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Archive for August, 2010

Boyfriend’s company was taking part in a huge industry event and loads of employees were coming to London to participate. Many people were bringing their wives and the CEO’s wife was hosting a special spouse event that included a trip to the V&A Museum to see the Grace Kelly exhibit and lunch at the Ritz.

You could spend days in the  Victoria and Albert Museum and not feel like you’ve seen everything. The place is huge and there is such a wide variety of exhibits that even the most museum adverse can find something of interest.

Grace Kelly :  Style Icon highlighted the life and wardrobe of the Princess of Monaco from her early modeling days on through to her days in the palace. There are several famous dresses, shoes, hats, glasses and other pieces she wore throughout her life. She tended to wear things more than once, unlike many Hollywood personalities today. She described it as being faithful to her clothes like she would be faithful to her friends.

Although her clothes evolved with the times, she sustained a femininity valued strongly in her era. This ideal fulfillment is what I think made her so popular, but what made her endearing are the small glimpses that portray a person behind the image. For example, photos depict her wearing her glasses on the tip of her nose because she was shortsighted. These images take her out of the realm of object and remind you she’s human.

After viewing the Grace Kelly exhibit we were free to have a look around the museum on our own for an hour or so. I decided to tackle the 1:1 Architects Build Small Spaces Exhibit and have a stroll through the garden.

I highly recommend the Architects Build Small Spaces Exhibit. V&A invited nineteen architects to submit proposals for structures examining notions of refuge and retreat. Seven were selected and constructed and are dotted throughout the museum. You grab a map and one by one hunt them down. This is great not only for architecture enthusiasts, but also for getting to know your way around the massive museum.

One of my two favorite structures was a reproduction of an unauthorized structure  in Mumbai. This small but well used space was home to a family of eight. Not a bit of space was wasted. There were even areas reserved within the structure for contemplation and worship. The Studio Mumbai achieves their goal of communicating the poetry of such small and disregarded habitats. I felt humbled while exploring this space and contemplating my own relative palatial home.

Replication of tree growing through unauthorized Mumbai structure.

My other favorite structure was a free standing wooden tower of books. The wood structure was unfinished and had not only a natural feel and look, it also had a wonderful smell. Books were aligned within the wooden structure to achieve entire walls consisting only of used books. This formed a wonderful collage, each book full of ideas and concepts yet to be learned and experienced. Within the tower were small reading chambers where the viewer was invited to browse the books, sit and meditate or just rest. I can honestly say this is one of the most peaceful, calming and meditative spaces I have ever been in. I could have curled up in the meditation couch for the rest of the day and been at one with the universe.

Be still my heart! An entire structure made of books!

While I wanted to stay in the book structure forever, I also wanted to check out the garden. It was a well manicured garden with a terrific water feature and cafe. It’s a nice place to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee or contemplate the works of art you have just viewed.

Victoria and Albert Garden

At this point, it was time to meet up with the group and head towards the Ritz for lunch. Upon arrival, we were greeted with an exceptional level of service by the staff and sat in the extensively adorned Music Room.

Chandelier in the Music Room

I have always wanted to go to the Ritz for afternoon tea, but considering the touristy nature and high price, I had put it off for a special occasion or when I had visitors who also wanted to go.

The first course for our lunch was a crown of asparagus served with walnut salad and lemon creme fraiche. The presentation was beautiful. Please forgive the quality of these photos. They were taken with an old iPhone.

Crown of Asparagus

For my main course I had chosen Spring Vegetable Risotto. Some of the ladies at the table looked at my meal with envy. “Back off, it’s mine!” I told them.

Spring Vegetable Risotto

While the Risotto was delicious and the asparagus was decent, the dessert was amazing. We were served strawberry terrine with buttermilk sorbet. The doughnut on the end completed the dish for me.

Strawberry Terrine with Buttermilk Sorbet

Our meal was followed by coffee, teas and frivolities. We passed the frivolities around and around again. The other ladies groaned about their waistlines, but I dug in each time. I’m definitely not one of those girls who doesn’t eat carbohydrates.

