Monday, August 18, 2014

ChattyFeet: A Match Made In Sock Heaven

This weekend, Brad Feet met Yoko Mono - a match made in (sock) heaven, like their owners.

I've blogged about the amazing ChattyFeet before and how much their Brad Feet socks resemble John (heh, heh, heh), but lo and behold, when they sent me a pair of Yoko Monos earlier in the week, I couldn't help but notice how much she looked like ... well, me. I may not have the bangs any more, but I'm working on getting them back.

So what better way to cheer us up on this dreary, rainy, windy weekend than to pop on a pair of ChattyFeet socks and binge-watch Breaking Bad hunker down at home with our sock-doppelgangers?

I love these socks because they make for an excellent talking point - plus, the characters' faces are printed on the underside of the socks as well, not just the top. Even John was enamoured.

Don't they make a cute couple?

They've just released new characters (I personally love Loli and Kloss) and at £7.00 a pair, they make an excellent gift (particularly for someone who has a drawer full of boring black socks in 3 different lengths - ahem, namely me).

But best of all ...

... CHATTYFEET MAKES BABY SOCKS. Yes, baby socks. Although they're sized 12-24 months, I stuck them on Dorothy anyway (who's currently six months old!!! How time flies ...) and they were so adorable, I almost keeled over in cuteness overload. She seemed to love them too, as her leg thrashing went into overdrive and she gurgled happily while grasping at her feet. It must be fun to see a brightly colored character on your feet when you're that age! Sweetness.

Kids socks are only a fiver (£5.00) and seeing them on Dorothy made me want to buy them for every baby we know. In a world that's full of baby gifts in pinks and blues (overpriced tutus, while cute, also make me roll my eyes), it's so refreshing to see something out there that's a little more unique, fun, and out of the ordinary.

Rock on, rebel socks, rock on.

Brad Feet and Yoko Mono were generously provided to me courtesy of ChattySocks. You can buy your own Chatty pair either via the ChattyFeet website or Not On The High Street

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Leon's Lemon & Ginger Crunch

I love, love, love to bake. It's one of my favorite stress-relievers and I love being methodical about cracking eggs, following a recipe, and putting my electric mixer to good use. I bake, but not too often, and definitely nothing fancy. Now that The Great British Bake-Off is back on our screens, I feel even more inspired to turn the oven on and dig out my Hummingbird Bakery cookbook.

Recently, John and I discovered something amazing: if I walk 10 minutes east from work and he walks 10 minutes west from work, we meet squarely in the middle! I don't know why we didn't think of this sooner, but we've been meeting for lunch now and again, which is lovely.

A couple of weeks ago, we met at our usual haunt, Leon and John did not get enough to eat. I eyed his "breadless" lunch warily and said, "That looks like 1/4 of a lunch." After polishing it off in no time, he got up again to get some dessert and came back with a lemon and ginger crunch bar.

"Want some?" he asked, after taking a bit and pushing it toward me. I wrinkled my nose in disgust. "Uh, no. I don't like ginger or crunchy things. You know that."

Then, predictably, I finished my superfood salad and reached for the ginger crunch bar. "Oh wow," I exclaimed after one bite. "This thing is delicious! In fact, it would be so good with a cup of ... tea!" I felt my American-ness slowly fading away into the distance as I said that.

John didn't want the rest, so I ended up taking the ginger bar back to work and having it with - you guessed it - a cup of milky tea. I liked it so much that I (naturally) tweeted about it: "This ginger crunch thing from @leonrestaurants is amazing. I need the recipe." Seconds later, a tweet came back from @leonrestaurants, who kindly provided me with the recipe - even though it's not in any of their cookbooks.

Turns out that the recipe is kind of labor-intensive, since you have to make the crunchy polenta base first and let it cool completely, before making and spooning the sponge mixture on top (with a layer of lemon curd in the middle). The ingredients were also not the easiest to source, but now I have a huge bag of polenta that I'll probably never use again (if you know any amazing polenta recipes, please send them my way) and a jar of Tesco's Finest lemon curd.

If you're passing by a Leon (they're ubiquitous in the West End - my favorite ones are on the Strand and near Carnaby Street after a particularly grueling afternoon of shopping), you should pick up a lemon and ginger crunch ... it'll change your mind on all things crunchy and ginger-y.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Dinner @ The 3 Crowns

One day, I'll dust off John's SLR, learn how to take decent photos, buy a photo editing suite, and provide you with more appealing shots rather than photos taken on my iPhone and Instagrammed within an inch of their lives. Until then, this is what you'll have to live with, I'm afraid.

