Friday, July 31, 2015

Have a Splendid Weekend

Have a splendid weekend. What are you up to?

I've been out (almost!) every single night this week, so I think it's time for a little breather! We're planning to head to Spitalfields Market tomorrow morning to look for some wall art and a new wedding ring for John. Long story. (In reality, you'll probably find us in the hardware section of Homebase, measuring out pieces of wood. I'm also really looking forward to ironing my new sheets. I repeat, ironing sheets. Yep, sad.)

I have lots to tell you about next week, including a 9-course tasting menu at a fantastic new restaurant that opens in Mayfair on August 10th and a very, very exciting (and unexpected!) travel collaboration. In the meantime, don't forget that tomorrow marks the start of this 10% off discount code on JING tea products - I'm a huge hoarder of their beautiful glassware and teas. Let me know if you want any recommendations!

If you're in Covent Garden this weekend, it's worth swinging by to admire the beautiful display of flowers in the Piazza. Aren't they pretty?

Happy Friday.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

London Living Link-Up: Top 5 Unknown Brunches in London

This month's London link-up is on my favorite topic: brunch. We Americans have been brunching for a long time (I remember my mom suggesting we go out for a mommy-daughter "brunch" as a treat when I was about 7 or 8), but it's just taken off in the UK in the past few years.

And while I love brunch at Duck & Waffle as much as the next Londoner (the photo above is of their Duck Egg En Cocotte with the Full Elvis in the background), there are a handful of favorites that I keep returning to which - while popular - are not as oversubscribed as some other instutitions that people are willing to wait outside for (not naming any names ... but I'm not a huge fan).

The Italian Brunch: Sweet Thursday, De Beauvoir Town

If you're not a Dalstonite or familiar with De Beauvoir Town - that little pocket of prettiness that sits on the border of Islington and Dalston - it might be easy to miss the Neapolitan pizzeria Sweet Thursday, which was once our favorite Friday night hangout before we moved (we used to joke about Sweet Thursday Fridays!). Aside from listing a "warm pizza roll filled with Nutella" as one of their weekend brunch options, they also make this amazing "breakfast in a pan" dish that I love and enthusiastically recommend to those sitting around me: baked eggs, spinach and tomato salsa, pancetta, and toast. It's nothing short of magical (and does wonders for hangovers!).

The Venezuelan Brunch: Arepa & Co., Haggerston

From their canal-view hammock to the perfect posies of flowers arranged on the tables, Arepa & Co. is an Instagrammer's dream - and their food is pretty darn delicious to boot. Their weekday special is an arepa filled with perico (Venezuelan scrambled egg) and avocado (or another variety of your choice) and a hot drink for £6. And I'll tell ya: their flat whites are the stuff of legends, people. The atmosphere is friendly and chilled out - just the place you want to be for a mid-morning meet up.

The Cool Brunch: Workshop Coffee, Clerkenwell

It's not that people don't know that Workshop exists - it's more that they don't automatically think of it as a brunch venue (even though it gets insanely packed on the weekends). I think it's often overlooked as a second or third choice. But for me? Their delicious (if not slightly overpriced) menu is a reason to return every time I'm craving something like, oh, I don't know - French toast with mascarpone and rhubarb compote, drizzled with syrup. Except, instead of two slices, I could do with a stack.

The Even Cooler Brunch: Holborn Grind, Holborn

Okay, so technically, I've taken my brunch and coffee "to go" here, but they make the meanest smashed avocado on sourdough toast I've ever had: that zing of chilli is everything. Plus, it's attached to the ultra-hip Hoxton Holborn, so people-watching from one of its window seats is a must.

My house

John's speciality is a fry-up (he's incredibly skilled at making poached eggs) and he'll always volunteer to cook this on a Saturday or Sunday morning while I flop around in bed, watching random YouTube videos with my eyes way too close to the screen because I'm nearly legally blind without my contacts in. Anyway. Occasionally, he'll go into the kitchen, sing along to the Smiths, and emerge with something like this - presenting the plate to me with a flourish.

Yes, I married him.

Reservations by invitation only. ;)

Enjoyed this London Living link-up? Head over to the hosts Lauren's and Amy's blogs to read more brunch-related posts. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Matcha-Making: A Tea Masterclass with JING Tea @ Spice Market, London

Tea and tea-drinking has always been an integral part of my life: when I left the US for the UK, I left one tea-drinking culture (my Hong Kong Chinese family's obsession with good tea knows no bounds) for another (I think John drinks at least 6 cups of Yorkshire Gold per day, no joke). Having said that, my knowledge of tea itself is surprisingly minimal, so I jumped at the opportunity to learn more about the leaf-picking process, the harvests, and the different ways tea is made, stored, and consumed at JING Tea's Tea Masterclass last evening at the W Hotel's Spice Market - the perfect setting for our tea journey.

