Friday, July 31, 2015
Have a splendid weekend. What are you up to?
I've been out (almost!) every single night this week, so I think it's time for a little breather! We're planning to head to Spitalfields Market tomorrow morning to look for some wall art and a new wedding ring for John. Long story. (In reality, you'll probably find us in the hardware section of Homebase, measuring out pieces of wood. I'm also really looking forward to ironing my new sheets. I repeat, ironing sheets. Yep, sad.)
I have lots to tell you about next week, including a 9-course tasting menu at a fantastic new restaurant that opens in Mayfair on August 10th and a very, very exciting (and unexpected!) travel collaboration. In the meantime, don't forget that tomorrow marks the start of this 10% off discount code on JING tea products - I'm a huge hoarder of their beautiful glassware and teas. Let me know if you want any recommendations!
If you're in Covent Garden this weekend, it's worth swinging by to admire the beautiful display of flowers in the Piazza. Aren't they pretty?
Thursday, July 30, 2015
This month's London link-up is on my favorite topic: brunch. We Americans have been brunching for a long time (I remember my mom suggesting we go out for a mommy-daughter "brunch" as a treat when I was about 7 or 8), but it's just taken off in the UK in the past few years.
And while I love brunch at Duck & Waffle as much as the next Londoner (the photo above is of their Duck Egg En Cocotte with the Full Elvis in the background), there are a handful of favorites that I keep returning to which - while popular - are not as oversubscribed as some other instutitions that people are willing to wait outside for (not naming any names ... but I'm not a huge fan).
The Italian Brunch: Sweet Thursday, De Beauvoir Town
If you're not a Dalstonite or familiar with De Beauvoir Town - that little pocket of prettiness that sits on the border of Islington and Dalston - it might be easy to miss the Neapolitan pizzeria Sweet Thursday, which was once our favorite Friday night hangout before we moved (we used to joke about Sweet Thursday Fridays!). Aside from listing a "warm pizza roll filled with Nutella" as one of their weekend brunch options, they also make this amazing "breakfast in a pan" dish that I love and enthusiastically recommend to those sitting around me: baked eggs, spinach and tomato salsa, pancetta, and toast. It's nothing short of magical (and does wonders for hangovers!).
The Venezuelan Brunch: Arepa & Co., Haggerston
From their canal-view hammock to the perfect posies of flowers arranged on the tables, Arepa & Co. is an Instagrammer's dream - and their food is pretty darn delicious to boot. Their weekday special is an arepa filled with perico (Venezuelan scrambled egg) and avocado (or another variety of your choice) and a hot drink for £6. And I'll tell ya: their flat whites are the stuff of legends, people. The atmosphere is friendly and chilled out - just the place you want to be for a mid-morning meet up.
The Cool Brunch: Workshop Coffee, Clerkenwell
It's not that people don't know that Workshop exists - it's more that they don't automatically think of it as a brunch venue (even though it gets insanely packed on the weekends). I think it's often overlooked as a second or third choice. But for me? Their delicious (if not slightly overpriced) menu is a reason to return every time I'm craving something like, oh, I don't know - French toast with mascarpone and rhubarb compote, drizzled with syrup. Except, instead of two slices, I could do with a stack.
The Even Cooler Brunch: Holborn Grind, Holborn
Okay, so technically, I've taken my brunch and coffee "to go" here, but they make the meanest smashed avocado on sourdough toast I've ever had: that zing of chilli is everything. Plus, it's attached to the ultra-hip Hoxton Holborn, so people-watching from one of its window seats is a must.
John's speciality is a fry-up (he's incredibly skilled at making poached eggs) and he'll always volunteer to cook this on a Saturday or Sunday morning while I flop around in bed, watching random YouTube videos with my eyes way too close to the screen because I'm nearly legally blind without my contacts in. Anyway. Occasionally, he'll go into the kitchen, sing along to the Smiths, and emerge with something like this - presenting the plate to me with a flourish.
Yes, I married him.
Reservations by invitation only. ;)
Enjoyed this London Living link-up? Head over to the hosts Lauren's and Amy's blogs to read more brunch-related posts.
Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Tea and tea-drinking has always been an integral part of my life: when I left the US for the UK, I left one tea-drinking culture (my Hong Kong Chinese family's obsession with good tea knows no bounds) for another (I think John drinks at least 6 cups of Yorkshire Gold per day, no joke). Having said that, my knowledge of tea itself is surprisingly minimal, so I jumped at the opportunity to learn more about the leaf-picking process, the harvests, and the different ways tea is made, stored, and consumed at JING Tea's Tea Masterclass last evening at the W Hotel's Spice Market - the perfect setting for our tea journey.