After our visit to see the poppies at the Tower of London last week, I was ravenous. I also felt a little hangry (for those of you who are not in the know: hangry = hungry + angry). I thought the walk to the bus stop we needed would only take 5 minutes, but upon closer inspection on the Citymapper app (which is AMAZING, btw), it actually took 12. I was not sure I had enough calories to last 12 minutes in sticky, humid London.

But the reward was worth it: dinner at The 3 Crowns (not to be confused with The Three Crowns in Stoke Newington) near Old Street. I'd passed it on the bus many times on my way home from yoga/work and heard amazing things about it from Plum, but never had the chance to stop by.

Well, this couldn't have been more timely. I was worried that it would be completely full at that time of the night, but luckily, most people were taking advantage of the good weather by drinking outside so we nabbed a table nearly right away (the tables filled up as the evening progressed).

"I haven't eaten out in ages," I said to John, as I spread my napkin over my lap and reached for a piece of bread.

"Didn't you just go to Ottolenghi last night?" John asked, quizzically.

My hand froze over the bread and I blushed. He was right - I had just eaten out. And not in small proportions either, as my mind flashed back to the mouth-wateringly delicious roasted beetroot and sesame dressed salad, glazed carrots and turnips, thick slices of pork belly and hake, polished off with an ice cream from Islington's Udderlicious.

My bad.

But on to the next meal ...

To start, we ordered the salt duck with pickled cherries and radishes (top right photo). It was tasty: rustic and reminiscent of farmhouse cooking - like something out of an episode of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's various TV programs about sustainable dining. The cherries were a little bit too pickled for my liking, so we left most of those, but they were an excellent contrast to the flavor of the duck.

I was head over heels in love with my main dish, however - the roast Middlewhite pork with mushrooms and runner beans. I'd only previously tried Middlewhite pork at the revered St. John, so this dish had high expectations to live up to. First, I was surprised by the presentation - I had expected a run-of-the-mill slab of pork on the plate, served with an accompaniment of mushrooms and runner beans, so when the artfully arranged dish arrived, I couldn't wait to dig in. The slices of slightly-salty, but tender pieces of pork were hidden beneath the perfectly seasoned runner beans and mushrooms - the perfect solution to my famished state.

The only slight let-down was the dessert of bread and butter pudding, which looked delicious, but was a little disappointing in taste. For a dessert, it wasn't very sweet (though I think there was chocolate in one of the many layers) but it was delicately done and beautifully presented. Similarly, the strawberries were a little limpid and tasteless, but I think that's down to the strawberry season winding down in England more than anything else.

During the walk home, I made John slow down because I was getting a stitch in my side.

"I've got to unbutton the top button of my pants," I announced, as we walked along with the last wave of commuters. "This is like, getting painful."

I looked down.

"Oh wow. That's, like, totally not obvious," I said, as the tab of my pants flopped out conspiciously under my top.

Overdid it again.

Anyway, I'd give The 3 Crowns two thumbs up - excellent service to boot. If you're in the neighborhood, it's definitely worth stopping by. Make sure you wear an elasticated waistband. Or better yet, one of those shapeless tunic dresses.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Americans: We Let You Know When You're Doing A Great Job Exclamation Point! (And When You're Not)

Whenever I accompish something of significant achievement in the realm of personal admin (personal admin = domestic duties, social event planning, etc.) - like, say, successfully organizing dinner plans with friends we haven't seen for a while or pairing up all of John's errant socks because I feel damn sorry for him - John will give me two thumbs up, put on a horrific faux American accent and go, "Great jawb." It's so hideous, but I know what he's getting at: whereas Brits like to exclaim "Well done!" at deserving accomplishments, we Americans prefer the emphatic, "Great job!"

You're a six-month old who just learned to roll onto your tummy? Great job!

You're a retiree who won at bingo three nights in a row? Great job!

You passed your driving test after failing three times? Great job!

You get the idea.

I still haven't given up on using, "Great job!" I remember when I was working my first summer job as a high school student in the Men's department of a now defunct, low-budget department store. I freaking hated that job. You know what American return policies are like (you can basically return anything with a full refund, like, any time). I once found myself dutifully placing returned men's underwear onto hangers for the clearance rack. That was one of my lowest points. That, and another time when a man asked me (when trying to make conversation at the till) if I was planning on taking my kids to Disneyland (I was 17). Or that time when a customer said to me, "I don't know how us Americans get so big," while pointing to a size 44 pair of shorts. "If only we were more like you Asians," he mused. "And ate a diet of rice, instead of junk." I was speechless but said, "Thank you?" I didn't want to disappoint him by pointing out the rising rate of diabetes amongst East Asians due to a rice-concentrated diet or the other, obvious flaw in his statement (hint: I am American ...).

But I digress.

