Thursday, October 30, 2014

Kate Spade New York and GapKids Collaborate. I Want It All.

Yes, I was one of those women, furtively combing through the racks at GapKids a few years ago when the DvF collaboration happened, holding up a smock-like dress to my chest and ask-whispering* my friend the question, "Do you think I could wear this as a tunic?" (*Ask-whispering is what you do when you're too embarrassed to let those within earshot hear you. It happens at frozen yogurt stores when you've accidentally let too much out of the machine and have to ask-whisper your companion for help).

I woke up this morning to an email in my inbox chirpily announcing the arrival of the Kate Spade/Jack Spade/GapKids collaboration and scrolled in disbelief at all the adorable items that were just slightly too small for me. WHAT. THE. HECK.

I've been a fan of the chic, Upper East Side-aesthetic Kate Spade brand since my friend loaned me her trendy, polka-dotted Kate Spade baguette bag in college. Today, I find the preppy, brightly-colored line a little too overwhelming en masse, but throw a few select pieces into my everyday look? Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner. In particular, I love the 50s-inspired party dresses with a fit-and-flare silhouette, plus the jewelery line - especially their watches (I wear the Gramercy watch in rose gold on a daily basis).

To torture myself further, I'm going to show you the items that I would wear, if I could (and maybe even one or two that I could squeeze into, if I tried really, really hard, and wore lots and lots of Spanx).

First of all, they need to make this dress in my size:

I'm sorry. Yes, I'm a grown woman, but yes, I could still make it work. I'd pair it with a statement necklace from J. Crew (similar to this one) and patent, pointed-toe flats (similar to these) to keep it from looking like I just left circle-time in pre-school (what Brits call "reception", I believe).

Also, this sweater has built in arm-candy:

YOU WOULD NOT NEED TO ACCESSORIZE. IT'S ALREADY DONE FOR YOU. PRESTO. Again, to keep myself from looking childish, I'd pair this with a pair of cropped, cigarette-style trousers or dark, distressed skinny jeans. And heels, of course.

Then there's this shirt:

Layered under a sweater, it allows just the right amount of "fun" to peek out (plus, I'm pleased to see it comes in sizes XL and XXL, which I could hopefully squeeze into).

Let's move on to the accessories.

Gap calls this a "pencil case". I call it a clutch (also, what kid needs a leather pencil case? It's all PVC for my future unborn child. Sorry, future unborn child.).

Instead of "playing hooky" from school (which certainly should not be encouraged - cough, cough), I would like to play hooky from work, or life in general.

Of course, there's this fun slogan tote (which I could potentially wear and pretend it's an existential question, rather than a literal whine. Like, "Are we [collective "we"] there [like, that "place" in life] yet?") that I'd take around with me on the weekend.

So, if you see a woman rummaging in the racks of Gap Kids Covent Garden, please say "hi" (or whisper "hi"). That'll be me.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Homemade Ice Cream @ Udderlicious, Islington

My dad and I have a tradition. After dinner, he'll look at me and bellow, "BLIZZARD!" Followed by my favorite flavor: "Banana cream pie!" Then he'd disappear for 20 minutes or so and bring me back a Dairy Queen blizzard, which I'd eat until I felt sick and watch the remaining melt into a puddle at the bottom of the cup.

Our tradition started in college, when I went home for the summer and Christmas, and it's continued since then, but really, getting ice cream together was always an activity I did with my dad as a kid. Then, it was Baskin Robbins, where I ordered vanilla ice cream every single time -  that is, until I felt sick eating it one day and never ordered it again. After that, it was mint chocolate chip ice cream, which I ordered every single time until my mom remarked in passing that it "tasted like toothpaste". And I never ordered it again.

But anyway, I love ice cream - mostly because it's delicious, but also because it reminds me of my dad.

Erin, a reader of this blog (and now friend!), first introduced me to Udderlicious on Islington's Upper Street after we had dinner together at Ottolenghi (just a few doors down). We sat in the window and watched people go by while we chatted about all things West Coast (she's from San Diego) and ate our waffle cones filled with scoops of salted caramel and dark chocolate sorbet.

