Friday, December 19, 2014

May Your Days Be Merry And Bright


Well, this is it.

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 18, 2014

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


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

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

Here's what I had to say:
_____________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

______________________

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

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


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

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

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

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



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


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


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

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



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

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

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


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



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



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

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


Too sweet.

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

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Restoration


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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

Monday, December 15, 2014

Thank You.


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

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

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

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

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

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

All my love.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Moving Through The Thickness of Grief


I wasn't completely honest with you today.

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

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

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

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

That kind of pain is okay.

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

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

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

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

How?

I Don't Even Deserve Christmas


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

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

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


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

But anyway.

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


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

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

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

YES, I KNOW. I'M AWFUL. I DON'T DESERVE ANY CHRISTMAS PRESENTS. I DON'T EVEN DESERVE CHRISTMAS.

So, um, what did you do this weekend?