I remember a man coming up to me one day - an elderly gentleman with his wife - after I had dealt with a particularly difficult customer ("What do you mean you won't take my 6 coupons that have expired, rendering my final total for $46 worth of clothes to 6 cents?!! You fucking bitch!!" - not in those exact words, but something like that) and saying, "Hey there! You know what? You're doing a great job." He smiled and said it with such sincerety that it just blew that horrible customer service experience right out of my mind. Poof! Bad customer gone, good customer in.

So today, I was at the post office next to my office, which is not the best example of sparkling customer service. But on this occasion, I got the lovely cashier who is always exceptionally nice and friendly. So, I took a deep breath, and after grabbing my receipt, I said, "Can I just say ... you're the nicest person working in this post office. Thank you. I think that every time I come to your desk. You're so genuinely friendly and I know that everyone really appreciates it, so ... I just wanted to let you know."

I cringed inside even as I was saying the words, but remembered how awesome that nice grandpa's encouragement at the department store made me feel - even as I hung still-warm men's briefs onto hangers.

I recounted the story to John, who said, "It makes me blush hearing you say it, but I'm glad you do it."

So yes, I will. I will continue to let you know when you're doing a "great job" (I will also let you know when you're not, but that'll be the subject of an entirely different post).

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Poppies At The Tower of London

Yesterday, I met John after work and we walked to the Tower of London to see the poppy installation that was formally unveiled on Monday, which marked the centenary of Britain's entry into World War One.

The exhibition of ceramic poppies is called "The Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red" and is by artist Paul Cummins. 888,246 poppies (each poppy representing every British and Colonial death during the War) will be gradually planted in the dry moat of the Tower, with the final poppy to be placed on November 11th, 2014 - Remembrance Day.

Hundreds of photos swarmed my social media news feeds when the poppies were unveiled earlier this week, but I really wanted to see them for myself.

"Beautiful," remarked many commenters.

But having seen it in person, it seemed more horrific than anything else. After all, the poppies bloomed across the worst and bloodiest battlefields of Flanders in World War One and the sea of red that spills out of the Tower and into the moat is a stark reminder of the loss endured from the War.

From afar, it looks as though the Tower is bleeding; seeping blood from one of its windows, which - due to its depth - resembles a gaping mouth.

From the side, the image is even more powerful - the poppies, which now resembles a pool of blood, encircles the outer perimeter of the Tower's walls and the undulating, uneven curves of this pool seep as far as the eye can see.

I hadn't realized that I had caught the shadows of tourists/onlookers/photographers in the photo above - but it seems all the more poignant that I did, as they gaze directly at the poppies in front of them.

During our visit, I said to John that I couldn't think of a more fitting tribute to the lives that were lost (or "cut short," commented John, perceptively) than this sweeping statement of poppies spilling out of the Tower's gaping mouth - like a wound that, symbolically, continues to (actively) bleed until November 11th. 

More information on the poppies can be found here, including information on how to purchase a poppy for £25 (10% from the sale of each poppy, plus all net proceeds, will go to six service charities).

If you are travelling or passing through London, then I'd highly recommend a stop by this awesome yet devastating tribute.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Lost And Found (Reincarnated)

A few months ago, I was out running with John - well, to be exact, I was doing a slow-paced jog and he was (literally) running circles around me and zig-zagging from one side of the street to another in order to keep pace with me as we made our way up to London Fields. It was a blustery day and I had my running top on, with a half-zip, where I had threaded my earbuds through to avoid the annoying plonk, plonk, plonk as I jogged along. Early on, I tugged on the earbuds to get them through my top a bit better and I felt a distinct snap, which I just assumed was the cord dragging along the zipper.

I jogged on without a thought.

When I got home, sweaty and tired, I stripped off to jump into the shower and the silver chain I wore around my neck slithered onto the floor - broken and minus the small diamond solitaire that was once on it. I panicked and immediately searched through my clothes. I retraced my steps from the doorway, then - my eyes blurred with tears - spent about an hour and a half retracing our route with my head down. But it was really impossible: that diamond could have flown off anywhere. The leaves and rain didn't help much either.

Of all the important pieces of jewelry I've owned and lost (a pair of beautiful, baby pink pearl earrings from Japan that my parents purchased for me during our trip there when I was fourteen or my beloved Mount Holyoke signet ring, which I lost somewhere between my office and Pret-a-Manger on my way to an orchestra rehearsal one day), this was one that felt possibly the worst.

I never, ever, took off that diamond pendant (save for maybe 3 occasions during the nine years that I owned it) - not to shower, sleep, or swim. It was given to me by John on my birthday nearly nine years ago. I had boarded a flight to London from Boston when I was still a student at Mount Holyoke College, on my way to completing my senior year. It was a short weekend away: an impulsive purchase of tickets on his end to help cope with our mutual misery of being so far apart. I remember crying in a desperate, heaving sobs kind of way just hours before my departure that weekend. I had no idea if our relationship could be sustained. On the contrary, he promised me that we would grow old together and gave me the necklace, which came to symbolize - amongst many other things - the hardships we endured as a couple early on in our relationship along with the very, very happy memories we made together.

