scars and bumps I had slowly disappeared, and I was introduced to Dermalogica products, which were much gentler and effective on my skin.

I no longer cried when I looked into the mirror every morning (yes, I did this nearly every day when I was studying for my MA at York). Instead, I cried for different reasons: a co-worker complimented me on my skin and after saying, "Thank you!", I ran into the bathroom, locked myself in a stall, and cried because I never thought I'd ever hear those words in my life.

Thanks, Mom.

Okay, story's over - you can go now (unless, of course, you'd like to hear the role that French pharmacy brands have played in all of this!).

It wasn't until I moved to the UK that I discovered French pharmacy skincare products from brands that have been revered by the French for years: Avene, La Roche-Posay, Vichy, Nuxe, and Klorane were brands that nearly all my girlfriends here already incorporated into their beauty regimes.

So now, while I like to swap between Dermalogica and Liz Earle products, I also love having the option of using La Roche-Posay and Avene for my face (I find Vichy products to be a little too harsh, but that's just me). In the mornings, I'll use the Physiological Cleansing Gel followed by the Effaclar Duo+ on my chin, where most of my cystic, hormonal acne appears. I use the Avene TriAcneal in the evenings on the same area. So far, they've helped improve the texture of my skin (it looks visibly smoother) and helped to quickly stop breakouts.

Avene's Eau Thermale Thermal Spring Water spray is my secret weapon for long-haul flights - even John loves to use it. It's so refreshing and moisturising to use mid-flight, particularly as cabin air is so drying. It's kept me from breaking out post-flight too. Truth (although some might say, "Why don't you just bring a spray bottle of tap water?" Touché, though I still like to believe that the thermal spring water has super-human healing qualities. But that's just me.).

At work, I keep the La Roche-Posay Lipikar Xerand hand cream on my desk. It's paraben-free, has a lovely, light scent, and keeps my hands beautifully moisturized in the winter.

And the best part? They're so affordable! (Actually, Escentual is offering 1/3 off all French pharmacy brands for the entire month of March, which is where I stocked up.)

Other non-French products that I love? Trilogy's Rosehip Oil - my mom's also a convert. It does wonders for scars and fine lines, and is amazing for leaving my skin feeling plumped and hydrated in the morning. Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant and Overnight Clearing Gel.

What about you? If you're a fellow acne sufferer, I'd love to hear from you. All of my friends (and I mean all) were blessed with blemish-free skin. Not so much for me.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Le Weekend

How in the world is it Monday again? I hope you had an excellent weekend. John was snowboarding in Geneva (don't worry, I was invited, but I hate snowsports! Yes, I know ...) so I made plans with friends, did boring chores around the house, and dug out my extensive collection of Essie nail polishes ... which is my default hobby when John's away.

I spent a lovely Saturday morning shopping in Covent Garden with my friend Natalie and this colorful, Mondrian-inspired box clutch from Aldo caught my eye:

At £50, it wasn't an instant buy for me, but I just love it!

And then there were these fun shoes at H&M, which I snapped a picture of and sent to Udita (since that's how we tend to greet each other in emails):

While Natalie was buying a cleanser at Aesop, I snapped a photo of their shop floor and submitted it to the Instagram account @ihavethisthingwithfloors - do you follow them? It's basically pictures of beautiful floors (and people with beautiful shoes, incidentally).

I'm not sure mine qualified as either, but I loved the sea-green color of the tiles, and the geometric sunburst pattern as well.

 We walked through St. James' Park and watched the pelicans being fed ...

I was right in there with the tourists, snapping away on my phone! No shame. They gulp those fish down all-in-one like nobody's business! Have you been to St. James' Park? It's beautiful - and all the daffodils are out right now.

And unbeknownst to Natalie, I'd booked the Royal Afternoon Tea at St. James' Court Hotel as a treat for both of us!

It was Mother's Day on Sunday here in the UK, so it was nearly impossible to find any hotels or restaurants that had any places left for afternoon tea. But I perservered and St. James' Court turned out to be perfect: instead of sitting at tables in the dining room (which sometimes feels a little stilted/formal), we sat in the comfiest of armchairs near the Hamptons Bar ... and chatted away the afternoon. By the time I'd looked down at my watch, it was 5:00 p.m. and we were stuffed!

On our way to Victoria tube station, Natalie took me past the flat she used to live in as a student at UCL.

It's the flat in the upper left hand corner - the one with the green turret! Isn't that incredible? Imagine living there as a student! I'd feel like a princess (and probably a pauper, too).

So that was my weekend. The sky wasn't blue, the sun wasn't out, but I still loved every minute of it.

What did you get up to? Tell me!