Our "Tea Master" for the evening was Felicity, who's been with JING for over five years, following an impressive journey to get there and a true passion for tea. In fact, Felicity was so knowledgeable about her tea (where it's grown, how it's processed, the precise periods within each season the leaves are picked and left to "wither") that, for a second, I forgot I was in W Hotel and felt magically transported to one of my favorite college seminars instead.
We tried three different types of "Spring" Chinese teas last night: Silver Needle (a white tea picked in early April in the Fujian Province), Hui Ming Spring (a green tea that's also hand-picked in early April but in the mountainous south of Zhejiang), and Golden Gong Fu (a black tea picked in high altitude gardens in Fujian, precisely between the 1st and 5th of April).
Tip from Felicity: never use boiling water for a white tea such as Silver Needle, as it ruins the flavor. 80 degrees is the optimal temp for your tea leaves to keep happy!
Also: did you know? Fresh green tea has a nearly fluorescent yellow color to it when it's brewed. While others around my table made noises of appreciation for the Silver Needle and Golden Gong Fu tea, the Hui Ming Spring was my firm favorite of the three - its lovely strong, fragrant notes reminding me of home and the types of teas I drink with my family.
A common misconception about drinking Chinese tea is that you can only use the tea leaves once - not so! Teas such as the Hui Ming Spring may be infused 2-3 times and I admitted to Felicity that I sometimes even drink the tea my dad's brewed the night before ... the next morning (usually Oolong). Not really advised, but still.
We also learned some great tips about making chilled tea infusions like the one we were served upon our arrival - a super refreshing summer drink (if there was any summer to speak of here in London, but I'll save that story for later). First, double the amount of tea leaves you would normally use in your JING cafetierre or glass mug infuser (like the one I have). Fill with (and this is the key) room temperature water. Leave it in the fridge for 2-4 hours. Et voila! Chilled Chinese tea (or you could make like my mom and buy a huge bottle of artificially-flavored cold green tea at your local Chinese supermarket, but JING's method is a little more ... special).
Mid-way through our tea-tasting (which suits me much better than wine-tasting, given my alcohol intolerance), we stopped for some canapes from Spice Market's kitchen.
Really delicious mouthfuls that disappeared quicker than the JING tea timer could be turned!
And then ... my favorite part of the evening: matcha-making. I'm a hay-uge fan of matcha. Matcha Pocky sticks, matcha lattes, matcha cheesecakes, matcha ice-cream ... put matcha in it, on it, over it, and I'll eat it (almost).
First, the pros showed us how it's done: Felicity added hot (not boiling!) water to the matcha powder, creating a smooth, glossy paste with the small bamboo whisk (which can be found in JING's Matcha Set). Then - and this was the hard part - she slowly added a small amount of water before quickly and deftly whisking the matcha to create a light froth at the top, careful not to touch the whisk to the bottom of the bowl.
"Make an 'M' shape with the whisk and keep your wrist loose," Felicity instructed. "Now, you have a go!" Of course, she made it look effortless (and even graceful).
Under Felicity's watchful eye, it was our turn to give matcha-making (ha, see what I did there?) a try. But the whisking proved to be hard work, as we quickly found out (great for the triceps, though), and Jacintha passed the bowl over to me to experiment.
The finished product was paired with some of Amelia Rope's gorgeous white chocolate: the creaminess of the chocolate combined with the slight bitterness of the matcha was a matcha-made in heaven. OK, OK, I'LL STOP NOW. We only had tiny sips of our finished matcha creations, as matcha has quite a high caffeine content, and it was nearly 9 pm, after all.
I still may or may not have sprinted up 2 flights of stairs and an escalator when I got out of the tube station though.
This morning, I groggily got out of bed, then perked up when I saw my JING tea in the cupboard. I made myself a cup of Jasmine Silver Needle using my infuser mug (being careful not to use boiling water!) and sat in silence - preparing myself for the day ahead. Such a lovely way to begin.
I was generously hosted by JING Tea and Spice Market at W Hotels London - thank you! All opinions are my own. Throughout the month of August, readers of Angloyankophile can get 10% off their JING purchases using the code AYPAUG15. Will you go for the infuser mug? Or your own matcha set? Happy sipping!
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
Thank you for all of your support; your kind and lovely comments mean so much to me. I never know whether to share or not to share personal, sad moments, but when I read your thoughtful responses, it encourages me to keep sharing.