Not that I needed any excuse, but it's been unseasonably warm in London for the past two days, and after eating the leftovers from Alison's amazing, magical, healing stew last night, I had a sudden hankering for ice cream. Of course, while Dairy Queen is a 8-minute drive away back home, Udderlicious is about a 20-minute walk. But no matter - we had stew to digest and ice cream to "work" for!

We arrived to what seemed to be a fan gathering of sorts: the woman in front of us was gushing about how there's "no other ice cream shop like it!" in London and that Udderlicious had "made her day" with their selection of flavors (and I thought I was enthusiastic!). The next man in line ordered a large tub and said his "kids couldn't get enough" of the store's handmade ice cream, asking what their plans were to expand to other locations. By the time it was my turn to order, I was at a loss as to what praises I could offer, besides the feeble, "Um, can I take some photos for my blog?"

Of course, there were a lot of things I could say about why I love Udderlicious: their flavors, for one thing, are scrumptious. I'm a die-hard fan of their salted caramel but the peanut butter, wild cherry, and Nutella options always make it difficult to decide. Secondly, they make brownie and banana sundaes with hot chocolate or caramel sauce - similar to my beloved banana splits back home. 

And finally, it's a lovely space to sit in - just look at those colorful pom poms and bunting! I dare you not to be cheered up by those decorations. John and I ate our cones sitting on a sweet wooden swing, which was a romantic way to end the evening, considering we'd eaten at home that night. It also made me realize that doing something outside our ordinary routine of catching up on emails, watching TV, etc. after dinner is necessary and fun.

What about you? Are you an ice cream fan?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Cornfields and Miniature Horses: A Country Walk in Wistow, Leicestershire

At the end of last week, I'd managed to cough so hard while I was recuperating from a nasty cold, I tore one of my intercostal muscles - making every slight move agonizing. Tearfully, I texted my mother-in-law to ask if we could visit for the weekend, knowing that she'd take good care of us.

So, after sleeping in until 11:00 a.m. on Saturday (which is unusually late for us), I went downstairs to find this breakfast feast awaiting us, which - very nearly - brought me to tears. Even as an adult, it feels so good to be looked after by a parent.

My head was still feeling fuzzy and blocked from my cold, so I initially rejected the idea of a country walk, but the fresh air was tempting and we set off for Wistow, a small village in Leicestershire less than a 10-minute drive away.

One thing I love about country walks in the UK is that you can walk for miles and miles across rolling hills and fields filled with sheep and cows without any disturbance. In Leicestershire especially, walks are clearly marked and signposted, so you know which fields you can and can't enter (I feel like there'd be a high chance of getting shot at if I was doing the same in the States).

I missed the fall foliage we usually have in the US (trees near us in the city are sparse, though I'm sure there were some spectacular colors in London's parks), so I was happy to come across my first scattering of autumn leaves during our walk.

We also saw this incredible cornfield, which John and I decided to get lost in for a while (fun fact: Wistow's also home to a maize maze, which we didn't make it to, but I'd love to visit!).

Within minutes, my head started clearing and my ear - which had been blocked for three days (that's three days of me saying, "I'm sorry? Excuse me?" to everyone who spoke to me) - popped! I whooped with joy and claimed the country air had cured me of all ailments (except for my rib, which was still excruciatingly painful).

Actually, I believe my exact words were, "This is the best walk of my LIFE!" You know, in that true American, over-enthusiastic way. "You know what would make it a lot better though?" I continued. "If there were, like, sheep, just like, here." And I gestured to the place beside me.

Of course, that happened, since there seemed to be a sheep speed-dating event nearby (see the ram in the middle? The ladies are alllll over that).

But, of course, the walk got even better when we ran into these AH-DORABLE miniature horses, who wanted to play.

They both stuck their heads through the fence as I rubbed the black one's head and he curiously sniffed my leg.


I almost passed out from over-excitement; they were the cutest things I'd ever seen!

Afterwards, we headed off to Wistow Rural Centre, where John and I picked up this foxy doormat as a homage to our garden friend. It's kind of amazing.