Our "Tea Master" for the evening was Felicity, who's been with JING for over five years, following an impressive journey to get there and a true passion for tea. In fact, Felicity was so knowledgeable about her tea (where it's grown, how it's processed, the precise periods within each season the leaves are picked and left to "wither") that, for a second, I forgot I was in W Hotel and felt magically transported to one of my favorite college seminars instead.

We tried three different types of "Spring" Chinese teas last night: Silver Needle (a white tea picked in early April in the Fujian Province), Hui Ming Spring (a green tea that's also hand-picked in early April but in the mountainous south of Zhejiang), and Golden Gong Fu (a black tea picked in high altitude gardens in Fujian, precisely between the 1st and 5th of April).

Tip from Felicity: never use boiling water for a white tea such as Silver Needle, as it ruins the flavor. 80 degrees is the optimal temp for your tea leaves to keep happy!

Also: did you know? Fresh green tea has a nearly fluorescent yellow color to it when it's brewed. While others around my table made noises of appreciation for the Silver Needle and Golden Gong Fu tea, the Hui Ming Spring was my firm favorite of the three - its lovely strong, fragrant notes reminding me of home and the types of teas I drink with my family.

A common misconception about drinking Chinese tea is that you can only use the tea leaves once - not so! Teas such as the Hui Ming Spring may be infused 2-3 times and I admitted to Felicity that I sometimes even drink the tea my dad's brewed the night before ... the next morning (usually Oolong). Not really advised, but still.

We also learned some great tips about making chilled tea infusions like the one we were served upon our arrival - a super refreshing summer drink (if there was any summer to speak of here in London, but I'll save that story for later). First, double the amount of tea leaves you would normally use in your JING cafetierre or glass mug infuser (like the one I have). Fill with (and this is the key) room temperature water. Leave it in the fridge for 2-4 hours. Et voila! Chilled Chinese tea (or you could make like my mom and buy a huge bottle of artificially-flavored cold green tea at your local Chinese supermarket, but JING's method is a little more ... special).

Mid-way through our tea-tasting (which suits me much better than wine-tasting, given my alcohol intolerance), we stopped for some canapes from Spice Market's kitchen.

Really delicious mouthfuls that disappeared quicker than the JING tea timer could be turned!

And then ... my favorite part of the evening: matcha-making. I'm a hay-uge fan of matcha. Matcha Pocky sticks, matcha lattes, matcha cheesecakes, matcha ice-cream ... put matcha in it, on it, over it, and I'll eat it (almost).

First, the pros showed us how it's done: Felicity added hot (not boiling!) water to the matcha powder, creating a smooth, glossy paste with the small bamboo whisk (which can be found in JING's Matcha Set). Then - and this was the hard part - she slowly added a small amount of water before quickly and deftly whisking the matcha to create a light froth at the top, careful not to touch the whisk to the bottom of the bowl.

"Make an 'M' shape with the whisk and keep your wrist loose," Felicity instructed. "Now, you have a go!" Of course, she made it look effortless (and even graceful).

Under Felicity's watchful eye, it was our turn to give matcha-making (ha, see what I did there?) a try. But the whisking proved to be hard work, as we quickly found out (great for the triceps, though), and Jacintha passed the bowl over to me to experiment.

The finished product was paired with some of Amelia Rope's gorgeous white chocolate: the creaminess of the chocolate combined with the slight bitterness of the matcha was a matcha-made in heaven. OK, OK, I'LL STOP NOW. We only had tiny sips of our finished matcha creations, as matcha has quite a high caffeine content, and it was nearly 9 pm, after all.

I still may or may not have sprinted up 2 flights of stairs and an escalator when I got out of the tube station though.

This morning, I groggily got out of bed, then perked up when I saw my JING tea in the cupboard. I made myself a cup of Jasmine Silver Needle using my infuser mug (being careful not to use boiling water!) and sat in silence - preparing myself for the day ahead. Such a lovely way to begin.

I was generously hosted by JING Tea and Spice Market at W Hotels London - thank you! All opinions are my own. Throughout the month of August, readers of Angloyankophile can get 10% off their JING purchases using the code AYPAUG15. Will you go for the infuser mug? Or your own matcha set? Happy sipping!


Tuesday, July 28, 2015


Thank you for all of your support; your kind and lovely comments mean so much to me. I never know whether to share or not to share personal, sad moments, but when I read your thoughtful responses, it encourages me to keep sharing.

So, thank you.

I reconnected with one of my cousins recently through Facebook (such a 21st-century admission to make, I know) who was at my grandma's funeral in Hong Kong, and she sent me photos of Mar Mar's apartment, which is on the market now. It's funny how photographs can trigger memories, can't it? And how vividly so, as well. Just seeing the metal door to the kitchen made me remember how it felt to push it open with my hand; seeing the door to the balcony in Mar Mar's room reminded me of the time I accidentally locked myself in (along with my brother!) during a typhoon when we were little and how panicked I felt (as usual).

