Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Currently Addicted To: Ginger Beer

Want to hear something crazy (but not that crazy)? I've been addicted to ginger beer recently, which I never had before I moved to the UK. My throat is sore today and all I want is a can of ice-cold, carbonated Old Jamaica ginger beer poured into a tall glass with lots and lots of ice (you can tell I'm American because of the emphasis on ice).

I used to hate the taste of ginger beer. Ginger ale, I loved, but ginger beer? Too ginger-y. But then I went on this food walk by Fox & Squirrel in March and we had home-brewed ginger beer at a couple of stops ... from then on, all I wanted was ginger beer with everything!

For someone who doesn't drink a lot of alcohol, non-alcoholic ginger beer is a great alternative to the usual Coke or Sprite when I'm at the pub. Our "local", The De Beauvoir Arms, serves Fentimans Ginger Beer, which is delicious - spicy, but not too sweet - whereas Old Jamaica, which I sometimes pick up at the corner shop or Tesco is pretty sugary.

What about you? Do you like/loathe ginger beer? Do you think you could become a convert like me?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Royal Orchestral Society's Weekend in Cambridge

I know it's Tuesday already, but how was your weekend? I had an amazing time with the Royal Orchestral Society in Cambridge, playing through Mahler's 1st Symphony at the St. Chad's Site of St. Catharine's College (not to be confused with the other St. Catherine's, at Oxford, where John and I met! Different spellings.). But I was so pooped yesterday and now I think I'm coming down with something flu-like! Currently adding honey to my tea as we speak.

I joined the Royal Orchestral Society in 2010, a few years after my initial move to London. Previously, I had been the concertmaster of the Mount Holyoke College Symphony Orchestra and my high school orchestra before that. I never thought I'd pick up my violin again when I came to London, but my father-in-law (whose knowledge of classical music is astronomical - no pun intended, since he's an astrophysicist) encouraged me to join an orchestra and I found one that rehearsed near where I lived at the time in St. John's Wood (convenience is everything!).

Four years later, I've performed some amazing repertoire in beautiful locations (we perform at St. John's Smith Square in Westminster twice a year) with world-famous soloists. On the 30th of November, we'll be performing at Cadogan Hall in Sloane Square, which is a dream come true for me. I've seen some of my favorite musicians perform on that stage, including the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and cellist Julian Lloyd Webber.

But back to this weekend.

This was my view for most of it (if you're a musician and notice that I'm sitting directly across from the cellos, that's because I was sitting first stand, first violins. Yup, scary! Oh, and, surprise solo in the 3rd movement? Check.). I caught a train to Cambridge with Alice (which was not without a little drama at King's Cross when my tickets refused to print and the National Rail staff were extremely unhelpful!) and we arrived in time for rehearsal to begin at 11 a.m. We had a lunch break between 1-2 p.m., but were back in our seats to rehearse after that until 7 p.m. Five hours of Mahler (with a half-hour break in between) is enough to drive anyone nuts and I was getting very, very cranky! My arm also felt like it was about to fall off and my collarbone was bruised.

But it was so much fun. In season, we typically rehearse on Monday evenings, after work, for three hours. After that, you don't really want to talk to anyone - you just want to get home. But during the weekend away, everyone was much more relaxed and it was nice to get to know each other better.

When we weren't rehearsing, we were eating breakfast and lunch here, at the St. Catharine's College Hall. We also stayed in the student halls, so it was just like being a student again and really reminded me of the time I spent studying abroad at Oxford.

We all went out for dinner and drinks on Saturday evening and stayed out way later than we should have (for a group of people who needed to rehearse at 10:30 a.m. the next day, that is). I don't know how it happened, but I somehow ended up playing "I Have Never ..." at the bar and the next morning, I couldn't look a bassist and an oboist in the eye. Yikes.

Basically, like John joked when I got back, it was kind of like being at band camp. Except with much older people and a lot of alcohol (no flute jokes, please).

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Ines de la Fressange for Uniqlo

The Ines de la Fressange collection for Uniqlo launches tomorrow and I couldn't be more excited: Uniqlo has been one of my go-to favorites for basics like merino and cashmere sweaters, tailored trousers, and perfectly cut tees since I started shopping the Causeway Bay location in Hong Kong years ago. 

When it arrived in the UK, I was overjoyed and more than happy to find that the price point was just as affordable here and that the quality just as good. Anytime I'm looking for a simple shift dress or comfy tunic, I head to Uniqlo. In fact, I'm wearing one of their extra fine merino sweater dresses today with bare legs and chunky heeled sandals from & Other Stories - I'm especially a fan of their slightly longer lengths so I don't have to worry about constantly tugging down my skirt/dress hem at work!  

Tomorrow, French model, designer, aristocrat, and muse, Ines de la Fressange's collection of extra fine merino Breton tops, perfectly cut wool trousers, winter coats, and other chic basics will go on sale at Uniqlo and I'm sure it'll sell out in no time.

