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.

Enjoy!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Guest Post: Chocolate Sticky Toffee Brioche Pudding by Rukmini Iyer

I've decided to host a series of guest posts on Angloyankophile: a careful selection and curation of original pieces from my favorite bloggers in the UK, which I know you'll like and think you'll love.

Today, the lovely Rukmini Iyer of MissMinifer Cooks has generously offered to share her recipe for Chocolate Sticky Toffee Brioche Pudding. Yum. I met Mini a few weekends ago at the About Time x Tabasco Bloggers' Brunch and loved her story: she's a former-lawyer-turned-food-stylist (isn't that amazing?) who competed in the final round of Masterchef in 2013, trained as a pastry chef under Tom Kitchin, and now styles commercials and photo shoots for the likes of Sainsbury's, Waitrose, and Kenco Coffee. 

I'll just let you digest all of that for a second. Did I mention that she's also incredibly nice and super intelligent? (I also love how she uses words like "squash" and "dinky" in her recipes.)

So, without further ado ...

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Chocolate Sticky Toffee Brioche Pudding


Hot chocolate, sticky dates and rich brioche come together beautifully in this quick, indulgent dessert. Make a large batch at the weekend to keep you going for the week ahead, or if you’ve got friends coming over, plate up in dinky individual ramekins or casserole dishes. (But do make a few extra, because people are going to ask for seconds …)

Preheat your oven to 180C. Melt 30g butter in a saucepan, and add 20g soft dark brown sugar along with 200g chopped dates. Heat for a minute until the sugar has melted, then pour in 450ml double cream. Warm through to just below boiling point, then add 120g chopped dark chocolate, and stir until melted. Pour the mixture through a sieve, and set aside the chocolatey dates. Allow the chocolate cream to cool a little before whisking in 4 egg yolks. To assemble the pudding, tear the brioche into chunks and pop half of it into your baking dish(es), topped with the chopped dates. Pour half of the chocolate custard over, then top with the second half of the brioche and the remaining chocolate custard. Squash it down well with the back of a wooden spoon, then bake for 25-30 minutes until firm to touch. It should still be nice and melty inside. Serve hot with a big dollop of crème fraiche. If you’re not eating them immediately, they do warm up beautifully in the microwave.

Useful Information:

Serves 6
Prep 10 minutes
Bake 30 minutes

Shopping List:

30g butter
20g soft dark brown sugar
200g dates, pitted
120g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids minimum)
450ml double cream
4 egg yolks
400g brioche

Thanks so much to Jaime for hosting my recipe on her beautiful blog- we'll be collaborating soon at www.missminifer.co.uk, so watch this space!
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Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful recipe, Mini! I can't wait to make this. Have a look at Mini's gorgeous work over on her blog, MissMinifer Cooks.


Photo and recipe © 2014 Rukmini Iyer

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Mixed Tapes and Friendship Bracelets


When was the last time you made a mixed tape for someone? A few weeks ago, I picked up my mail, unlocked the door to my empty flat, and tore open an envelope addressed to me from one of my best friends, Kara, who lives in San Diego. A CD tumbled out, along with a letter, which I read - while sitting fully clothed, still in my coat and shoes - in the middle of our hallway. 

That letter and CD were two of the best gifts I'd received all year.

As I listened to the CD (featuring LP, who's amazing, btw), I realized that I couldn't remember the last time I'd been given a mixed tape or CD - items that were an integral part of my high school and college years and which formed the primary way for me to discover new music. My CD collection in college was full of mixed CDs either given to me or made by me, featuring artists as obscure as Aesop Rock to feminist favorites like Ani DiFranco or Tori Amos. Making a mixed tape in high school was my way of telling a boy I liked him, and, when I was cleaning out some old files, I found a mixed CD I'd made for John within the first month we'd met.

It's funny how meaningful music and playlists, in particular, can be to us. John and I used to share a joint Spotify account until I went off-piste and bought my own premium subscription ... it felt like a divorce! We follow each other's playlists now, but there are also definitely times when I've secretly Shazam-ed a new song at home from his playlist because I didn't want to give him the satisfaction of knowing I liked the song!

And though I store most of my music digitally now and heavily rely on streaming services like Spotify, there's nothing like the physicality of holding a mixed CD in my hand to remind me how wonderful a carefully curated and personalised playlist can be.

Last night, I texted Kara after work - hoping I'd catch her on one of her days off as a busy hospital nurse. I was in luck: she was, and we both raced home to talk to each other on FaceTime, which was so much fun. While we were chatting, I told her about my stress-crafting friendship bracelet projects and decided to make and send one to her! Kara chose the colors she wanted, and, as I gabbed away in my usual mile-a-minute manner, my hands worked quickly to make her the bracelet (above left). Isn't it funny how your hands remember how to do something, even after years of having not done it? I made so many of these bracelets as a kid. 

Kara's letters always drop through my letter box when I need them the most. They make me smile, give me strength, and inspire me, always.

So, I'd love to make a friendship bracelet and send it to you, wherever you are. Really. Choose five colors, email me your address (found on the "Contact" page) and I'll ship it off to you. 

Because everyone needs a friend like Kara in their lives.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Getting All Worked Up @ Workshop Coffee


In the middle of my panic-filled weekend, I managed to sneak in breakfast with Rebecca (also known as RunawayKiwi) at Workshop Coffee in Clerkenwell - one of my favorite brunch/coffee destinations in London. Clerkenwell's where the main cafe is located, but Workshop also has smaller coffee bars in Fitzrovia, Holborn, and Marylebone.

As for Rebecca? Well, she's one of the kindest, most generous bloggers I know. I've been blogging for 4 years now, so I'm not exactly new to the scene, but I'm extremely new to "the scene", if you know what I mean. By "the scene", I mean blogging events, networking "meet-ups", #competitive #uses #of #madeup #hashtags #on #Twitter #and #the #like, and just ... competitiveness in general. I had no idea this existed.

And I am so not into that.

I'm not a #luxury, #food, #beauty, or #fashion blogger. I sometimes post photos of my shoes. I'll write about hot dogs and prosecco. Or my newest favorite skincare brand. Or my childhood stamp collection (yes, really). I blog because I've got something to get off my chest and because, sometimes, you read what I write and leave me a comment that says, "ME TOO!" And those comments make my heart sing.

Rebecca gets this, because she writes posts like that too (btw, my hand appears for about 0.5 seconds at around the 0.25 mark of her first YouTube post - so famous) and she's incredibly generous in sharing tips, advice, and ideas. She'll be the first to introduce me to a new photo editing app, or tell me about a meet-up that I should go to, or a blogger I should know. She's a good egg.

Speaking of eggs ...


Rebecca's Ham Hock Stack (sweet potato cake, poached egg, and spinach) at Workshop looked incredible. That yolk!

I was in the mood for something sweet (the opposite of how I felt that day), so I ordered the French toast: brioche, poached rhubarb, orange mascarpone and hazelnuts.


It was divine. The brioche was soft and fluffy, and the rhubarb was just tart enough to offset the subtle but sweet orange mascarpone.

I love Workshop, but sometimes, I find it to be a little pricey (our breakfast for two set us back by nearly £30!). Still, I grumble and keep going back because they keep coming up with delicious dishes like this. It's definitely a treat, rather than the norm.

After blowing off some steam with Rebecca and getting her sage perspective on things, I calmed down a little and walked away feeling happier and inspired. Sometimes, you just need a like-minded person to remind you how to keep things real.

(p.s. we're now collaborating on a Pinterest board together on #London #fashion - if you're interested!)