In the meantime, John and I have been continuing on with our favorite hobby: putting the house together. Bit by bit, piece by piece, it's slowly coming together. See that huge gap between the wall and the floor? Yeah, we've got to fix that. In two other rooms.

But it's fun, and it's a process, and I guess what I'm trying to get at is that grief and mourning may not be fun, but they're processes. Things to get through. Until you can stand back, after time gives you space, and feel - I mean, really feel - joy at the wonderful memories you remember: a soft, warm hand you held while crossing the street, tendrils of steam rising from the rice you'd been served from her ancient rice-cooker (which my cousin said she saw in a museum in Taipei recently - it's THAT old!), or a gentle gaze from eyes that crinkled into lines when she laughed.

Meanwhile, just before I fall asleep, I wish and wait for her to visit me in my dreams.


Friday, July 24, 2015

In Loving Memory

My wonderful readers: a couple of weeks ago, just one day shy of her 101st (!) birthday, my grandma peacefully slipped away into that permanent darkness which we - the living - call death. She waited until my aunt and her beloved live-in carer, Ruby (who remained steadfastly by my grandma's side for 14 (!) years) had gone home, and silently succumbed; her heartbeat first forming jagged triangles, then finally, a straight line.

She never wanted to trouble anyone. That is who she was.

Her tastes were pure and simple. I remember her getting ready for a nice dinner out with our family, and the way she looked when she emerged from her room with her neatly permed hair - so soft and perfectly arranged, that my dad would stand behind her 4'7 (or so) frame and pretend to air-comb it, much to our laughter and delight. She'd insert two simple pearl studs into her earlobes, her black trousers pressed and her silk blouses elegantly buttoned up to the neck; her nails always unpolished, or with the faintest hint of shine.

She adored her children and her grandchildren, but she wasn't without an edge: once, having suffered a sudden bout of separation anxiety from my parents (who were on Hong Kong island) during a sleepover with my cousins in Kowloon, I cried hysterically and demanded that they come and pick me up. They did. But not without racking up an extraordinary cab fare. When I returned to my grandma's apartment, I expected her to greet me with a hug and with sympathy. Instead, she narrowed her eyes at me and clucked her tongue, saying, "What a wimp! Totally useless! Boo hoo hoo hoo," she said, mimicking crying. She dismissed me with a wave of her hand and I dried my tears, feeling ashamed and embarrassed.

Another time, when I was small, my dad and I were out walking in Happy Valley, when we saw her in front of us on her way to the market. Thinking that it was the funniest thing ever, to run into my grandma on the street, we chased after her, with me calling out loudly, "Mar Mar! Mar Mar!" Strangers turned to look. But she couldn't hear us, and though she shuffled a bit when she walked (she must have been in her late 70s), she was fast. And we never caught up with her - giving up instead, and gleefully bringing it up when we saw her back at her apartment. "Hai meh? [Oh really?]" she'd say with surprise when we told her. It became an on-going joke, her fast-walking.

Every morning, she'd get up and do her "exercises" on the balcony, around 6 a.m. or so - arms swinging back and forth, touching her toes, knees raised. I'd watch her through a window, as the heat and the humidity of a Hong Kong summer came seeping into the air-conditioned apartment; the birds she kept on the roof terrace chirping as I went to say, 'good morning'.

I loved her. So much.

She was gentle, and had the kindest eyes, which would light up with surprise when she saw us - especially when her memory began to fade, and she'd forgotten we had arrived a few days before. But she was also the strongest woman I knew.

She'd make us pray to the kitchen god before we could have dinner, my knees rubbing against the hard tiles of her kitchen, my hands clasped in hers, as she'd mutter a prayer under her breath and wave the incense stick once, twice, three times, before depositing it into the small shrine behind the door. She'd prepare a lavish meal for us - fish, crab, vegetables - before setting aside a small, humble bowl of rice and leftover fish for herself, finishing it in a few minutes or so before politely saying, "I am going to retire in the living room now. Eat slowly. Marn, marn sic, ah." Then slowly, she'd shuffle off, and I'd watch her back retreating down that familiar hallway, her slippers making a shht-shht-shht sound against the floor.

Later, when dementia began to set in, I'd sit with her in the living room - cars honking outside in Happy Valley, traffic racing by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, the city coming alive - watching TV. A commercial would come on for fresh buns and I'd say, "I love those!" outloud to no one in particular. "You like those buns, ah, Chak-mei?" she'd say, addressing me in my Chinese name. She'd shuffle off to another room and return slowly, placing $600 Hong Kong dollars in my hand, her mind completely lost to the value of money. "Take this money and buy some fresh buns for yourself." "Thank you, thank you, Mar Mar!" I'd exclaim, discreetly passing the wad of cash behind her back to my father, who'd replace it immediately, without her noticing.

My parents are attending her funeral and wake this week in Hong Kong, although my brother and I are absent from the mourning ceremonies, our distance numbing us from the grief.