Here are a few items that I've got my eye on:

This thick, sweat pull-over that will no doubt be gone in an instant at only £19.90 ... perfect for chilly flights, lounging in over the weekend, and wearing over a white collared shirt. Which brings me to ...

This simple, cotton twill long-sleeve shirt, which would be perfect for layering under sweaters during the cold winter months. I especially love the red-stitched detail on the collar and cuffs (not seen). At £29.90, it just might be the perfect shirt that I've been searching for - especially with that elegantly curved hem.

And finally ...

This cashmere turtleneck sweater with a dipped hem. I just love the huge chunky collar - you can pull it over your face on windy days! Plus, it's cashmere. Luckily, it's not available until October (i.e. after my next pay day), so I can possibly shell out the £69.90 for this piece which is sure to last for years.

I'm so excited about this collection. Would you buy anything from it?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

ChattyFeet Giveaway! Kate "Middle-Toe" Socks


Last week, I posted a hilarious photo of the newest (royal) addition to the ChattyFeet family, Kate Middle-Toe, to this blog's Facebook page and it received so much interest that I decided to do a giveaway! Yes! I love you so much, I'm willing to give away this pair of socks, which I'd very much like to keep for myself!

Aren't they great? They capture the essence of Kate Middleton perfectly: from the swoop of her immaculate blown-out bangs to the v-neck of what I can only imagine to be an Issa wrap dress, down to the signature eyeliner and slightly awkward smile.

To enter:

1. "Like" Angloyankophile on Facebook and follow me on Twitter (it's okay if you don't have a Twitter account, just "like" the page on Facebook)

2. "Like" ChattyFeet on Facebook or follow them on Instagram (trust me on this one, you'll get laugh-out-loud entertainment from their photos 24/7)

3. Leave a comment below or on the Angloyankophile Facebook page to tell me where you'd wear your Kate Middle-Toes to!

I'll pick a winner at random on Friday. You have until midnight, PST, for all my West Coast friends and I'll announce the winner on Monday morning. Good luck!

p.s. Also, these entertaining GIFs of the Duchess of Cambridge's most awkward moments from HuffPost.

Kate Middle-Toe socks provided courtesy of ChattyFeet. If you can't wait to get your hands on a pair, you can order them here with worldwide shipping.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour: Why I Write What I Write and How I Do It

I was thrilled when fellow American expat, Robin, (of the fabulous blog, Second Floor Flat) tagged me in the Writing Process "Blog Tour" that's currently circulating within the blogging community. I was particularly flattered that she described me as a "writer". A writer! I've never thought of myself as worthy of this title, so I'm pleased as punch that someone else has given it to me.

So here's how it works: I answer a set of questions about the writing process behind this blog and other projects that I'm working on, and I tag two other bloggers to do the same next week. Joining me on the Blog Tour next Thursday will be the absolutely brilliant blogger Runawaykiwi (a self-described "expat, gallery ghost & flat white addict" from - you guessed it - New Zealand) and the lovely, seriously talented blogger Shimelle, whose scrapbooking and beautiful photographs will make you green with envy.

So here I go ...
What are you working on?

My primary focus is writing for Angloyankophile. I have some really lovely, loyal readers who've been with me since the beginning (thank you!) and I like to stay on top of my game to ensure that I'm delivering fresh, personal, and exciting new content at least 2-3 times per week. As many of you know, I've started collaborating with a few companies for this blog, which has been a totally fun, new, and challenging direction for me - I'm really excited.

I'm also a regular contributor to Myfriendslike, a recommendations website based in Oxford. You can read some of my restaurant, travel, and culture reviews here as well as on the travel website, Triptease.

Beyond that, I contribute here and there on a freelance basis to some other websites, though I'm looking to expand my writing portfolio - if you know of any opportunities, please send them my way!

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I started Angloyankophile when I came to a defining point in my stay here in the UK: I couldn't decide where I wanted to settle permanently and thought that starting a blog that higlighted all the highs and lows of both countries would help me make my decision. Of course, it hasn't at all. That's why this blog is called "Angloyankophile" - I'm in love with all things American and British. One does not outweigh the other.

While Angloyankophile is mostly lighthearted and fun, I also use this blog to explore the complexities of living abroad and notions of identity, as well as the fear and guilt associated with leaving behind my family. I always thought that writing about identity had to be academic and always backed up by facts or research, but I've found that writing about isolated incidents or thoughts I've had on the subject can also open itself up to wonderful, different avenues of discourse, which is fantastic. I love reading comments from others who are experiencing the same feelings as I am.

I like that Angloyankophile has a wide audience and is read by a variety of different people at different stages of life. I think (and I hope I'm not wrong) that this blog appeals to men and women of all ages, of all nationalities and backgrounds.

Why do you write what you do?