And of course, Alison didn't let us leave without filling our stomachs with a delicious Cumbrian beef stew and a blackberry apple crumble (she packed us leftovers too, which I can't wait to eat tonight!).

It was such a wonderful weekend and a great escape from the city life in London - especially since John and I were feeling a little less than our usual selves. There's something about being taken care of like children that made me feel so sentimental! I realized (as I was lying prone on her couch watching a re-run of Sherlock on BBC - another one of my wishes that came true that weekend!) that Alison really hasn't treated me any differently today than she did 9 years ago when I first stayed over at her house.

Gratitude doesn't even begin to describe how I feel.

Friday, October 24, 2014

#ZomatoMeetUp @ Pont St, With Executive Chef Sophie Michell

I've been so excited to share this with you! Last night, I was treated (along with 19 other bloggers) to an extravagant foodie-focused evening at Pont St restaurant in the heart of Belgravia as part of Zomato's #ZomatoMeetUp - a chance for food-obsessed bloggers to meet, eat, and talk all things food related. And thankfully, I'd recovered from my cold enough to regain my sense of taste so I could enjoy all the ah-mazing food and drinks (otherwise I would have probably cried).

Upon arrival, we were served two delicious cocktails from Pont St's bar, a Lavender Mogul and Winter Alexander, before being whisked off to the kitchen below for a demonstration by the restaurant's Executive Chef, Sophie Michell - currently the UK's youngest female Executive Chef. Aside from running The Gorgeous Kitchen at Heathrow's Terminal 2 and penning three successful cookery books, Sophie has also served as private chef to Claudia Schiffer and Leonardo Di Caprio. NBD, then.

Downstairs, Sophie described the process she uses to make her pasta dough, before hand rolling it out (with a few eager assistants - I stook in the back, mute and dumb at the sheer novelty factor of it all) into paper thin sheets and deftly spooning in some butternet squash filling to make perfectly formed ravioli, accompanied by the sound of 20 SLRs and camera phones snapping away.

Afterwards, we headed back upstairs to our table, where Alexandra (Zomato Community Manager and blogger) had crafted adorable place settings with Instagram-inspired menus and a social media directory of who's who for the evening (totally ingenious).

We were then treated to a gastronomic feast of starters, which included taste sensations such as maple & bourbon glazed pork belly, beef carpaccio with truffle cream and parmesan crisps (my favorite!), scallop carpaccio, grilled oysters, hot cheese balls with quince jelly (my second favorite!), and a beautifully presented slate of crudité composed of baby seasonal vegetables served with a delicious, tangy dip.

Sidenote: the best thing about eating with food bloggers is the unspoken understanding that no one dares touch a plate until everyone's snapped a photo to their satisfaction (I often come under fire for this when dining as a couple and get an exasperated, "Can I eat now?" from the other side of the table - sorry, John!). In fact, no one was shy about passing their camera down the table to ask for assistance in photographing a slider from just the right angle.

I'd been looking forward to my main course of lobster tagliatelle all week and I wasn't disappointed: generous portions of succulent lobster mixed in with a homemade tagliatelle cooked perfectly al dente brought back memories of our recent vacation in Sicily and was the perfect example of decadent comfort food (something I definitely needed after struggling with this cold for a week).

But then.


I think all 20 of us let out a collective gasp of shock around the table when we saw the selection of desserts: doughnut balls with salted caramel and vanilla milkshake, flourless chocolate cake, nutmeg custard tart with bay leaf poached apricots, cinnamon rice pudding with apple compote and clotted cream ... the list seemed endless.

The flourless chocolate cake was divine, and I couldn't resist sneaking in a second bite! My favorite dessert, however, had to be the madeleines (complete with delicate, edible gold foil) and lemon curd, which I'd seen in preparation downstairs in the kitchen earlier that evening.

Though the posset was nearly too sweet for me, it was the perfect accompaniment to the madeleine and the presentation made the confections almost too pretty to eat (that flower!).