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Taste of Sicily: Guest Chef Event at Evoluzione, Hotel Xenia

Have you ever been to Sicily? John and I went last year and we loved it. One of the best parts of our trip? The food, of course. From dark chocolate and pistachio gelato sandwiched between slices of fluffy brioche to pane (the extent of my Italian!) served straight out of the oven in a former farmhouse granery, Sicilian cuisine is definitely something special.

On Wednesday, I was invited by Zomato to sample a six-course tasting menu at a guest chef event held at Evoluzione restaurant.  The restaurant sits within Hotel Xenia in Earl's Court - an area of London I don't venture to much (except for London Book Fair once a year, though it's now held in Olympia) but am always curious to explore.

I was excited to hear that one of the chefs, Pietro D'Agostino, has a restaurant in Taormina, Sicily called La Capinera, which specializes in serving organic and gluten-free food. We stayed in Taormina (pictured above) for a few days and, while chock-full of tourists during high season, its coastline is beautiful and there are plenty of great vantage points to spot the moody, active volcano - Mt. Etna.

Which brings me to the wine at Evoluzione ...

I was a little too busy chatting (which happens at most Zomato meetups!) to Jesse and Jasiminne to notice that our wine glasses were being continually swapped. This was, after all, a tasting menu with wine pairing, and I was excited to see that the wines had all been sourced from the Etna region (I get excited when I actually know where things are - this rarely ever happens). I'm not usually a fan of rosé, but the Rosato we tried was really lovely - light and smooth on the palate. Of course, the Aitho Rosso 2012 was delicious, as all red Italian wines usually are! But my favorite was the dessert wine - the Mandorvin Bianco aromatizzato alla mandorla (almond). Dessert wine isn't for everyone (John hates it) but I love it, despite my low tolerance for alcohol! I'd have sips of Tokaji after every meal if I could ...

As for the rest of the evening, well, I'd love to share with you some photos of the beautiful food, if you'd like to see:

We began our journey with an amuse bouche of "noodles scallops" by Resident Michelin-starred Chef Andrea Angeletti - a scallop which had been cleverly carved into a noodle shape, with hints of rocket and orange. Oh, but wait! Before that, we were treated to a selection of delicious bread and extra virgin olive oil for dipping, which had a subtle but lovely orange flavor, lending it a very fragrant taste.

Aside from the dessert, the king prawns with an onion (more like a pickled radish?) salad, with almond and orange sauce, was probably my favorite course. I mean, it's beautiful! But more importantly, it was delicious. The crunch and sourness of the pickled radish offset the sweetness and tender quality of the prawns. Additionally, I really appreciated the artistry and skill it took to execute this particular dish - almost too pretty to eat. Almost.

The black cod, served on a bed of cubed potatoes, lettuce, and capers with marsala wine, wasn't a standout dish for me. The cod was tender, but the flavors were a little underwhelming. The sundried tomato and capers gave the dish the excitement it needed, but even that flagged a little.

I'm a sucker for seafood ravioli, so nearly clapped my hands with glee when this dish appeared before me. Tender and cooked perfectly al dente, the plate included Sicilian wild fennel and pistachio from Bronte, a sweet little town (known for its pistachios!) that John and I drove through during our visit to the Sicilian countryside.

I wish I could say that I loved the turbot that came next, but unfortunately, I was unable to finish the fish since it was very undercooked in the middle (which Jasiminne also experienced) - so much so, that I had trouble cutting through it. I left it on my plate, but finished the calamari, artichoke, and veggies on the side. Sad!

BUT. But! I had a sneak peek at the menu again at this point and saw the words, "Pre-dessert" and "Dessert", prepared by Pastry Chef Manuele Francesco from Siracusa.

Oh, how I love when two desserts are on the menu. Siracusa, or Syracuse, is a historic city in Sicily known for its strong ties to Greek culture and history - in fact, it's the birthplace of Archimedes, for all you classicists out there (I know, like, two).

I'd love to know what this was (in detail, I mean, as it resembled a panna cotta) because it was the ultimate. The center was even more intriguing - with hints of almond and praline (that's a sugared almond on top!) and an icy cold element that left us all scratching our heads. One of the best desserts I've had in a long, long time (but then again, I usually can be found eating Ben & Jerry's straight out of the carton).

And this! I want to call it a peanut butter and jelly cake sandwich, but it was most definitely NOT. It was also something intriguing and delicious (not a fan of the liquer-filled chocolate, though!) and beautiful (yes, I've made an effort to ask the restaurant and no, they haven't gotten back to me yet at the time of writing this post - perhaps someone else who attended that evening who's reading this post will enlighten me?).