I want to tell you what I'm thinking, feeling, where I've been, what I've seen, what I've eaten, because I love to share what I'm enthusiastic about. Ask anyone who knows me: I'm such an enthusiastic person! There's also a part of me that hopes that, by sharing my experiences, you'll share yours with me too. And isn't that what writing is about? Sharing, giving, receiving, and reflecting? Sometimes I worry that I overshare though, and that's when I have to take a step back and assess why I'm writing what I'm writing - whether it's for me or for someone else. Or if I'm pretending to be someone who I'm not.

How does your writing process work?

I come up with random ideas for blog posts at really random times: while shaving my legs in the shower, staring out the bus window, waiting in line at Tesco ... anywhere but sitting in front of a blank compute screen, really. I'm particularly affected by situations or events that I've experienced recently. If I'm writing a restaurant or hotel review, words will pop into my head while I'm eating at the said restaurant or lying awake in bed at the hotel - words that I know I'll want to use when describing my experience there.

I was raised by a Tiger Mom who enforced daily, graded (yes, graded) writing assignments during summer vacations (I know, right? Example topic: "Should capital punishment be abolished? Discuss." I was 11. ELEVEN.) so I developed a good habit of writing regularly and focusing my constantly distracted thoughts into one channel. Thanks, Mom. These days, I shy away from topics such as capital punishment in favour of funny socks, American superlatives, and foxes that act out lyrics to a Rihanna song in the middle of the night.

So! That's all from me for now. As ever, thank you so much for reading Angloyankophile. Your support means the world to me. And next week, tune into Shimelle's fantastic, crafty blog and Rebecca's inspiring, witty blog for their takes on the Writing Process Blog Tour.

Over and out.

(Pictured above: my happy place, at "home" in Washington.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Bank Holiday Weekend @ Ockenden Manor Hotel and Spa, West Sussex

Oh my goodness. We just had the most amazing (long) weekend away at Ockenden Manor - a hotel and spa located in a delightful little village called Cuckfield, deep in the West Sussex countryside.

I'd been struggling with a cold toward the end of the week last week and was really looking forward to getting some R&R at this beautiful spa hotel. John and I haven't been away together for a relaxing break like this in ages, so it was downright luxurious.

This was our view on most mornings:

I'd booked a "superior" room in the main building, but was informed when I arrived that we'd been upgraded to a junior spa suite. Heaven. Our room was gorgeous and had a free-standing tub (my weakness) and beautiful furnishings from Heal's. The bed was so fluffy and comfortable, I wanted to stay in it all day long!

We spent the weekend sipping wine in bare feet on the spa's roof terrace (which was conveniently accessible from our room) and swimming laps in the outdoor pool, which is connected to the indoor pool by a small little gap that you swim through - isn't that fun? The sun was out for most of the time, thankfully! But even after it set, we took a dip in the spa's outdoor jacuzzi and sat there under the stars, until closing time.

On Saturday evening, we had dinner at the hotel's Michelin-starred restaurant, which was incredible. I would have snapped some photos but the restaurant had a no-phone policy (and rightly so!), so I wanted to respect that. Moreover, I don't think you can really enjoy the experience of eating a beautifully crafted meal when you're too busy trying to get the "right angle" of each of your dishes! Leave that up to the website, I say. I had the most deliciously dreamy scallops as a starter, which was served with a sensational avocado, coriander, and tomato salsa, plus a brilliant but rich main course of oxtail, delicately balanced between paper-thin slices of celeriac. It was divine. But the best part was the "strawberries and cream" dessert, which arrived on a very thin layer of strawberry jello, with miniature meringues and homemade marshmallows. It might have been the best dessert I've ever had!

On Sunday, we took advantage of the nice weather and went for a walk in the countryside near the hotel. As John knows, I'm not the biggest nature lover (ask me about the time I wore completely inappropriate clothing for a hike in the Yorkshire Dales - hint: Steve Madden rain boots and a Tommy Hilfiger trench do not fare well in torrential downpour and slippery hillsides) but it was so nice to get some fresh air and stroll through the verdant woods and fields.

On Monday, we were so sad to leave. I called the front desk when we woke up to ask how much late checkout would cost and they were so nice, they let us have the room until 12:30 pm for no extra fee. The receptionist added that we could stay in the spa until 4:00 pm, even after we had checked out. We had a nice, long breakfast and spent an hour more or so in the spa until our cab came to take us to the train station.

It's a super easy train journey from London: 45 minutes from Victoria station or an hour from Blackfriars, followed by a 10 minute cab ride at the other end. I think, if you're spending a weekend or a short period of time away, your journey from your doorstep to the other end should be as seamless and stress-free as possible! Otherwise, it kind of defeats the purpose of having a relaxing spa break.

Oh, Ockenden Manor, I miss you so. Another day would have been perfect, but (real) life must go on!

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