Frivolities

The meal was really a treat. You can have a more affordable but just as good meal elsewhere (although I didn’t pay, the company did) and you don’t always want to be around such pomp and circumstance. Considering that, the Ritz London is one of those things you need to do once. I enjoyed the experience thoroughly.

Bottom Line:

Victoria and Albert Museum – Go see the 1:1 Architects Build Small Spaces exhibit. It’s free and on through the end of the August.

The Ritz London – Go once for a treat, preferably when someone else is paying. It’s touristy and expensive, but the food is delicious, the experience unique.

Ritz on Urbanspoon

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I kept a bamboo plant alive for a few years once. Then I went on vacation. I thought I had supplied it with enough water before I left. When I came back it was dead. One time I planted an entire flower bed in the midst of the Texas summer only to find all the flowers scorched and lifeless within 12 hours. That was dumb. I was sent a beautiful calla lily when my father died while I was in University. I was able to keep that alive for about 6 months.

These are the reasons why when Anna asked me if I wanted a courgette plant (zucchini plant) my eyes got wide with terror and my head automatically shook no. “Go on,” she said. “I planted mine too close together and someone needs to take them.” With enough coaxing, I caved. I had refused to take a courgette plant and somehow I was leaving with two.

Boyfriend and I took them to our temporary housing in Highbury and placed them on the windowsill. I took the case very seriously. I really didn’t want to go back to Anna and tell her I killed her plant. It became a morning ritual. Get up, make coffee, water courgettes. Several times I would forget and boyfriend would have to intervene, but with our combined efforts we’ve managed to keep them alive.

Now we are in a garden flat and it is so pleasant to have my own vegetables growing in the garden. Granted, nothing is quite big enough to eat, but I can happily report we have several budding courgettes. One of which is an amazing shade of green and a good four inches long. The plant grows the most beautiful flowers which I have been told are delicious and edible but I haven’t managed to try.

Don't worry, I've added more soil to cover the roots.

After the terrible failures I’ve had with plants in the past, I am surprised this wasn’t much harder. I am wondering if it’s because I have more time at home now to monitor their growth or the change in climate from our move.

Now on to research courgette recipes.

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Freud Museum London

Freud Museum London

20 Maresfield Gardens
London NW3 5SX
Tel: +44 (0)20 7435 2002

£6 adults/ £4.50 Seniors /£3.00 Concessions/ Kids Free

I was meeting someone near Camden  and needed to justify the trip up north, so I decided to make an afternoon out of it and stop by the Freud museum.

I read online that visiting the museum only took an hour, so my plan was to be there at about 11:30 and move on to my appointment at 1:00. When I arrived, I realized that the place didn’t open until noon. I had thought it was enough to remember that the museum wasn’t open on Mondays and Tuesdays. I hadn’t bother to check the hours!

I sent out a quick text to push my appointment back to 1:15 and patiently waited out front with the other random Freud pilgrims. At 12 pm sharp, the doors opened and I made my way to the back to purchase my ticket.

Now that I’ve completed the tour, I can say that it’s not that the Freud Museum is boring as some reviews online implied. It’s more that it’s small. This is the house that Sigmund purchased after fleeing Austria during WWII. Turns out he didn’t live here very long before he passed on, but his daughter Anna continued to live and work in the home until 1982.

While the museum has loads of family portraits, quips about diagnosis and family heirlooms placed in the different rooms of the home, the real attraction of the museum is the study. You can see all of Freud’s Eastern artifacts placed around the office among his countless number of books. Some people like to check out other people’s CD or DVD collection. I like to check out other people’s book collections. I thought I might recognize some of the books and even probably have read a few. I was wrong. There were plenty I did recognize, but most went over my head and others I have to admit I wouldn’t be interested in. I guess I’m not as intellectual as I thought. Eh, I’m OK with that.