Traditional Chinese funeral rites are elaborate and ritualistic, lasting for several days and culminating in one big feast to "comfort" the mourners, as my mother explained to me in an email.

But long before her death, I had a dream about my grandma. In real life, she'd already been living in the assisted-living hospital for several years - her quality of life severely hampered by the stroke she'd suffered years before.

In my dream, she came to visit me in England, with that familiar twinkle in her eye. Except, there were two versions of her: one shorter and younger, the other, the present Mar Mar I knew. "Mar Mar!" I sat bolt upright in my dream. "What are you doing here?" "We're going on a journey!" she said, laughing. "I wanted to say goodbye before we left!" In my heart, even in my dream, I knew what that meant, and I began to cry. "Don't go, Mar Mar, please don't go!" I begged, holding her hand. "Silly," she admonished me in Chinese. "Mar Mar is old and useless now!" A phrase she used to repeat to me all the time. Reluctantly, I let go of her hand. I woke with my pillow wet with tears.

I'll never forget the last conversation I had with my grandma: we were sitting on her couch in her apartment in Happy Valley, explaining to her (again) that we were leaving the next day. She was sad and tearful. "Your mom and dad and brother are going home to Seattle?" she asked, child-like. I nodded. "But you're not going with them?" she asked, confused. "No, Mar Mar," I said gently. "I live in England, remember?" "On your own?" she asked. "With no family there?" I shook my head.

"Well, that's very brave," she said, impressed. "That's very brave, indeed. You bring such pride to the Tung family name," she said, her eyes glistening.

In the span of a few years, I went from being a "wimp" in my grandma's books, to being "brave".

Now that's something, isn't it? A memory I'll cherish forever.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Airing My Dirty Laundry (Literally!) With Laundrapp

Please don't judge me.

But ... although I've been sharing pretty little corners of our new house with you as we go along, I've failed to mention some of the more ... unglamorous bits. Like, when a co-worker of mine (who lives in the same area) mentioned to me that she walked past my house the other night on her way to tennis: "Is it the one that um, had, um ..." "A bunch of junk in front of it?" I finished for her. "Yep, that's the one." Piles of crushed brick and mortar were left untouched weeks after the damp experts had come and jack-hammered large sections of our interior walls away. We finally hired someone to come and clear it out last weekend because the floor sanders had left yet another pile of waste: ripped up carpet and old linoleum, which we'd stripped off to expose the original, bare wood floors.

Another mess that had been piling up like a silent monster, threatening to topple at any point? My pile of dirty laundry. Honestly. I am so embarrassed to admit it, but during the move, I ended up throwing so many clothes into the hamper in a rush and by the time I got to our new house, I was so busy unpacking and buying unnecessary things like oh, succulents and wall art, I never got around to doing my laundry. Like, ever. As in, I probably wore bikini bottoms once or twice in lieu of underwear.

That bad.

Enter Laundrapp - the dry-cleaning and laundry service that picks up your dirty clothes and delivers them back to your door.


Within seconds, I'd scheduled a pick-up via the app on my phone and gathered a pile of clothes in preparation. I love that you can pick different combinations within the app, depending on your needs. The "High Five", for example, will see five shirts washed, ironed, and hung for you - all for £10. £12 will get you the "Double Bed Set": wash and clean of a bed sheet, duvet cover, and two pillowcases. Ideal for the time-starved and those who have little space for air drying in tiny London flats!

The next day, a nice man came to my door with a laundry bag, and I shamefully stuffed pairs of jeans and tops into it, avoiding all eye contact. A few days later (and this was the only downside to the service, as I couldn't seem to find a delivery time that suited my busy schedule that week), it was returned to me - bang on time (even though they sent me an apologetic text and follow-up email to say that they'd be late) - neatly folded and placed in a bag, smelling like spring flowers. And by golly - it was the first time that I had soft jeans. What a luxury! (Years of living in a hard water zone and air-drying my jeans means that they're stiff and rough as sandpaper when I put them on - not fun.)

So, while I hopefully won't be outsourcing bagfuls of laundry to Laundrapp again, I'm really looking forward to using their services as the temperatures cool down again and I'll need to whip out my little black and grey cashmere collection. One of the things I hate about getting clothes dry-cleaned is the inconvenience of picking them up after work, hauling them around on public transport, and paying all sorts of exorbitant fees (my last dry-cleaning bill for a few cashmere sweaters came to £37 - eeks!).

With Laundrapp, there's none of that - I simply have to open my door.

What about you? Does anything in your closet have a "dry-clean only" tag? Would you ever try Laundrapp?

This post was sponsored by Laundrapp. All opinions are my own. Right now, you can get £10 off your first order with the code "NOTACLUE" (haha, that's me!) when you download the Laundrapp, erm, app.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Domes, Scones & Songs: An Afternoon at St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul's is one of those London landmarks that still makes my head turn every time I see it - from any angle or vantage point. It looks particularly wonderful set against the backdrop of a blue, summer sky. When I was invited to take a private tour of the cathedral and dome with a handful of other bloggers and have afternoon tea in the restaurant and attend Evensong, well ... I tried to play it cool, but I'm pretty sure I failed spectacularly.