And ... if you've made it through all the way to the end of this post, well, then, congratulations. Here's a picture of me in action, courtesy of Jasiminne (this is blogging IRL).

Thank you to Evoluzione, Hotel Xenia, Nuffnang UK, and Zomato UK for hosting an incredible evening! The Sicilian Tasting Menu at Evoluzione is the first of seven guest chef events at Hotel Xenia, and will be priced at £65 per person.

Click to add a blog post for Evoluzione by Andrea Angeletti - Hotel Xenia on Zomato

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Travel Talk: Do You Have a Holiday/Vacation Wardrobe?

Do you have clothes that only seem to make an appearance when you're on holiday/vacation?

I was doing a little "spring cleaning" the other day i.e. digging out the industrial sized Tupperware from under my bed and unearthing breezy Zara blouses and thin Sandro cotton dresses that haven't seen the light of day for, well, at least six months or so. And then I dug a little deeper and found some articles of clothing that don't ever see the light of day ... unless I'm on a tropical beach somewhere.

Don't worry - no cargo shorts or fanny packs (that's a "bum bag" for all you Brits) here, but rather an alarming array of off-the-shoulder dresses, tunics, and beach cover-ups that I'd feel self-conscious wearing down Oxford Street (but, no, who seriously wears a beach cover-up on Oxford Street? Actually ... I think I've seen a few) but whip out at the earliest opportunity as soon as I've got my trapezoidal feet in the sand.

(Sidenote: John has the worst holiday shirt, EVER. He bought it unsupervised during a trip to the Caribbean, as I recall ... I've been begging him to get rid of it ever since I first laid eyes on it. It features the most puzzling color combination of stripes that I've ever seen. Thankfully, it only comes out during holidays, and whenever he wears it, I sit across from him and grimace, so he can tell how much I dislike it. I'm the worst.)

Still, there's something about pulling out brightly colored bikinis (oh, who am I kidding? I mostly wear black. And more black.) and tops with pom-poms or tassle details that makes me smile and conjure up the scent of Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen. My vacation wardrobe essentials usually include: a big floppy sunhat (burnt my ears to a literal crisp in Thailand while island hopping on a boat without one), a pair of espadrilles for trekking around that I can simply kick off at the end of the day, Havaianas flip flops for the beach, a beat-up pair of denim shorts, a huge, loose-woven scarf that I can throw over my shoulders at night, and lots and lots of easy sundresses in jersey, or another light-weight fabric. Oh, and a linen shirt.

What about you? What do you pack in your suitcase?

p.s. Also ... the worst thing for my paycheck lately is Do you use it? Basically, you sign up, follow the account on Instagram (as well as whatever account uses, and if you "like" a photo, you'll get the product information emailed directly to your inbox. So convenient, and so dangerous for online shopping. Luckily, most of the items featured are usually from the States, so the hassle of shipping costs/customs charges/inability to return items prevents me from clicking "buy"! That's my little "confessions of a shopaholic", um, confession of the day.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Dinner at The Fountain Restaurant, Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilly

Sometimes, I joke that Fortnum & Mason is my spiritual home.

With spring just rounding the bend in London, the store is becoming a little overpopulated, but once I've pushed through the swarms of tourists and made my way up to the top, I like to look down and simply exist in this beautiful place of flowers, chandeliers, regal biscuit tins, and crystal glasses.

As I commented over on Instagram, I'm not exactly sure who actually buys marizpan apples, but ... they're beautiful.

The Fountain Restaurant at F&M is very special to me: it was here that we met John's dear Uncle Chris (whom I loved) for afternoon tea several years ago, when he was still well enough to venture out of his Pimlico apartment, before he passed away from cancer. And it was also the restaurant where my parents met John's mom for the first time - a brunch that I was both excited and nervous about! (Spoiler alert: it was wonderful.)

Chris introduced me to F&M, shortly after I moved down to London from York. He knew I'd love it (he knew me well). And when I walked down the stairs to The Fountain last night, I paused at the entrance briefly and thought of him - and I missed him.

It didn't seem like so long ago when we were occupying the very seats above, pouring Earl Grey into porcelain cups and straining our tea leaves. I remember craning my head around to take a good, long look at the teapots that lined the wall.

I remember thinking it was the most beautiful dining room I'd ever sat in - aside from The Goring Hotel, where Chris also took me to once, for lunch.

When Zomato invited me to dinner at The Fountain last night, I didn't hesitate with my answer. I couldn't wait to revisit one of my favorite restaurants in London.

To me, it's a privilege to dine at The Fountain; you always feel as though you're somewhere really special. As though you're someone really special. And I think it's hard to find a restaurant in London that still has that sort of magic - a little bit of mystery coupled with an air of grandeur.

