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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Pretty Anthropologie Homeware Finds

Yesterday, I stopped into Anthropologie on Regent Street after work and came home with these beautiful items, which I really wanted to share with you. 

Since we moved in to our newly purchased house, John seems to have fully embraced the DIY attitude by purchasing a new drill, compound mitre saw (don't ask), and by making announcements at dinner like, "It's time. I need a proper toolbox. For all my ... tools." After an exhausting process of formally "checking out" of our old flat in Islington this weekend, we had the crazy idea of renting a ZipCar and taking it straight to IKEA. On a Saturday night.

Like I said, crazy.

Except, it turned out to be pretty empty and we managed to be super productive and focused, buying only things we knew that we needed and arriving with measurements beforehand so there wouldn't be any doubts of whether or not something would fit. (Sidenote: you know you've reached a low point when you lust after a laser tape measurer. Trust me, one too many times of a tape measurer snapping back and hitting you in the thumb will do that to a girl).

We came away with a shoe rack/cupboard that also serves as a sort of console table for mail, keys, etc. in the entry-way to our house. It took a few hacks to get it right (the wireless internet hub and phone line is housed in the same area, so we had to cut the back of the cupboard to fit around the skirting board and hub), but when it was finished, it looked pretty damn good.

Because the cupboard is white, we both really disliked the stark, standard black knobs that it came with, which looked cheap and out of place. So, taking advantage of the Anthropologie sale, I bought these mismatched, colorful ceramic knobs instead, for a bargain-ous price of £2.95 each!

I really, really like them. In fact, I was so proud of this customization, that I excitedly ran past the cupboard a few times to admire our (mostly John's) handiwork. It's incredible: the whole "feel" of the house has been transformed by a lick of paint (goodbye dismal magnolia, hello clean, fresh white and grey!), and even something as minor as the shoe cupboard has changed the way I feel when I walk in the door. It feels more and more like "mine" each day.

Before I left Anthropologie, I couldn't help picking up this butter dish as well, which I'd been wanting for a while now. At £14, it wasn't exorbitant, but nevertheless a treat. One of my pet peeves is scraping cold butter onto a slice of toast ... anyone else feel my pain? Scrape, scrape, scrape.

The beautiful cloth dishtowel that I've displayed alongside the products above was hand-stitched by a family friend of ours and given to us as a wedding gift - such a lovely sentiment, and something with a purpose!

Have you ever changed a piece of furniture or homeware because you didn't like its original design? How far would you go to customize something to make it your own? I'd love to know!

Monday, June 29, 2015

"Scents of Summer" Afternoon Tea @ Intercontinental Park Lane

When Runawaykiwi told me that she'd won an afternoon tea for two at the Intercontinental Hotel on Park Lane and asked if I'd like to join her, I had one of those moments where I felt like the dork at school being picked for the cool kids' team, pointing to myself and looking behind me, asking, "Who? Me? What, me?"

Yes, me, apparently.

I arrived at the hotel's beautiful Wellington Lounge looking like a drowned rat, having been caught out by a surprise downpour on my way from Green Park. Rebecca arrived personifying a dewy spring flower, recently plucked from the garden: her sweet curly hair intact, cheerful floral top and polka-dot skirt looking perfect for the occasion.

I was excited to try the Intercontinental's "Scents of Summer" afternoon tea, which aimed to "create a sensory journey that celebrates the beauty of British summertime", according to the website.

Our "journey" began rather unexpectedly with a wheatgrass shot and instantly, my panicked mind asked, "Do I have to?"

Slightly bemused by this, I tipped my head back and said to Rebecca, "Down the hatch, then" ... and tipped my head back further ... and further ... and further, until I realized that this shot was NOT coming out of the glass. I horrified our lovely waiter by turning the entire glass upside down and shaking it, demonstrating how this gelatine shot wouldn't move, while the equally puzzled table beside us watched to see how we were drinking ours. He reappeared with two of the smallest spoons in the world so we could scoop out the strawberry pearls and get our dose of greens. Rebecca wasn't have any of it ("Just ... no," she said, after trying a spoonful), but I shrugged and perservered because, well, it's good for you.

Next we tried the delicious sandwiches: smoked salmon and bergamot-infused cream cheese scroll (yes, that wasn't a typo for "roll", it's a "SCROLL") served on lemon bread, rose-picked cucumber and mascarpone cheese served on Peruvian bread, pink peppercorn on thyme chicken bound in mayonaise and cucumber served on tomato bread, and honey-roast pumpkin crumbled feta cheese served on spinach bread. A mouthful. Literally, and figuratively.