So, thank you.
I reconnected with one of my cousins recently through Facebook (such a 21st-century admission to make, I know) who was at my grandma's funeral in Hong Kong, and she sent me photos of Mar Mar's apartment, which is on the market now. It's funny how photographs can trigger memories, can't it? And how vividly so, as well. Just seeing the metal door to the kitchen made me remember how it felt to push it open with my hand; seeing the door to the balcony in Mar Mar's room reminded me of the time I accidentally locked myself in (along with my brother!) during a typhoon when we were little and how panicked I felt (as usual).
In the meantime, John and I have been continuing on with our favorite hobby: putting the house together. Bit by bit, piece by piece, it's slowly coming together. See that huge gap between the wall and the floor? Yeah, we've got to fix that. In two other rooms.
But it's fun, and it's a process, and I guess what I'm trying to get at is that grief and mourning may not be fun, but they're processes. Things to get through. Until you can stand back, after time gives you space, and feel - I mean, really feel - joy at the wonderful memories you remember: a soft, warm hand you held while crossing the street, tendrils of steam rising from the rice you'd been served from her ancient rice-cooker (which my cousin said she saw in a museum in Taipei recently - it's THAT old!), or a gentle gaze from eyes that crinkled into lines when she laughed.
Meanwhile, just before I fall asleep, I wish and wait for her to visit me in my dreams.
Friday, July 24, 2015
My wonderful readers: a couple of weeks ago, just one day shy of her 101st (!) birthday, my grandma peacefully slipped away into that permanent darkness which we - the living - call death. She waited until my aunt and her beloved live-in carer, Ruby (who remained steadfastly by my grandma's side for 14 (!) years) had gone home, and silently succumbed; her heartbeat first forming jagged triangles, then finally, a straight line.
She never wanted to trouble anyone. That is who she was.
Her tastes were pure and simple. I remember her getting ready for a nice dinner out with our family, and the way she looked when she emerged from her room with her neatly permed hair - so soft and perfectly arranged, that my dad would stand behind her 4'7 (or so) frame and pretend to air-comb it, much to our laughter and delight. She'd insert two simple pearl studs into her earlobes, her black trousers pressed and her silk blouses elegantly buttoned up to the neck; her nails always unpolished, or with the faintest hint of shine.
She adored her children and her grandchildren, but she wasn't without an edge: once, having suffered a sudden bout of separation anxiety from my parents (who were on Hong Kong island) during a sleepover with my cousins in Kowloon, I cried hysterically and demanded that they come and pick me up. They did. But not without racking up an extraordinary cab fare. When I returned to my grandma's apartment, I expected her to greet me with a hug and with sympathy. Instead, she narrowed her eyes at me and clucked her tongue, saying, "What a wimp! Totally useless! Boo hoo hoo hoo," she said, mimicking crying. She dismissed me with a wave of her hand and I dried my tears, feeling ashamed and embarrassed.
Another time, when I was small, my dad and I were out walking in Happy Valley, when we saw her in front of us on her way to the market. Thinking that it was the funniest thing ever, to run into my grandma on the street, we chased after her, with me calling out loudly, "Mar Mar! Mar Mar!" Strangers turned to look. But she couldn't hear us, and though she shuffled a bit when she walked (she must have been in her late 70s), she was fast. And we never caught up with her - giving up instead, and gleefully bringing it up when we saw her back at her apartment. "Hai meh? [Oh really?]" she'd say with surprise when we told her. It became an on-going joke, her fast-walking.
Every morning, she'd get up and do her "exercises" on the balcony, around 6 a.m. or so - arms swinging back and forth, touching her toes, knees raised. I'd watch her through a window, as the heat and the humidity of a Hong Kong summer came seeping into the air-conditioned apartment; the birds she kept on the roof terrace chirping as I went to say, 'good morning'.
I loved her. So much.
She was gentle, and had the kindest eyes, which would light up with surprise when she saw us - especially when her memory began to fade, and she'd forgotten we had arrived a few days before. But she was also the strongest woman I knew.
She'd make us pray to the kitchen god before we could have dinner, my knees rubbing against the hard tiles of her kitchen, my hands clasped in hers, as she'd mutter a prayer under her breath and wave the incense stick once, twice, three times, before depositing it into the small shrine behind the door. She'd prepare a lavish meal for us - fish, crab, vegetables - before setting aside a small, humble bowl of rice and leftover fish for herself, finishing it in a few minutes or so before politely saying, "I am going to retire in the living room now. Eat slowly. Marn, marn sic, ah." Then slowly, she'd shuffle off, and I'd watch her back retreating down that familiar hallway, her slippers making a shht-shht-shht sound against the floor.