Aside from the fabulous food, it was so much fun to meet bloggers with similar interests and talk about how we started, why we write what we do, and our different reasons for putting our thoughts down in this particular form of digital digest. It made me think about how food is such a terrific connector; it brings people together in a way that no other activity can. Why else are family dinners so fun and important?

My night ended rather unglamorously as I floated on cloud nine through the pretty streets of Belgravia when I observed an inebriated man throw up on the bus (right next to the driver), then watched as unsuspecting passengers proceeded to walk through the vomit as they stepped aboard. It definitely didn't help that I was Instagramming a photo of raw oysters at the time. Oh, blogger life.

I was generously hosted by Zomato and Pont St. last evening. Special thanks to Zomato UK and Sophie Michell for this unique opportunity!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Tourists, I'll Help You Take A Selfie

There's nothing more painful than watching someone attempt to take a selfie from afar (okay, I can think of a few things more painful, but ...); that outstretched arm, the leaning back, the repeated attempts. I see it every day: on my way to work, after yoga, when I'm out to dinner. Usually, it's on a bridge - Waterloo Bridge, to be exact. I don't blame them. The view of Southbank is beautiful from there. And, at the right angle, you can probably get the London Eye as well as the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben all in the background.

Last Thursday, Caroline and I were debriefing our attendance at the Frieze Art Fair over a plateful of Pizza Express dough balls (garlic butter FTW) when something beyond her shoulder caught my attention: a man was trying to take a selfie of his entire table of four with his phone and clearly not succeeding. After the fourth painful attempt, I finally interrupted Caroline mid-sentence by touching her arm and saying, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I have to help this guy." 

The secret to asking people if they'd like you to take their photo is not to act awkward - otherwise, it just becomes super awkward for everyone (I only mention this because I have been that awkward person). So without really thinking about it, I approached their table and breezily asked, "Do you want me to take that for you?" "Oh please!" came the grateful reply. And after two snaps, they came away with a perfectly good group photo framed by their pizza Romanas - no chopped heads or long, extended arms in sight (it also helped that he had an amazing camera phone). 

I get it. Not every event warrants a group photo, but sometimes, you just want to commemorate the experience - freeze that moment in time. 

I remember observing a family of four standing in front of us in line at Comiso airport, Sicily. Father and son were on their way to London; mother and other son were staying behind. They must have taken four or five photos. Ordinarily, I might have been judgmental, questioning the necessity of taking airport selfies, but then I pictured the woman flipping through the photos on her phone with her friends at lunch, showing off her husband and son on their way to London. I thought about those photos being printed and placed in an album somewhere; I thought of the son showing his children someday, that photo of him and his dad about to board the plane for whatever mysterious adventure they were going on. It made me nostalgic for the times my family was "sent off" at the airport at the conclusion of our annual visits to Hong Kong. Our entire extended family would gather at Hong Kong airport together and take photos: the little ones sitting on the floor, the men looking stoic and stiff, the women smiling slightly with upturned corners of their mouths.

Of course, those were the times before selfie-sticks or camera phones - or even digital cameras - for that matter. Film cameras were passed around from hand to hand, before prints finally appeared in our home in Small Town, Washington a few months later with the par avion sticker firmly planted on the front of the envelope they arrived in, having traveled over 6,500 miles to reach us.

So the next time I see someone struggling to take a selfie, I won't hesitate to step in and help. Maybe they're traveling solo and want to send a photo back to family and friends. Maybe it's a couple celebrating their engagement, or honeymoon, or anniversary. Maybe someone just wants a photo of themselves in front of a pretty backdrop.

What about you? What's your selfie style? Would you step in to help or continue on your way?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Hot Dogs and Prosecco at The Delaunay Because We Want To

Yesterday, we met Joe, Jodi, and their sweetie-pie of a baby girl, Elizabeth, at The Delaunay for brunch. When we got there, I realized that I didn't feel like having any of the "typical" brunch options, even though they all sounded amazing (in particular, the "Viennese Breakfast" was tempting: smoked ham, salami, artisan Gouda, boiled egg, and a pretzel). Actually, I wanted a hot dog and fries (and, as it turned out, so did John and Jodi - Joe opted for a lobster roll). And, even though it was only 11:30, we wanted some prosecco.