I started with what I thought would be my least favorite (that's how I eat all my food, really), the honey-roast pumpkin - the flavors didn't really stand out for me and the pumpkin was slightly undercooked, there was none of that naturally sweet flavor that pumpkin usually has either. My favorite? The cucumber on Peruvian bread. So delicious. I could have had a plate of those all to myself!

And, having scoffed at the "scroll", its shape was very effective, I thought. Rebecca and I agreed that even some of the nicest afternoon teas often skimp on the quality of bread, which certainly wasn't the case here.

Next, we moved on to my favorite part: the scones. But not before we were spritzed down with Floris perfume. Also not a mistake. The point was to enhance the citrus flavors and scent of our next "course", but unfortunately, the spritzing sent me into a slight coughing fit.

But the scones were delicious. And they were impossibly cute, since they were mini-scones. Being served scones that are far too big and filling are one of my biggest afternoon tea pet peeves. I know, crazy, right? As an American, you'd think that my motto would be, "the bigger the better" (and yes, I am aware of how inherently wrong that is on so many different levels), but by the time I've filled up on scones, I have no room for cake. You see the complexity in this?

Thankfully, this wasn't the case at the Intercontinental, as we spread our lemon and pink peppercorn curd (which I didn't love, but couldn't help going back for more ... it had an addictive quality about it) and Earl Grey butter, which - unless my heathen senses were completely unable to appreciate nuances - tasted very much like ... butter. The clotted cream and wild strawberry jam were delicious though, and my mouth is watering at the memory!

But then, but then:

This happened. Basically, when this gorgeous plate of desserts was placed before us and we were (again) spritzed by the next jasmine-scented perfume, I went through all the phases of Charlie & The Chocolate Factory characters i.e. "I've got the golden ticket!" (Charlie) to the gluttony of Augustus Gloop, to Veruca Salt's "I WANT IT NOW!"

We were advised to begin with the delicately flavored jasmine tea-cakes (bottom left), before moving on to the bergamot macarons, peach melba mousse (which, yes, is housed in that ball that impressively resembles a real peach) and violet cream and grapefruit tart. Oh yes - those stones? They're edible palate cleansers (chocolate) to be eaten with the raspberries and blueberries.

Yes, really.

The cakes were delightful. I think my favorite might have been the little jasmine tea-cakes, but the peach melba came in at a close second. I started feeling sick though, after cutting off a fraction of Rebecca's tart, so I stopped and admitted defeat, before asking for a doggy bag to take home. No shame in my American game.

Oh, and the tea! Tea pairing is taken very seriously at the Intercontinental, and though I was familiar with most of the teas on their extensive list (I was super impressed to see Chinese Ti Kuan Yin on the menu - a tea that my tea-connoisseur family drinks on a regular basis), I appreciated having the recommendations and suggestions of teas that would enhance the sweet and savory items on our menu.

We began with a lovely, light Darjeeling tea, followed by Earl Grey with a pinch of Lapsang Souchong (nope, still not a fan of that smoky tea!), and finally, a light, white peony tea with rosebuds.

Btw, tea and edible rocks go down a treat, dontchaknow?

After catching up on all things blogging and expat-related, Rebecca and I were told in the nicest way possible that the restaurant needed the table back by 4 pm (we'd started at 1 pm - eeks!) but we were offered a table in the lounge area outside to continue our tea-sipping, which we politely declined.

By now, the sun had started shining again and my drowned-rat look had considerably subsided. I thanked Rebecca profusely for picking me to be her afternoon tea buddy and happily brought home the rocks to my husband who, upon me presenting the beautiful box to him, peered in and said, "What is that?"

A wonderful, edible, explorative adventure. That's what it was.

Scents of Summer Afternoon Tea at the Wellington Lounge is running until the 27th of September 2015 at the Intercontinental Park Lane . Prices are £45 per person, with gluten-free options available.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Have an excellent weekend.

Have an excellent weekend. What are you up to?

I can't believe we've already been in our new house for almost a week! It's still being painted and there is so much left to be done, but I am yearning for a weekend to just unpack and unwind! We've got to go over to our old flat tomorrow for the final check-out and end-of-tenancy cleaning (bleurgh), so once that's all over, I think we'll both feel a huge sense of relief. I can't wait to show you more photos (if you'd like to see!) as we go along.

