Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! How are you celebrating today? I'm having a couple of friends over tonight for a "Friendsgiving" dinner, which I'm really looking foward to, despite feeling a bit under the weather. I chopped all my veggies last night and got up early this morning to make a pumpkin pie, so hopefully there won't be *too* much to do in terms of preparation by the time I've dashed home from work. Every year, I bring in two dozen Krispy Kreme donuts to work, much to my co-workers' delight (I've had 2.5 already this morning ... oops).

As an American abroad, Thanksgiving is the one day each year that makes me feel the most homesick. I miss my family on this day more than any others - not even on my birthday or on Christmas! In fact, I loved spending Christmas in the UK last year but I can't remember the last time I spent Thanksgiving with my family - probably when I was in high school.

I have terrific memories of being "adopted" by friends' families in college because Seattle was too far (and expensive) of a flight to do for one weekend. So instead, I'd go over to my friend Ed's house near Boston or Kara's then-family home in Newport, Rhode Island. We'd spend Thanksgiving Day playing Scrabble, drinking delicious red wine, eating copious amounts of pie, and taking long cliff walks past the mansions in Newport.

I love watching 'A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving' and the Macy Thanksgiving Day Parade on this day. It all contributes to a very exciting build-up toward Christmas but it's also a day that I love to spend with my mom, dad, and brother. We're in three different time zones at the moment, with me here, my mom and dad in Hong Kong visiting relatives, and my brother back home in Washington state, but I'll definitely be thinking of them when I tuck into my turkey tonight.

I've got so much to be thankful for this year and I'd love to thank you for reading and supporting Angloyankophile. Your comments mean the world to me and I'm so grateful that you keep coming back for more!

Wherever you are in the world, I hope you have a wonderful day. xo

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Crafty Christmas Present: Personalized Christmas Stocking

It's my baby niece Dorothy's first Christmas and I wanted to give her something special. Initially, I'd ordered a few things for her from designer babywear retailer Alex and Alexa, but when my friend and co-worker Natalie showed me the sweet, personalized Christmas stocking she'd made for her niece, I knew I had to make one too (don't worry - her birthday's in January, so all the Petit Bateau goodies won't go to waste!).

Natalie kindly supplied me with the template she used and gave me instructions on how to get started, as well as a shopping list of materials I'd need for the project. On her advice, I bought the fabric and velvet ribbon from eBay, which only amounted to about £11 in total.

Originally, I'd wanted to use Christmas-themed fabrics as Natalie did for hers (it looked amazing), but because I'm utterly boring and minimalist, I went for this light blue chambray-type of material with a star pattern and bought the corresponding fabric in cream for the inner lining, plus some velvet grey ribbon for the trim.

"She's a baby, for goodness' sake," joked John when he saw the colors I had chosen. "Not an adult!"

But I adored those tiny stars and the pretty blue color.

At work, I nicknamed Natalie "Perfect Natalie" because of her insanely good crafting skills, baking prowess (she turns out the best brownies you've ever had), and also because she's incredibly smart and, not to mention, super pretty. You'd probably hate her if she wasn't also ... just. So. Ridiculously. Nice.

So of course, when Natalie heard that I didn't have a sewing machine (ha! Me? With a sewing machine?!), she invited me over to her beautiful flat in West London for an evening of crafting and even fed me dinner (obvs, because she's Perfect Natalie). I finally learned how to use a sewing machine (with Natalie patiently sitting at my elbow because I refused to let her leave my side, saying, "Yup, still fine. Yes, keep going. Just. Keep. Going.") and by the end of the evening, I had this:

... which I was pretty pleased with! It's not as perfect as Natalie's, but it's not too bad for a first try, I don't think.

I'm now kind of obsessed with bondaweb (that sticky stuff you iron on to the fabric to make it stick), which I used for the lettering and am thinking of all the other crafty things I could make with it. Personalised totebags, anyone?

Have you ever made a gift for a friend or family member? How did it turn out? I'd love to know.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Last Weekend: Christmas Shopping, Cake Eating, and Sleeping

Happy Monday Tuesday. How was your weekend? I was exhausted. Sunday night, I climbed into bed at 6:00 p.m. - no joke - and slept until 9:30 p.m., before waking briefly to brush my teeth and blindly stumble back into bed, where I slept until 7:00 a.m. on Monday morning. I totally skipped dinner (though we had a huge late lunch at Tom and Cristy's as part of our pre-Christmas celebrations!) and just passed out.