So we ordered a bottle.

When our hot dogs and side of green beans arrived, we all dug in with our hands (including the beans, which we picked at, one strand at a time) even though we'd been provided with an appropriate hot-dog slicing knife and cutlery. Call us barbaric, but you can't name an item on the menu "New York hot dog" and expect us to eat it daintily with a knife and fork!

But this is one of the reasons why I love The Delaunay: no one blinks an eye. It's an elegant restaurant in a fabulous location (we once sat at the table next to author Hilary Mantel - the play, Wolf Hall, based on her book of the same name, was being performed next door at Aldwych Theatre). But it's certainly not pretentious - you can easily order half a dozen Jersey rock oysters or chicken noodle soup. It's a place where I feel like I can be myself. I've been for dinner and afternoon tea as well, and enjoyed each occasion. Service is courteous and friendly, and there's a great, buzzing atmosphere. Plus, the dining room is beautiful - we talked about how we could easily spend a whole day there (though I'm not sure how much the staff would love having us there!), enjoying a leisurely breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

We finished up our unconventional brunch with warm apple, marzipan and poppy seed strudel with vanilla ice cream before heading off to Covent Garden in search of some (early) Christmas presents.

Next time you're in the West End, I'd highly recommend stopping into The Delaunay (or even The Delaunay Counter - a more laid-back version of the restaurant - for tea and cake next door) for a pink grapefruit ... or sea bass. The menu is your oyster (pun intended!).

Thursday, October 16, 2014

London, You Ruin My Shoes

There are times when I hate London. There are instances when I curse it under my breath, and then there are times when I scream about it on the street. Usually, it's when I'm carrying two bags of groceries from Sainsbury's on my way home from work and it's dark and wet outside, my hair's sticking to my face because of the wind, three completely full 38 buses pass me without stopping because, well, they're completely full, and this results in perfectly reasonable grown-ups pushing and shoving like a group of pre-schoolers when a half-full 38 finally arrives after 15 minutes of patiently waiting.

Most recently? I've hated London for ruining every single pair of nice shoes I've ever owned, including this pretty pair above - which I only purchased a few weeks ago during my trip to New York. Repeated trip-ups on uneven sidewalks have resulted in not only stubbed toes and a lot of swearing (I'm swearing like a sailor these days), but scuffing on the beloved gold detail of these perfectly good loafers (btw, New York was like sidewalk paradise - no raised ridges that seem to catch you up on purpose and then silently cackle with an evil laugh when you nearly fall on your face because you didn't lift your leg like a ridiculous, marching soldier).

The cobbler knows me by name now.

When they see me, my parents (especially my mom) constantly bemoan the state of my shoes, simply because they're not used to seeing well-worn shoes. Of course, there's not a lot of scuffing that can happen between walking from a building through a parking lot to your car, where I'm from. But in London, even a short, 8-minute walk to the bus stop can result in trips, scuffs, and - if you're not careful during wet weather - an entire shoe being drenched in a muddy puddle. Not to mention all the fabulous dog owners who don't clean up after their dogs and seem to pick equally fabulous dark (I kid you not), shadowy spots on purpose for their dogs to shit in once night falls.

It's gotten to the point now that when I overhear tourists saying, "Oh look, how cute - COBBLESTONES!" I start laughing maniacally because I hate cobblestones so damn much. Cute on a postcard, not cute when you're trying to navigate slippery stones and your bus has just whizzed past in front of your eyes.

I see you, rolling your eyes at me. "Why don't you just wear a pair of shoes to walk in, like, sneakers and then change them when you get to work?" you ask. Oh, yes. I do that too. I'm the master of surreptitiously side-stepping into a dark corner and swiftly slipping off my heels into a pair of flip-flops or New Balances. But sometimes it isn't convenient to carry two pairs of shoes with you at all times, and sometimes I just want to wear my nice shoes out - because they're nice to look at.

What are your commuting woes? Do concrete sidewalk gremlins also lurk in your path, or is it just me?