Anyway, that's all very boring!

Have you heard of Bloom & Wild? They deliver fresh flowers to your (or your friend's!) door ... flatpacked, so they fit perfectly through the letterbox! It's ingenious. We received some beautiful peonies as a housewarming present from our friends the other day (as well as a giant, glorious bouquet from John's dad) and I couldn't wait to put them in the new Habitat vases I bought.

I hope your weekend is filled with sunshine and the occasional gut-busting laugh! (Because, obviously, those are the best kinds of laughs.)


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Wine-Tastic Evening With Loire Valley Wines and Squaremeal @ Portland

Last week, I found myself in Portland's private dining room sandwiched between a table full of chatty and excitable food bloggers and several glasses of delicious wines from Loire Valley Wines. We'd all been invited by Square Meal to try a selection of Loire Valley's best wines paired with a carefully curated seasonal menu from Portland.

With hardly any room on the long table to spare for our DSLRs and phones, we listened attentively as Ruth Spivey of Street Vin introduced the pretty pink Rosé d'Anjous and Touraine Sauvignon Blancs we'd be sampling that evening and how they'd work with the different courses we were about to try. I loved her simple, straightforward approach to wine and hearing about her enthusiasm for the Loire Valley region where the wines are produced.

We kicked off the evening with the Domaine de l’Aumônier, Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, 2014 - a very easy-to-drink Sauvignon Blanc that worked well with Portland's starter of Mangalitsa pig rillettes, pickles, and toast.

Between mouthfuls of the delicious rillettes, I chatted with my other blogger neighbor, Vivian, who runs her own supper club - impressive, much? We agreed that the pickles and rillettes were a delicious accompaniment to the first wine, and launched into the next course of pickled shitake mushrooms with soy and ginger. The tartness of the mushrooms made my mouth pucker but the Domaine des Essarts, Rosé D’Anjou, 2014 worked well with the flavors - tempering the initial sourness of the pickle and allowing the lingering flavor of the shitake to really blossom. I thought this was the most impactful pairing of all.

From there, we were delighted with a gorgeous summer salad - with flowers and all.

I know that Andrea wasn't too impressed with this salad, but I loved the refreshing crunch the baby gem lettuce gave, not to mention the slightly tangy dressing, which was very effective when paired with the Domaine de l'Aumonier Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (perhaps my favorite wine of the evening!).

The next two dishes, the grilled English asparagus with garlic yogurt and charred vegetables with smoked hollandaise sauce, were the standouts.

The flavors were delicate, rather than jarring, and subtle - a tough feat to produce in a sauce and one that I would imagine could only come about after a lot of testing and experimenting! If anyone can make vegetables look exciting, well then, Portland wins hands down. Someone commented on my Instagram feed that "asparagus has never looked more appealing!" That's some high praise there.

But back to the wines: I'm not usually a fan of rosés, but as I chatted to Megan next to me (foodie blogger of Got to be Gourmet), she made an interesting point about drinking rosé in the right environment and atmosphere i.e. a sun-drenched terrace somewhere in Cyprus (where she grew up!) or at a summer's picnic in the park. As we sipped the La Jaglerie Marcel Martin, Lacheteau Rosé d'Anjou 2014 (and, don't worry -  I couldn't tell them apart by name at this point, but would simply point to the glass I liked!), I wondered how I'd find room for our main courses ... but my question was answered shortly, as the most incredible sequence of dishes was presented to us: 

... a true feast of roast Cornish monkfish, fine beans and yellow courgette (again, the veg was scrumptious), potato millefeuille (which resembled Jenga pieces and had everyone asking, "How did they do that?) and old spot pig belly.

To be honest, none of the meat dishes really wowed me (the monkfish was a bit rubbery and the pork belly could have been more flavorful), and the pairing of Les Marcottes Domaine de Pierre, Lionel Gosseaume, Touraine Gamay, 2012 (the only red on the menu) also didn't tickle my tastebuds. However, content with the selection of vegetables and the crisp, sweet selections of Sauvignon Blancs and rosés in front of me, I happily ate, chatted, Instagrammed, tweeted, and repeated throughout the evening - this time, there was no one around (ahem, John!) to snatch away my phone while I uploaded photos of our gorgeous salads and tried not to misspell the hashtag #loirevalleywines as the evening progressed.