I can't remember the last time I was inside the actual church (admission fees are pricey!) and certainly not on an after-hours basis, so it was a privilege to experience the quiet peace that fell over the entire building when it emptied. And though you're not really allowed to take photographs inside the cathedral (I desperately wanted to snap some during Evensong!), we took some "subtle" shots here and there.

But before we climbed up the steps to the Whispering Gallery (where your whisper at one end of the dome can be heard on the other - really, we tried it!) and ascended to the Stone, then Golden Gallery, we were treated to afternoon tea at The Restaurant at St. Paul's, where we met Head Chef Chris Terry and sampled his delicious menu of cakes, scones, and sandwiches served on some of the prettiest china I've ever seen, before washing it all down with a glass of English sparkling wine with a touch of russet apple juice.

(Btw, this is what bloggers looks like at every food-related event.)

After consuming our weight in sweet treats, our earlier activities caught up with us and we sat back in a dazed, doze-y silence, before our wonderful guide Ed sat upright and said, "Right! Who's ready for Evensong?"

If you've never been to Evensong at St. Paul's before, I'd highly, highly recommend it. We were super spoiled and had seats reserved in the choir itself, but if you get there early and are prepared to wait in line, that's the best way to experience it. There's something about sung liturgy (even for someone who isn't religious) that's incredibly moving and uplifting. As the harmonies filled every corner of the church, it gave us all the perfect opportunity to contemplate the beauty and the history of the building; it's awesome - in every sense of the word.

With the booming pipes of the organ still ringing in our ears (literally - the organists continued to practice after everyone had left the building!), we headed over to St. Paul's most famous staircase, and continued our tour of the dome.

Fun fact: that staircase at Hogwarts in Harry Potter? Yep, this is it:

Not gonna lie: it was a little hard work getting to the top and it's not for the particularly claustrophobic, but the views once we got there were so very worth it.

I've stood on that roof terrace at One New Change so many times - admiring the view of St. Paul's across the way. Not too many people/tourists know about that particular vantage point, so it remains one of my favorite spots to visit. This time, however, it was difficult for me to wrap my head around the fact that I was actually standing on the dome, looking at One New Change!

I've said it once, but I'll say it again: London looks so beautiful from above, doesn't it? All the different shapes and contrast between the old and new make for such an interesting skyline. Your eye never settles; rather, it's encouraged to wander, continually taking in an arch here or an unexpectedly sharp corner there.

Our visit to St. Paul's on Saturday was such a privilege - a truly a memorable afternoon, and one I won't be forgetting anytime soon.

Huge thanks to Ed Holmes of the Press & Communications Department at St. Paul's Cathedral for organizing this amazing afternoon at St. Paul's, and for being an excellent tour guide! Traditional Afternoon Tea at St. Paul's is currently priced at (a very affordable!) £15.95 per person (£21.25 with the English sparkling wine), which you can book here. Evensong begins at 5:00 p.m. and you can find more information about attending here.


Monday, July 20, 2015

Head-Over-Heels for Our Custom-Made Terrarium by Geo-Fleur

So much excitement to share with you about this past weekend, including incredible views from St. Paul's Cathedral, an adorable afternoon tea, and the discovery of a delicious new pub in East London.

But first: I picked up our bespoke terrarium from Geo-Fleur on Saturday (we're already fans of her beautiful planters and hangers) and I'm in L-O-V-E!

Aren't these little succulents the sweetest? And I love that diamond-shaped terrarium (which John and I chose together).

We had a good laugh on Twitter because I admitted to spraying my recent succulent purchase (seen in the background) with my Avene Thermal Water facial mist because I didn't have a spray bottle handy for water and I was worried my plant was a bit parched (but it's a cactus, after all!). That's some first-class plant hydration right there!

If you're interested in purchasing your own terrarium or hanger, you can order from Geo-Fleur online, visit Sophie's store in Walthamstow, or attend one of her terrarium-making classes at West Elm UK on Tottenham Court Road.


Friday, July 17, 2015

Have a Peaceful Weekend.

Hey, you. Aren't you glad it's Friday? What are you up to this weekend?

I'm joining a handful of other bloggers tomorrow to take a special tour of St. Paul's before scarfing down some scones at afternoon tea and listening to the enchanting sounds of Evensong in the cathedral. Have you ever been? I'm super excited. I'll be posting about it next week, but in the meantime, you can follow along on Instagram.

Sunday, we're off to a family barbecue in Cambridge, and I also hope I'll have some time to play with my new camera.

Have a great one.



Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Bigger Picture

In other, exciting news ... I finally bit the bullet and bought the Olympus PEN E-PL7. I've been hemming and hawing over this camera for nearly a year now, and though the universe didn't seem to like giving it up to me that easily (long story), I reserved one at John Lewis yesterday, marched over at lunchtime, and claimed it for myself.

I love using John's Canon DSLR for shots like these and these, but I often long for something a little more compact when I'm out and about reviewing restaurants and taking photos at blogger events.

So, yes. Here it is. I was too impatient to wait for Santa. I just need to grab a memory card today because in my insane rush to get my hands on this camera yesterday, I forgot to get one (doh!).

I also wanted to thank you for all your lovely comments on here, on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook about our new house. It's really given me a lot of encouragement because I've found the whole decorating process quite daunting, to be honest, and I don't have a lot of confidence when it comes to interior decoration.

I love sharing little bits and pieces with you as we go along, but my heart always drops a little bit when someone says, "Full house/room tour when you're ready, please!" because there's a lot of the behind-the-scenes chaos going on right now e.g. the jelly-fish adorned toilet seat that the previous owners lovingly left behind; the fact that I delicately climb over a mountain of boxes to get to the shower at the moment; and the huge wall radiator that was yanked off our kitchen wall in preparation for the damp work we had done when we moved in and is now sitting in the garden collecting rain water because it's too heavy even for both of us to lift and mount. Then you tell me nice things like, "Your house is going to be beautiful!" And, well, I feel like a bit of a fraud.

House decorating, like life, like yoga, like so many other "practices" we embark on, is a process - something I'm trying to slowly accept. I think that Pinterest and Instagram have conditioned us (i.e. me) to expect beauty and perfection immediately. Intrinsically, I know that part of the fun is finding objects for the house in a slow, thoughtful, collaborative way, but instinctively, I find myself rushing around every furniture store I can hit within central London, trying to source the perfect rug. After years of struggling with tricky landlords and tiny flats, I'm just so eager to make it feel like "home", you know?

So, thank you. We're working on it. But most of all, I know I am super lucky to have a place to call my own.

I've also learned a lot about things like wall plugs (which I totally thought were called "raw plugs" for the longest time!), scotia (that trim that goes around your room/skirting board to fit the gap between the wall and the floor), and floor sanding. Thankfully, we've not had to do a lot of these things ourselves (sanding and painting large areas of the house are best left to the professionals, IMO) so far, but there's a mitre saw sitting in our shed, calling John's name ... hmm.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Expat Talk: Losing Fluency In My First Language

The other day, I was chatting away to my mom on FaceTime in our usual, rapid mixture of English and Chinese, when suddenly, I faltered: I couldn't remember the Chinese word for "travel". It felt like a rush of cold water down my back as I realized ... I was losing fluency in my first language. I carried on in English, but felt confused and uneasy.

Although I was born and raised in the US, I didn't speak English until I started pre-school (aged three or so) - something I've always been very proud of. Despite growing up in a small town devoid of any native-Chinese speakers, my parents made an effort to speak to me only in Cantonese at home. Unlike my brother, who was far more reluctant to speak in Chinese on a regular basis, I embraced my second language and used it frequently, as much as possible.  At the age of four, I was reciting Chinese poetry, my small voice carrying on as my finger traced each verse in my book. I remember my mom squeezing me tight with pride as I did this, and my dad beaming at me from the dinner table.

A home video filmed by my dad shows me playing with a doll I'd named 'Nancy'. "How old is Nancy?" my dad asks me in the video, in English. "She ..." I think. "She is ... cham," I pronounce, after much deliberation, saying what I think is English for "three" but actually twisting the Cantonese pronunciation for the number instead. Of course, by the time I actually went to pre-school, I picked up English quickly, and my parents began to speak to me in a mix of Chinese and English at home.

The morning after the FaceTime conversation with my mom, I laid awake in bed, naming every fruit and vegetable I could outloud, in Chinese. I pictured the fruit in my head before pronouncing, 'heung jiu' for banana or 'ping gor' for apple. But for other fruits, I realized that I was thinking of the word in English before translating it into Chinese - which felt really, really scary.

Before, I never had to think when I spoke in Chinese. It came naturally, easily. Just like eavesdropping on the two little old ladies babbling in Cantonese on the Overground the other day: I didn't have to concentrate on their conversation. I just understood it. Immediately. One had arthritis in her knee. The other asked why she didn't go to the doctor. The first responded that she did, and that they gave her an injection, but it didn't work. See? Easy.

But now, I find myself searching for words when I speak them - my vocabulary slowly shrinking. What is the word for ambulance? For soy milk? What is the word for sign? Or window? I tried to remember the word for "antibiotic" the other day, and got stuck. I regularly mispronounce things to my mom lately, and she corrects me, laughing - not in a mean way, but gently. I'm embarrassed. The fluency I was once so proud of is slowly slipping away.