I don't know about you, but November and December are always the busiest months of the year for me. Thanksgiving's on Thursday, my birthday's next week, and I am so behind on organizing anything. And because we're off to the States this year for Christmas (yay!), I feel extra pressure to get everyone's Christmas presents sorted out well in advance.

Last weekend felt like ... the last weekend I could fit everything in. I woke up early on Saturday to write all my Christmas cards (and tried to multi-task by listening to Britten's War Requiem, which I'll be performing with the Royal Orchestral Society at Cadogan Hall this Sunday - eeks!) and spent hours browsing potential Christmas gifts online.

I met Robin of Second Floor Flat for breakfast at Homa in Stoke Newington, where I had the most delicious plate of Eggs Royale: an English muffin topped with smoked salmon and two perfectly poached eggs with bright orange, runny yolks.

It was so nice to meet Robin and chat with her before her big move back to the States - something that I've always toyed with the idea of doing, but can't see myself actually doing any time soon. It's a huge move - both physically and emotionally - and because Robin's such a gifted writer, I've been reading all her posts lately with a mixture of curiosity, envy, and admiration.

After breakfast, John and I blitzed through our Christmas shopping list in Angel and visited two of our favorite interior design shops on Upper Street: twentytwentyone and Chest of Drawers, where John fell in love with this French ceramic lamp, which is handmade and glazed to order in France. It's fun to visit such beautiful, design-led stores, but it's a little frustrating as well when we find ourselves holding off on buying any of it for ourselves until we're homeowners ... which seems like such a distant, out-of-reach goal when you're currently renting in London.

Midway through our shopping spree, I got a little cranky and tired (because I'm exactly like a child) and made us stop for some tea and cake at Euphorium Bakery.

Then I decided to leave poor John with the rest of the shopping list while I went home and crawled into bed for a nap (I need my sleep!) before going to a friend's party later on that evening. What can I say? I'm such a granny. I have to nap before parties.

On Sunday, we went over to Tom and Cristy's for some pre-Christmas celebrations before they jet off to Australia (where Cristy's from) with their little one, our darling niece Dorothy. They whipped up an ah-mazing roast and decorated the table with Christmas crackers, napkins, and paper Christmas trees! It was so sweet.

Tom prepared a delicious romanesco cauliflower as one of the dishes - have you ever seen one of these little guys before? I've only seen them in photos and have never tried one; it was delicious and tasted just like cauliflower.

It's also incredibly beautiful, no? It made me want to get a veg box too, for the sheer variety of vegetables you get each week. Knowing me though, they'd probably rot in the salad drawer of my fridge before they saw the heat of a pan or oven ...

After our late lunch, we sat around playing the "guess who I am" game from our Christmas crackers (John couldn't seem to guess that he was Miley Cyrus for the life of him. "Am I American?" "Yes." "Am I a singer?" "Yes." "Am I female?" "Yes." "Am I Madonna?" "No.") and spent lots of time watching Dorothy perfect her latest skill: walking with a little walker! I managed to mangle the words to a baby's book while John made her cry with a pair of scary elf ears, but by the afternoon, we were BFFs. And we totally wrecked her nap time (sorry, Tom and Cristy!).

We ended the afternoon by tearing off pieces of this delicious panettone and talking about British politics, as you do.

I've never been a huge fan of panettone, but this one was so good. It had a very subtle orange flavor and the sugary, perfectly baked top was positively yummy!

What about you? What did you do this weekend? Hope you're having a less sleepy start to your week than I am! Yawn ...

Friday, November 21, 2014

Capturing The Perfect Night-Time Cityscape With Nikon and SmugMug

One of the most important tips I received as a blogger early on in my blogging days was to include photos in every single blog post (thanks, Sophia!). But I have a confession to make: most of the photos featured on Angloyankophile were taken on my iPhone 5 and edited using filters either in Instagram or VSCOcam. But I'm sure you could tell already. One of my goals for this blog is to up my photography game, i.e. take photos with a "real" camera. I'll sometimes take John's Canon DSLR with me to blogger events, but to be honest with you ... I have no idea what I'm doing, and the photos turn out to be a bit of a blur. Frustrated, I'll usually throw gently place the professional camera aside and pick up my phone instead. As they say here in the UK, I have "all the gear and no idea" (works better with a British accent, trust me).

So, I felt like a total fraudster when I turned up at Nikon's and SmugMug's Night-Time Cityscape Workshop at the Nikon School on Margaret Street, run by Alastair Jolly of SmugMug and Neil Freeman of Nikon. While other bloggers listened attentively and asked really important questions about backing up photos on external hard drives (yes, I have one of those too ... but I never use it) and shutter speed, I sat in the corner furiously taking notes and trying to remember every word Alastair said about aperture and light.