Now, I stopped believing in "good luck charms" a long time ago, but I felt a little superstitious about that necklace. On the occasions I was without it (which were few), I felt little subtle, but negative energies entering into my daily life. Of course, this was completely psychological, but I felt stronger wearing it around my neck - as if I had the strength of our togetherness to carry me through some difficult times.

When I lost the diamond that day, I cried. It's silly to place such an emphasis on a material possession, but the sentimental value that was attached was priceless.

Of course, John, in true John-fashion, responded by stroking my hair as I cried into his t-shirt and saying, "You did really well to keep it for nearly ten years. Don't worry about it. Things get lost. It'll make its way back to you again. You'll see."

For the next few weeks, I felt a little miserable with a nakedness around my neck that I wasn't used to. I was accustomed to the necklace dangling against my chin during downward dog in yoga class, or leaving an imprint on my collarbone where my violin had pressed into it during orchestra rehearsals. It felt strange to look into the mirror and not see it on me.

But time passed and I adjusted to not having it around my neck anymore. I wore big, bold costume jewelry or else a simple Monica Vinader pendant that John had gotten me for Christmas last year.

But last week had been a difficult one for me: missing my family and learning some bad news about a family member's health, I thought I was starting to cope with life's little curveballs when an incident at work turned my perspective on my career - and my future - upside down.

I just felt sad.

On Friday, John walked in the door with the gift bag above from Fraser Hart and handed it to me. "Don't get too excited," he warned. "I'm not sure if it's the right one." I had no idea what he was talking about. But as I unwrapped it, it slowly dawned on me that it was the necklace that I had lost - which had now been "found", albeit with a slightly different setting, a slightly longer chain (and "slightly better quality!" John added).

It was beautiful. It is beautiful. And I warned him, through tears, that it would be ruined pretty quickly with soap and chlorine scum, with perfume and hairspray and sweat - because I'm never taking it off (and I'm taping it to my neck when I run!).

Sunday, August 3, 2014

A Winchester Wedding

Breaks from London are always welcomed and very necessary. This weekend, John and I travelled to Winchester for my friend Alice's wedding, which took place at The Hospital of St. Cross - a medieval almshouse in Winchester that was founded at some point between 1133 and 1136. Isn't that incredible?

According to Wikipedia (always handy, that), it was built on the scale of an Oxford or Cambridge college (which is very fitting, since the majority of the guests, including the bride and the groom, attended an Oxford college) but is older than any of the colleges at the universities. I was pretty in awe when I stepped onto the grounds on Saturday, but am even more awe-struck reading these facts now!

Anyway, it was an absolutely gorgeous day. It had started out with rain, but by the time we had arrived (on foot, amazingly enough - we were staying at a B&B just fifteen minutes away and I was wearing low heels!) the sun was shining in all its glory as we piled into the beautiful medieval church.

I definitely shed a little tear when Alice walked down the aisle on her father's arm, looking absolutely beautiful and radiating happiness (and maybe even a twinge of nervousness?). Although I met her through work, she's one of my best friends here in London and I couldn't be happier for her or her new husband, Matt, who I also know and love (fun fact: Matt's originally from Zimbabwe and we both wrote our theses on the Caribbean poet Derek Walcott!).

But first ... how beautiful is the grounds of The Hospital of St. Cross? These photos were taken at the champagne reception after the ceremony in the Master's gardens.

I love this photo of a mama duck shepherding her baby duckling near the water's edge. Simply idyllic! As we sipped champagne in the gardens and chatted away the afternoon, I thought about how lucky we were with the weather and took in the splendid beauty of our surroundings. It's so incredibly restorative to be present in a quiet place of contemplation - or to simply know that places like these exist and that not everything revolves around the loud, honking, churning city of London.

As we were running to the ceremony hours earlier, I snapped this photo along the way:

And it made me think (as I often do when I travel to the countryside): why do I live in London? What's stopping me from living - not necessarily in the suburbs - but in a beautiful place like this? The house prices are cheaper, the air is cleaner ...

But, you know, it's difficult for me as an expat; the answer to that question isn't clear cut. As much as it sometimes makes me a little crazy or feel like a hamster running on a never-ending hamster wheel, I also feel a sense of belonging in London that I don't feel anywhere else. And I'm not sure I would fit into country life, or even if it would bring me the fulfilment and contentment I yearn to have. But still, it's tempting: an hour commute into London and a city centre that's rich in history and vibrant in culture ... Winchester could be the answer to our future.

Who knows?