Recently, I read this article about expats who lost fluency in their native language after years of living in another country. My German colleague and Danish friend have both admitted to me that they too, struggle to grasp for words in their native tongue after living in London for several years. And although English is considered my native language, Chinese was always simultaneously a part of that too. But the less I'm around my family, and the less I watch Cantonese movies or listen to Cantonese music, I feel the language slowly slipping away - and in turn, my Chinese heritage and culture fading from the forefront of my mind.

Which scares me the most.
I've thought about joining Cantonese meet-up groups or searching for a language exchange partner. But time slips away, I have other priorities, and it gets shoved aside for something else. A few years ago, I had a Cantonese-speaking co-worker, so we conversed daily and I'd pop down to buy some fruit from the green grocer around the corner, who had emigrated from Hong Kong. But soon, they moved, and I just stopped speaking Cantonese as frequently as I'd used to. So now, aside from the occasional FaceTime with my mom (my dad never speaks to me in Chinese now for some reason, which is weird! I'll speak to him in Chinese and he'll answer me in English!), my once-fluent language skills remain unused - dormant.

Do you speak another language? Has this ever happened to you? How did it make you feel, and how did you overcome it (if you did)? I'd love to know.

Monday, July 13, 2015

3 Little Home Improvements That Make All The Difference: Prints, Plants & Pillows

Hi there! Happy Monday. How was your weekend?

On Saturday, we had great weather, so our friend Matt (Royal College of Art graduate, illustrator, and also part-time accountant - crazy, crazy talented!) came over for a barbecue. He gave us this card from The Printed Peanut with a sweet housewarming message inside and I loved it so much, I found a frame for it yesterday and plan to add it to my slow-growing collection of prints.

Isn't it lovely? It's from Louise Lockhart's book, Up My Street, a fold-out book containing illustrations of traditional British shop-fronts. Too sweet! I'm always inspired by Matt's creative circle - he's so tuned into the coolest art festivals and collectives in London. Recently, he sent me a list of his favorite illustrators and designers so I could peruse their work online.

Earlier that day, I dropped by Geo-Fleur's grand opening in Wood Street - a little shop that sells succulent plant hangers, gorgeous candle holders (plus hand-poured candles!), and the tiniest of cacti, amongst other, beautiful things for your home.

We walked away with this adorable little succulent and brass and leather plant hanger. I kind of love it. But! Even more exciting: Geo-Fleur is designing a bespoke terrarium filled with little succulents for us, which I'm picking up next weekend. Eeks!

I'm a plant-killer (seriously, nothing survives more than a few weeks in my hands), so I was relieved to learn that these succulents are really low maintenance and don't require too much attention or care. We're currently deciding where to hang it ... hmm ...

Yesterday, we stopped by Westfield to shop the sales and find some soft furnishings for our home. We're currently searching for the perfect area rug(s). (You know you've got a problem when you're watching Empire and you're too busy squinting at the rug in Empire HQ's foyer and wondering where they sourced it from rather than focusing on Cookie's fabulousness. I mean, #truth.)

If The White Company had a loyalty scheme, I think I'd be racking up some serious points by now, because I looked at my bank statement yesterday (don't even) and I think I shop there more often than I get coffees from Pret-a-Manger.

Anyway, we went in for a duvet cover and mattress protector ... and walked out with these too (plus a lovely, light grey robe for me):

They're the hugest, duck-feather-filled pillows ever. Ever. I've always been obsessed with the ginormous, unnecessary decorative pillows on hotel beds ... and how "finished" they make a bed look! These were a compromise because they're decorative but functional too: they serve as the perfect propping-up pillows when reading! I bit my lip at the price tag (they were in the sale, but still a little pricey for pillows), but went back to them because they were just so firm and comfy.

Now all we need is a painting to fill that space above the bed ... 

One thing I haven't had in this whole home-ownership process is patience. I've spent hours combing through interior design magazines, searching Pinterest for inspiration (I've pinned more "guides to creating the perfect gallery wall" than you could ever imagine), and religiously scrolling through the websites of every single indie-design/homeware shop I can find. I keep forgetting that finding art, homeware, and furniture takes time, and that I shouldn't be in such a rush! (I also keep forgetting that the hotels whose interior styles I so admire have a team of professional interior designers and a seemingly unlimited budget, so a rug for £3,000 is like, NBD for them ... sigh.)

So, that's it, really - three little home improvements that have made the world of difference. Also, question: how many of you make your bed EVERY SINGLE MORNING? I am the WORST at that! The worst! It's embarrassing.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Have a Flippin' Fantastic Weekend

Hey you. Have an awesome weekend. What are you up to? Did you have one of those weeks where, you woke up on Thursday and thought it was Friday? Yeah, me too.

But let me tell you what kind of Friday I've had so far:

1. I woke up to an email from Anthropologie, saying that we'd received a gift card from our friends Joe and Jodi. I kind of screamed into my pillow - I was that excited. Thank you, guys! In case you didn't know, I've been obsessed with that store since I was a teen - so glad that it travelled across the pond to London. Here are a few of the treats I recently picked up for our house at Anthro (as it's known in cultish fan circles!), if you'd like to see!