Later, when dementia began to set in, I'd sit with her in the living room - cars honking outside in Happy Valley, traffic racing by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, the city coming alive - watching TV. A commercial would come on for fresh buns and I'd say, "I love those!" outloud to no one in particular. "You like those buns, ah, Chak-mei?" she'd say, addressing me in my Chinese name. She'd shuffle off to another room and return slowly, placing $600 Hong Kong dollars in my hand, her mind completely lost to the value of money. "Take this money and buy some fresh buns for yourself." "Thank you, thank you, Mar Mar!" I'd exclaim, discreetly passing the wad of cash behind her back to my father, who'd replace it immediately, without her noticing.
My parents are attending her funeral and wake this week in Hong Kong, although my brother and I are absent from the mourning ceremonies, our distance numbing us from the grief.
Traditional Chinese funeral rites are elaborate and ritualistic, lasting for several days and culminating in one big feast to "comfort" the mourners, as my mother explained to me in an email.
But long before her death, I had a dream about my grandma. In real life, she'd already been living in the assisted-living hospital for several years - her quality of life severely hampered by the stroke she'd suffered years before.
In my dream, she came to visit me in England, with that familiar twinkle in her eye. Except, there were two versions of her: one shorter and younger, the other, the present Mar Mar I knew. "Mar Mar!" I sat bolt upright in my dream. "What are you doing here?" "We're going on a journey!" she said, laughing. "I wanted to say goodbye before we left!" In my heart, even in my dream, I knew what that meant, and I began to cry. "Don't go, Mar Mar, please don't go!" I begged, holding her hand. "Silly," she admonished me in Chinese. "Mar Mar is old and useless now!" A phrase she used to repeat to me all the time. Reluctantly, I let go of her hand. I woke with my pillow wet with tears.
I'll never forget the last conversation I had with my grandma: we were sitting on her couch in her apartment in Happy Valley, explaining to her (again) that we were leaving the next day. She was sad and tearful. "Your mom and dad and brother are going home to Seattle?" she asked, child-like. I nodded. "But you're not going with them?" she asked, confused. "No, Mar Mar," I said gently. "I live in England, remember?" "On your own?" she asked. "With no family there?" I shook my head.
"Well, that's very brave," she said, impressed. "That's very brave, indeed. You bring such pride to the Tung family name," she said, her eyes glistening.
In the span of a few years, I went from being a "wimp" in my grandma's books, to being "brave".
Now that's something, isn't it? A memory I'll cherish forever.
Wednesday, July 22, 2015
Please don't judge me.
But ... although I've been sharing pretty little corners of our new house with you as we go along, I've failed to mention some of the more ... unglamorous bits. Like, when a co-worker of mine (who lives in the same area) mentioned to me that she walked past my house the other night on her way to tennis: "Is it the one that um, had, um ..." "A bunch of junk in front of it?" I finished for her. "Yep, that's the one." Piles of crushed brick and mortar were left untouched weeks after the damp experts had come and jack-hammered large sections of our interior walls away. We finally hired someone to come and clear it out last weekend because the floor sanders had left yet another pile of waste: ripped up carpet and old linoleum, which we'd stripped off to expose the original, bare wood floors.
Another mess that had been piling up like a silent monster, threatening to topple at any point? My pile of dirty laundry. Honestly. I am so embarrassed to admit it, but during the move, I ended up throwing so many clothes into the hamper in a rush and by the time I got to our new house, I was so busy unpacking and buying unnecessary things like oh, succulents and wall art, I never got around to doing my laundry. Like, ever. As in, I probably wore bikini bottoms once or twice in lieu of underwear.
Enter Laundrapp - the dry-cleaning and laundry service that picks up your dirty clothes and delivers them back to your door.
Within seconds, I'd scheduled a pick-up via the app on my phone and gathered a pile of clothes in preparation. I love that you can pick different combinations within the app, depending on your needs. The "High Five", for example, will see five shirts washed, ironed, and hung for you - all for £10. £12 will get you the "Double Bed Set": wash and clean of a bed sheet, duvet cover, and two pillowcases. Ideal for the time-starved and those who have little space for air drying in tiny London flats!