It's always the little details that I appreciate at The Fountain, often with a colonial touch.

Their signature color is a teal-blue - not quite Tiffany blue but not quite green. It's a lovely color that's repeated throughout the store and restaurants.

And, you know me. My food orders often verge on quirky. It delights me to see breakfast being offered on the menu for dinner. I almost ordered the Highland Scramble. Almost.

But then I remembered that I hadn't had smoked salmon in ages, so I ordered the hot smoked salmon salad instead, and the kedgeree for my main course. I've been craving kedgeree for so long! (I'm fully aware that I can make it myself ... but, still.)

And John's glass of Shiraz was so delicious ... I decided to treat myself to a glass of my own (even if it meant that I could only finish 1/4 of it). Also - that bread basket? It's a mini version of the F&M hamper, with F&M stamped in their signature black letters on the lid. Adore.

The salad was divine and the kedgeree was as comforting and nourishing as I remembered it to be. Sometimes, I have a difficult time ordering what I want rather than what I think I'd ought to have. Do you struggle with that too? Last night, I saw the menu and thought, 'I should have the lamb cannon.' But what I really wanted was the kedgeree, even though that's a slightly offbeat selection for dinner at a restaurant like F&M. Then again, you know what? It's on the menu for a reason.

And that's what I really love about The Fountain: that you can be yourself there and no one will judge you. It's a place where you really feel at home. Where you feel honest. I noticed several diners eating alone last evening, which seems like such a great idea. Why not treat yourself to a nice dinner? F&M is the perfect place to do so. Service is attentive, but not intrusive, and always, always welcoming. I've visited on three different occasions and have always been treated like a guest - I can count on one hand how many restaurants make me feel like that in London (and yeah, it's less than 5).

But enough of my rant ... I woke up this morning craving the apple strudel with cinnamon custard we had for dessert last night. How's that for good memories?

It looked so tasty that, when the plate was placed on the table, the couple next to us exclaimed, "Ooooh! Strudel!" Any dessert that illicits that kind of reaction is a guaranteed win.


The Fountain - a magical place that will always remind me of happy times, meaningful first meetings, and special occasions. Even if that occasion is just an ordinary Tuesday night in a busy, bustling city.

We were generously hosted by ZomatoUK and The Fountain Restaurant at Fortnum & Mason - thank you! John and I have loved the restaurant for years - we're sure that you would too.

Click to add a blog post for The Fountain on Zomato

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

New Friends + Matcha Lattes @ Curators Coffee Gallery

Saturday marked a couple of "firsts" for me: I finally met one of my blogging/Instagram/Twitter friends in person, Laura of The Whole Ingredient, and I finally tried my first matcha latte (so good!) at Curators Coffee Gallery, after swooning over photos of both the lattes and the coffee shop over on Not Just Another Milla's Instagram account.

You might remember that I featured Laura's recipe for these delicious vegan goji bliss balls a few months ago. I adore her writing and her vegan recipes - they look mouthwateringly good and are totally appealing for non-vegans as well! Aside from that fundamental difference (i.e. Laura's vegan and I'm, well, omnivorous ... in fact, I blanched while mentioning a steak to her!), it seemed that Laura and I had everything else in common (okay, I'm a little shorter than her, but what's a few inches between friends?!).

Have you ever met someone and clicked straightaway? That's what talking to Laura was like. We shared the same opinion on so many things and often found ourselves finishing each other's thoughts. A little scary, but so fun at the same time!

Meeting bloggers IRL (that's "in real life" for all you non-abbreviating types!) always makes me a little apprehensive. On paper (or rather, on screen), we might have a lot in common and a seemingly great rapport, but there's always a risk in real life that ... we have nothing to say to each other. Or are completely different people than we thought we were (my nightmare is something akin to an episode of MTV's Catfish).

Luckily, meeting Laura was the total opposite. She is so nice. We sat for a while in the sun-drenched window of Curators Coffee Gallery and shared stories between sips of matcha lattes (milk for me, soya for her), which were frothy and delightful.

If you live in London and haven't been to Curators Coffee Gallery yet (they have a couple of different locations), go.

We went to the cafe on Margaret Street (near Oxford Circus/Tottenham Court Road), which has beautiful interiors (and beautiful floors!), as well as a selection of mouth-wateringly good pastries and cakes. If we hadn't had brunch already, I definitely would have indulged in one of those tasty-looking sandwiches (and probably a slice of cake - I can never resist).

I can imagine that it gets pretty busy on weekdays or even on weekends, but if you can find a place to sit and settle, it's a lovely place to meet with friends to have chat. Natural light makes any space glow.

Oh, and those floors:

Pinterest-worthy, right there.

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