2. I went to work and realized that the hem of my skirt had come apart. My lovely friend and co-worker, Natalie (AKA Perfect Natalie from this post), offered to emergency-fix it for me as I stood and sipped a cup of tea from her desk.

3. Lauren of The Lifestyle Diaries named me as her Follow Friday pick on Instagram. Too sweet, and too kind!

This weekend, I'm:

1. Shopping for succulents (I'm a walking cliché!).

2. Hunting down a slim vanity/console table for all my make-up and accessories (I have a LOT!). Suggestions most welcomed! Thinking of this one, maybe.

3. Buying ALL the art frames in IKEA.

Have a great one, and I'll see you next week! xo

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

God's Own Junkyard: A Neon Wonderland

Last weekend, John and I went exploring and ticked off one of the places on my "must-see" list in London: God's Own Junkyard. I've read about this legendary establishment in dozens of magazines and blogs and wanted to see it in all its neon glory for myself!

Isn't it wonderful?

Originally owned by the late neon sign designer and collector Chris Bracey, the shop is now run by his family. It houses a collection which includes neon backdrops that Chris had been commissioned to make for Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut and four Batman films - which is pretty incredible!

As if the shop couldn't be any cooler (throngs of hipsters were sipping gin cocktails at the gin palace next door), the Rolling Scones Café (the. best. name. ever.) is tucked away in the back and in the outdoor courtyard, where I nearly ran into a woman carrying a tiered cake-stand filled with scones and jam. Probably the coolest place to have afternoon tea in London. Sign me up, please (pun intended)!

There's such a sense of happiness when you step into a neon wonderland like God's Own Junkyard, with the fluorescent signs hanging just above your head. We marvelled at all the choices, before John proposed picking one for our new home, as a "treat".

"Where would we put it?" I asked dubiously, while he started getting ahead of himself and talking about motion sensor switches (I mean, honestly ...).

Here was his pick:

A retro sign for the lido (a term I'd never heard of until I moved to the UK) that he fell in love with at first glance.

As for me?

Thrills. All the thrills.

If choosing neon signs is a reflection of your personality, well, then our choices had me and John down to a T. His was all about the calm, cool, and collected vibe and mine's all attention-seeking bright lights (literally), colorful bulbs, and ... thrills. How can you not love this flashy arrow?!

Have you been to God's Own Junkyard? Which sign would you choose?


Monday, July 6, 2015

Yvonne & Guite's Delightful Canelés (The Lesser-Known French Pastry!)

The first time my French co-worker brought in a batch of her freshly baked canelés, I peered into her cake tin with some confusion. "What are they?" I asked. "Canelés!" she pronounced, in her beautiful, perfect French accent. "They're from the Bordeaux region, near where I'm from," she explained.

And while it might be some time before the sweet canelé rises to the level of popularity its French, pastel-pastry cousin, the macaron, commands, there's no doubt about it: canelés are the new madeleines, y'all, and Yvonne & Guite have perfected this delicious French pastry with their beautifully simple, traditional recipe.

When I tried a canelé for the first time, was love at first bite: a soft, pillowy baked custard center surrounded by a glazed, caramelized crust, the canelé has more depth than madeleines and financiers and the sweet little crown-like shape is irresistible. Unlike other canelé makers in London who feature a variety of different flavors, Yvonne & Guite focus on making traditional canelés using milk, eggs, sugar, flour, butter, vanilla, and rum.

I love the founder, Caroline's, inspiring story: originally from Vendée, France, Caroline began a career in asset management in Paris, then London, before turning her eye to her own business after being unsatisfied with the canelé recipes she found in recipe books. Convinced that canelés could give cupcakes and macarons a run for their money, she set off to develop the perfect recipe with a French pastry chef and ... et voila.

I sampled some of Caroline's fresh canelés with a hot cup of tea for breakfast (sorry not sorry! I'm not one of those bloggers who has a green smoothie every morning, unfortunately) and found myself back in canelé heaven: the perfectly glazed outer crust gave way to a ever-so-slightly chewy and subtle vanilla-flavored center.

It's a lovely alternative to cake, if you wanted to serve it for afternoon tea. As I was placing them on my mini cake stand, I also had visions of a tower of canelés, which would work beautifully well for birthdays or weddings!

I've been meaning to buy canelé baking molds to try making them myself, but might just end up bulk-buying from Yvonne & Guite instead. Oops.

Have you ever tried a canelé? What did you think?

Thank you, Yvonne & Guite for my beautiful box of canelés! Want your own box? Right now, Yvonne & Guite's distributor,, are offering £5 off canelé orders with the code YVONNE5. To keep up with Yvonne & Guite's delicious news, follow them on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. All opinions are my own.

© angloyankophile

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