The next day, a nice man came to my door with a laundry bag, and I shamefully stuffed pairs of jeans and tops into it, avoiding all eye contact. A few days later (and this was the only downside to the service, as I couldn't seem to find a delivery time that suited my busy schedule that week), it was returned to me - bang on time (even though they sent me an apologetic text and follow-up email to say that they'd be late) - neatly folded and placed in a bag, smelling like spring flowers. And by golly - it was the first time that I had soft jeans. What a luxury! (Years of living in a hard water zone and air-drying my jeans means that they're stiff and rough as sandpaper when I put them on - not fun.)
So, while I hopefully won't be outsourcing bagfuls of laundry to Laundrapp again, I'm really looking forward to using their services as the temperatures cool down again and I'll need to whip out my little black and grey cashmere collection. One of the things I hate about getting clothes dry-cleaned is the inconvenience of picking them up after work, hauling them around on public transport, and paying all sorts of exorbitant fees (my last dry-cleaning bill for a few cashmere sweaters came to £37 - eeks!).
With Laundrapp, there's none of that - I simply have to open my door.
What about you? Does anything in your closet have a "dry-clean only" tag? Would you ever try Laundrapp?
This post was sponsored by Laundrapp. All opinions are my own. Right now, you can get £10 off your first order with the code "NOTACLUE" (haha, that's me!) when you download the Laundrapp, erm, app.
Tuesday, July 21, 2015
St. Paul's is one of those London landmarks that still makes my head turn every time I see it - from any angle or vantage point. It looks particularly wonderful set against the backdrop of a blue, summer sky. When I was invited to take a private tour of the cathedral and dome with a handful of other bloggers and have afternoon tea in the restaurant and attend Evensong, well ... I tried to play it cool, but I'm pretty sure I failed spectacularly.
I can't remember the last time I was inside the actual church (admission fees are pricey!) and certainly not on an after-hours basis, so it was a privilege to experience the quiet peace that fell over the entire building when it emptied. And though you're not really allowed to take photographs inside the cathedral (I desperately wanted to snap some during Evensong!), we took some "subtle" shots here and there.
But before we climbed up the steps to the Whispering Gallery (where your whisper at one end of the dome can be heard on the other - really, we tried it!) and ascended to the Stone, then Golden Gallery, we were treated to afternoon tea at The Restaurant at St. Paul's, where we met Head Chef Chris Terry and sampled his delicious menu of cakes, scones, and sandwiches served on some of the prettiest china I've ever seen, before washing it all down with a glass of English sparkling wine with a touch of russet apple juice.
(Btw, this is what bloggers looks like at every food-related event.)
After consuming our weight in sweet treats, our earlier activities caught up with us and we sat back in a dazed, doze-y silence, before our wonderful guide Ed sat upright and said, "Right! Who's ready for Evensong?"
If you've never been to Evensong at St. Paul's before, I'd highly, highly recommend it. We were super spoiled and had seats reserved in the choir itself, but if you get there early and are prepared to wait in line, that's the best way to experience it. There's something about sung liturgy (even for someone who isn't religious) that's incredibly moving and uplifting. As the harmonies filled every corner of the church, it gave us all the perfect opportunity to contemplate the beauty and the history of the building; it's awesome - in every sense of the word.
With the booming pipes of the organ still ringing in our ears (literally - the organists continued to practice after everyone had left the building!), we headed over to St. Paul's most famous staircase, and continued our tour of the dome.
Fun fact: that staircase at Hogwarts in Harry Potter? Yep, this is it:
Not gonna lie: it was a little hard work getting to the top and it's not for the particularly claustrophobic, but the views once we got there were so very worth it.
I've stood on that roof terrace at One New Change so many times - admiring the view of St. Paul's across the way. Not too many people/tourists know about that particular vantage point, so it remains one of my favorite spots to visit. This time, however, it was difficult for me to wrap my head around the fact that I was actually standing on the dome, looking at One New Change!
I've said it once, but I'll say it again: London looks so beautiful from above, doesn't it? All the different shapes and contrast between the old and new make for such an interesting skyline. Your eye never settles; rather, it's encouraged to wander, continually taking in an arch here or an unexpectedly sharp corner there.
Our visit to St. Paul's on Saturday was such a privilege - a truly a memorable afternoon, and one I won't be forgetting anytime soon.
Huge thanks to Ed Holmes of the Press & Communications Department at St. Paul's Cathedral for organizing this amazing afternoon at St. Paul's, and for being an excellent tour guide! Traditional Afternoon Tea at St. Paul's is currently priced at (a very affordable!) £15.95 per person (£21.25 with the English sparkling wine), which you can book here. Evensong begins at 5:00 p.m. and you can find more information about attending here.