For those of you who haven't heard of SmugMug before, it's an online service that offers beautiful, personalised galleries for your photos - think Flickr, but with additional features, much more security, and a space to display your handiwork in a personal but professional-looking website (my friend Alex has used it for years and loves it - then again, her photos are much better than mine!). The result is a gorgeous, bespoke website you can share that looks a whole lot slicker than whatever you've been using - trust me. My photos are all over the place: on my phone, on Google Drive, on that external hard drive ... I'm constantly tweeting and uploading photos onto Facebook, so I've made it a New Year's resolution to set myself up with a SmugMug account in order to kick my lazy photogenic photographic butt into action.

Have you ever tried taking photos at night? At best, you get some pretty lights - at others, well, they're all blurry. Alastair shared some fantastic tips during the workshop which were practically all a revelation to me.

For example, did you know about taking photos during the optimal "blue hour"? This is also known as twilight -  that perfect time just after the sun sets but before the sky goes completely dark, when there's just some blue left in the sky (though Alastair joked that in the UK, it's mostly just grey). This is a key period of time when capturing cityscapes because the lights on the facades of buildings and streetlamps turn on. A super useful tip when you're on vacation!

The result is something like the photo I took above, when we all trekked on to Regent Street to put Alastair's tips into action.

But the most important secret to taking a good, night-time photograph is ... a tripod. Because of the slow shutter speed and big aperture needed to get those magnificent lights in (did I get that right?), it's impossible to hold the camera with a steady enough hand - hence all the blurriness you usually get. If you've got a tripod, you can also capture some exciting light trails like this one below, which Alastair kindly helped me set up before I had a couple of tries myself:

Once you've got a tripod, you can set up the self-timer on your camera for that perfect shot. Neil gave us some fabulous tips on precisely where in London you can get a great shot, especially after it's been raining (hint: just outside the Mayor's office) and how to get that fantastic starburst effect on lights you see in photographs, like the headlights on the car and bus above (hint: set your aperture in aperture priority mode to F16).

And if you don't feel like sticking a tripod in your leather Anya Hindmarch tote (ahem, hint hint, birthday present, hint hint), then you can balance your camera on just about anything - including a dumpster with a half-eaten sandwich on top of it, as Alastair demonstrated. But seriously: tripods #ftw.

I left the workshop feeling inspired and totally excited about trying a little harder with my photos. I also met some lovely lifestyle and photography bloggers, including Paula of The LDN Diaries. Most of all, I loved learning about some camera basics that had previously been a mystery to me, as well as seeing some inspirational examples of photography websites that have been created using SmugMug. If you've got a growing photo collection, I'd definitely recommend taking a look at SmugMug and considering it as an option for displaying your photographs. After all, Instagram can only take you so far!

Special thanks to Nikon and SmugMug for hosting me at this amazing photography workshop.

Review: "American Flavour, British Behaviour" @ Honky Tonk Chelsea

As an American expat in London, I often have pangs of homesickness for American food, which I write about here often! I'm guilty of standing in front of the "American snacks" aisle at Tesco, eyes misting over with tears (I kid, I kid) as I stare at the bottles of Aunt Jemima syrup, jars of Jif extra crunchy peanut butter, and boxes of Lucky Charms. So, when Zomato UK invited me to try Honky Tonk Chelsea (once home to the world's most expensive burger) I jumped at the opportunity to load up on ribs, fried chicken, and shakes .

Located on Hollywood Road in Chelsea, Honky Tonk is a medium-sized restaurant with an Americana theme and a very clever slogan: "American flavour, British behaviour". Restrained it isn't: the menu bursts at the seams with dishes like Craw Daddy Crab Cakes, Buffalo Wings, Blumdog Billionaire Hot Dogs, and the Honky Tonk Combo (which I'll get to a little later).

As someone who's lactose intolerant, I miss milkshakes so, so much. Sometimes I even slip and order one, even if I know there will be "consequences" (without getting into too much detail ... sorry, that was probably already TMI). In this case, I couldn't resist trying the Banana & Butterscotch shake, which was ice cold, thick, and positively delicious - just like the kind we have in the States!

Although our reservation was at 6:30, the restaurant filled up quickly since it was Saturday night. There's also a bar area at the front where you can just meet for cocktails and bar snacks, which is great if you're just in the mood for a quick fix. The playlist is upbeat and fun (I Shazam-ed three songs while I was there), giving me the impression that it'd be a fun place to celebrate a birthday with friends.