Suddenly, my eyelids began to droop and I looked down at my watch: 10:00 pm! The time had flown by and we still hadn't had dessert!

I was so looking forward to the almond pithivier with raspberry jam (because I love almond-anything) and I wasn't disappointed. This indulgent pastry with a flaky, outer crust was a pure delight when slathered with homemade raspberry jam and clotted cream - a comforting dessert that seemed fitting to be enjoyed in a country pub or farmhouse somewhere remote, rather than a central London restaurant. Paired with the final rosé of the evening, La Jaglerie Marcel Martin, Lacheteau, Rosé d’Anjou, 2014, a sweeter (but not too sweet!) wine which perfectly complemented the raspberry jam, I was in dessert heaven.

Because I'm a total lightweight, it looked like my glasses hadn't budged all evening, when in reality, I'd had quite a lot and was beginning to mumble my words, let alone remember which wine came in sequence! I came away from the evening with a renewed interest in Loire Valley's extraordinary selection of wines, with a particular penchant for the Sauvignon Blancs and a changed mind about rosés, which you just might find me happily sipping this summer.

I managed to stumble into an Uber around 11:30 pm or so, armed with a goodie bag fit for a foodie from SquareMeal, filled with fresh produce like rhubarb, artichoke, two bottles of Loire Valley wine and a punnet of strawberries - the perfect ingredients for summer cooking. Ridiculously generous, right?

Such a lovely, relaxed evening to remember with some of my favorite foodie bloggers.

I was generously hosted by SquareMeal, Portland, and Loire Valley Wines - thank you so much! All opinions are my own.

Square Meal

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Unpacking (Plus: New Homeware Purchases!)

HI. How are you? How was your weekend? I've *almost* gotten my head above water now after our big move on Sunday.

It was crazy: our movers were 45 minutes late, but we managed to get almost everything outside ourselves. We had to rent an extra van because all of our stuff didn't fit into the movers' van (!!!) and had damp experts come over to the house yesterday to carry out some repair work but they splattered plaster EVERYWHERE (note to self: speak up next time someone's doing something in your house without putting dust sheets down first!). Finally, we had a leak before our boiler failed at about 6 p.m. before - basically - I was in hysterics to a plumber over the phone. So, yeah, I'm totally taking to this new home ownership thing like a duck to water. NOT!

But in general, everything is really exciting and new. And I unpacked/bought some fun things over the weekend, including (clockwise, from top left):

- this amazing super kingsized bed and mattress from Warren Evans. It's like ... I can't even describe it. It's heavenly. If know (or have met!) me or John, you'll know that we're not the tallest people in the world, so this bed means we can properly starfish to our hearts' content! Reunions in the middle are rare and shortlived at the moment, because we're too lazy to move!

- this sweet sake flask from Daiso in Canada, which we bought around Christmas-time, not knowing if we'd have a new house or not. I couldn't resist it not only because it was so cheap ($2!), but because I thought it'd make a lovely little bedside vase as well. I vowed not to unwrap it until we purchased a home, so I kept it in its bubble wrap all this time!

- this luxurious three-wick candle from Rituals. Amazing. It was the first thing John unwrapped when we moved in! Its light, subtle fragrance gently scents the bottom floor of our house and promotes a sense of calm while I try to locate random accessories and makeup in our living room filled with cardboard boxes!

- this gorgeous antique table we bought from Fandango Interiors on Cross Street in Islington two years ago. I never appreciated how beautiful it was in our old flat because the room it sat in was so small and dark. Now, the light streaming in from our living room windows makes the detail stand out.

Yesterday, I also managed to do a quick, supermarket sweep in H&M Home and came out with these:

I've seen the wire baskets in other blogs and magazines and have been wanting them for a while, plus I love the jar for putting cotton pads in and the marble dish for all my bobby pins (that's "kirby grips" for you Brits!), which get lost ALL THE TIME. On the floor. On the kitchen counter. In between sofa cushions. In the shower.

Triumphs included purchasing a bespoke wardrobe from John Lewis for under £500 (yes, really! It exists!), a Dyson vacuum cleaner (YOU GUYS. Those things are POWERFUL.), and customizing and installing a roller blind for the master bedroom, which we were really proud of.

We are so boring.