In the restaurant, some of the tables are arranged - shall we say - creatively: John and I sat side-by-side, facing a pillar and directly gazing at another table ahead (though I wouldn't have noticed - I was too busy Instagramming, oops) and I think the couple next to us also felt a little awkward sitting side-by-side as well. I also raised my brows a little at the costume de rigueur for the waitresses, which seemed to be denim hotpants (I secretly cheered at the one waitress who defied this by wearing hers over black opaques versus sporting bare legs on a cold November evening) since I take issue with women being objectified in such a way for the purpose of attracting particular clientele (and, sorry to disappoint you, but most restaurants in America aren't filled with pretty young things wearing denim hotpants for your viewing pleasure) BUT .... that's all a little too deep for this blog post. I'll talk about gender politics somewhere else (like, to myself).

Anyway, this didn't put us off our appetizer of crab cakes, which were very, very good.

The batter was perfectly crispy and the sweet chilli mayo and sweetcorn salsa were perfect accompaniments. The crab filling was piping hot and freshly made, which has proved difficult to find in other American establishments.

For the main ... well, we went a little crazy and ordered the Honky Tonk Combo: two pieces of Honky Tonk's famous "not" fried chicken, half a rack of pork ribs in bourbon sauce, a generous helping of pulled pork, buffalo chicken wings and two portions of rosemary fries. We added a side salad and an order of corn-on-the-cob for good measure.

I managed about two-thirds before I was completely defeated. The wings and ribs were good: spicy and tender, though the pulled pork was a bit too sweet for my tastebuds. I could definitely see this being a terrific final stop on a night out - that chicken and those fries would be amazing after a night of partying! 

For dessert, I would have loved to order the Mississippi Mudslide, but opted for the waffle with chocolate sauce, ice cream, and strawberries instead, as a "lighter" alternative. 

Since I'd reached my dairy quota for the evening, I steered clear of the vanilla ice cream, but the chocolate sauce and waffle combination was a winner. I was as little disappointed that the "fresh strawberries" actually ended up being one strawberry sliced four ways, but it still made for a rather tasty dessert.

Verdict: if you're craving American food, you can do better than The Diner by popping over to Honky Tonk Chelsea. Definitely order the shake (especially if you're not lactose intolerant - you have no excuse not to!) because it's damn delicious and the crab cakes are worth a whirl too. I bet the Honky Dogs are good and the next time I go, I'll consider giving the quesadilla a try.

I was generously hosted by Honky Tonk Chelsea and Zomato UK. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Best Almond Milk Lattes in London

For those of you who follow me on Instagram, you'll know that I've been on an almond latte mission in London for the past week or so. That's because I was doing research for a piece I recently wrote for About Time Magazine, which you can read here!

Believe it or not, almond milk lattes are pretty tricky to find in London: most cafes and coffee shops only carry soy milk (and occasionally, oat milk). I found myself desperately calling dozens of shops in Central and East London, enquiring about their almond milk status. My friend Caroline was a dear and accompanied me to most of my almond milk adventures, including one in a former underground men's toilet ... yes, you read that correctly.

It was definitely an interesting experiment, as I've heard that soy can wreak havoc on your hormones (especially for women) and that almond milk is slightly healthier for you. I usually have soy because I'm lactose-intolerant (and I'll always remain head-over-heels in love with the soy milk that's served in Hong Kong and other Cantonese cafes, either hot or cold, salty or sweet), but after taste-testing almond milk lattes for a week, I'm definitely going to make the switch. The flavor is so much more subtle than soy, and I find that it enhances the coffee, rather than detracts from it, as soy sometimes does.

What about you? Are you a full dairy milk drinker? A soy milk fan? An almond milk convert? Tell me! 

Angloyankophile In Waitrose Weekend!

Hello, and happy Thursday! I've been a little quiet lately, but only because I've been working on a lot of exciting things to share with you, including a review of a fun American restaurant in the heart of Chelsea, a guide to finding the best almond milk lattes in London, and some tips on shooting night-time cityscapes (which I only learned yesterday!). 

In the meantime, if you live in the UK and happen to pass by a Waitrose today, be sure to pick up a copy of Waitrose Weekend - I'm on the front page (and on page 3!) talking about all things Thanksgiving and ThanksChristmas, a hybrid holiday I invented after years of living as an Angloyankophile in the UK.