What are you up to this week? Something fun, I hope!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Expat Talk: The Greatest Fear

Last night, after a tiring day at work and a frustrating evening trying to squeeze in some furniture shopping at Heal's and Habitat on Tottenham Court Road before closing time (they close at 7 p.m. on week nights. 7. Who does that?), I went home, cooked dinner, and collapsed in a heap on my bed, vowing not to move until my alarm went off the next morning.

At some point, in the early hours of the morning, I had a terrible, awful dream.

I dreamed that my mother died.

Of course, I'm sure you've all had dreams about a family member or loved one dying - you wake up, realize it isn't true, call the person in your dreams, feel relief rushing through your body as you hear their voice, and get on with your day, counting your blessings.

But this wasn't like that. This was awful. I dreamed that I got this news when I was in London - half-way around the world. I rushed home on the plane and ran up those familiar stone steps, pushed open the screen door, ran upstairs to my parents' bedroom - in the house I've always known - and rushed to my parents' bed. She wasn't there, but the familiar dent in the pillow where she'd slept on was still there. Suddenly, I had this terrible realization in my dream that she was never coming back.

And I was crying these horrible, gasping sobs - the kind where you're half asleep, so you don't sound like you're crying, but more like you're making these strange, guttural noises. That kind of crying.

My biggest fear, my greatest fear of all as an expat, is that something happens to my family on the other side of the world, and I can't be there in time to see them. To save them. To help them. To be there for them.

In those instances of fear, it isn't guilt that grips me - it's a feeling that's worse than that. Like rot that rises up from within you; rot that's always been there, waiting, teeth-bared, ready to consume you.

This is the darkness that I fear, that I can't escape from.

And you know, I know I chose this: "this", meaning living 5,000 miles away from my parents and brother. And I also think that purchasing our first home here has pushed that choice to the forefront of my mind.

I have to remind myself: nothing is permanent. Everything is temporary. We can always rent out the house if we'd like, and move to Seattle. Or San Francisco. Or New York.

But then, I remind myself: nothing is permanent. Everything is temporary. Even life.

So I scroll through my Instagram photos filled with images of flowers and cocktails and blue skies and food. I touch the new lamp we just bought for the house. I wait for that rot to recede; that rot that smothered me while I was sleeping. I put on a pair of heels so it can't grab at my ankles and I try to get on with my day, try to count my blessings, and anxiously wait to FaceTime with my mom tonight.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Prettiest Bowl.

I recently found the most gorgeous, handmade ceramic bowl from The Other Duckling - an indie, vintage home decor shop that sources things like beautiful vintage mirrors, rustic kitchenware, and the simplest of reclaimed glass bottles that double up as vases.

When John and I used to browse homeware and furniture shops for fun, I'd gaze longingly at beautiful Scandinavian-made throws and French-sourced lamps, only for John to gently remind me, "When we have a house." We've lived in tiny 1-2 bedroom flats for the past five years and, to avoid clutter, we didn't bother buying too many nice things. But now? Oh my goodness. I literally have to be physically held back when it comes to outfitting our new home - it's impossible not to go crazy and I'm deliberating over things like butter dishes when we don't even have a dining table yet!

Although we haven't moved our furniture over to the new house yet, I woke up on Sunday morning in our current flat, bought myself some flowers (as you do) and fresh fruit and ... deposited the said fruit in this beautiful ceramic bowl, which I can also see as the perfect summer salad bowl or centerpiece for whatever coffee table we decide to choose.

I love the irregularity of its shape and the edges. Being the greedy guts I am, I'm also currently lusting after this copper bowl and these hammered metal trays from The Other Duckling. Aren't they superb?

Also, by having a pretty bowl to put my fruit in, maybe it'll encourage me to get my fill of "5 a Day", as they say here in the UK! 


I'll really miss the large Georgian windows of this flat (and the location!), but I also can't wait to start making our new house into a home, you know? Each time we've unpacked our boxes in another rented flat, I've sighed that same sigh of feeling unsettled, of losing things between moves (I still can't find my jeans. Still.), of not displaying any artwork on the walls for fear of marking the paint.

But now? Ceramic bowls, here I come! I really need to practice some restraint, or I'm going to be drowning in bowls and vases soon, with nothing to sit or sleep on!

p.s. thank you for all your lovely comments and good wishes

This beautiful bowl was generously provided to me by The Other Duckling. Shop their collection here. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Angloyankophile!