Anyway, other than books and travel collection, you get to see the chair that Freud had specially made to his ergonomic specifications and the lounger that his patients would lie down on as they rambled on in free association. Photos aren’t allowed, but oops I didn’t learn this until after I snapped a few pictures.

Freud's chair and desk

The Couch

The museum covers a good bit of information on Anna Freud and her work on child psychoanalysis. She was an avid weaver and you can view the loom she used as she diagnosed her patients.

One thing I found interesting is the friendship Freud had with Dali. The museum has a picture Dali drew of Freud. Apparently Dali never showed it to Freud because he was convinced it foretold Freud’s impending death.

Sigmund Freud died of cancer of the mouth, which is not surprising since he smoked up to 20 cigars a day. He also really upset the maid with his constant spitting about the house. They finally had to place a spittoon near the stairway to keep the peace.

There’s a small garden which I found a bit underwhelming, but it’s possible I missed part of it. I made it to my 1:15 appointment, and while I could have stuck around and watched the video going on upstairs a bit longer, I feel like an hour did the job pretty well.

Bottom Line:  Interesting, but save it for when you are in the area unless you happen to be a psychoanalysis fanatic.

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Photo Courtesy of Saf Restaurant and Bar

http://www.safrestaurant.co.uk

152-154 Curtain Road
Shoreditch London EC2A 3AT
+44.20.76130007

The Barkers Building 1st Floor
London, UK W8 5SE
+44.20.73634555

After hearing loads about Saf, a top end vegan and raw food specializing restaurant, I decided I had to try it.

I was meeting my architect friend, Ryan, near Kensington High Street for lunch and remembered that the restaurant was on the top floor of the  Whole Foods just down the street. I suggested we check it out.

I could tell that Ryan was a little weirded out. I lived mere blocks from the flagship Whole Foods in Austin, Texas for years and would often drop in to the restaurants dotted throughout the store. It had become a quite normal way to dine, but I could see that the concept was uncomfortable to Ryan and I began rethinking bringing an architect there. This was understandably so. The flagship Whole Foods in Austin integrates the restaurants into the store giving their presence an organic and natural feel while the one in Kensington corals them onto the top floor. While the interior design is modern, sleek and nice, you can’t escape the disappointing vibe of an indoor shopping mall food court.

I dismissed the disappointment when the server arrived with the menus. Oh my,  everything sounded amazing. The smoothies and drink section were a vegan foodie dream. The menu was dotted with mentions of cashew butter, tempeh, greens, mushrooms and other plant based treats.

After some deliberation, Ryan chose the Buddha Plate and I went with the lunch special of wild mushroom crepes. When our food arrived, the server made sure to explain all of the different items on Ryan’s plate. I can see how someone who isn’t used to eating this particular way could find items like kimchee intimidating. Luckily, Ryan is a cultured and open minded dude. He was totally game. I didn’t hesitate to chow down. In fact, I finished every single bite of my plate and even entertained the dessert menu.

Wild Mushroom Crepes

We decided to skip dessert in the end. The dessert and smoothies will definitely give me something to come back for, although next time I’ll visit the actual restaurant near Old Street. Perhaps I’ll treat myself to one of their Monday through Saturday £19.50 3 course lunches or a vegan Sunday roast.

Bottom Line-

Saf delivers amazing vegan and raw food.  For a quick pop-in, Whole Foods will do. If you have the time and money, consider visiting the actual restaurant.

Saf on Urbanspoon

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I know this is a little late as Sadler’s Wells performance of Electric Hotel ended June 26th, but I thought better late than never.

The Electric Hotel was highly recommended on TimeOut and other forums and located in my friend Flora’s neighborhood. I asked Flora if she was interested in going. How lucky for me! She had already made plans to go, was getting discount tickets because she had a large enough group and did I want to join? Of course I did.

As we walked up to the stage, I became tingly with excitement. I have an affinity for the industrial among the natural. I’m not kidding here. A few years ago I impulsively took up welding after seeing the discoloured iron sculptures in the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens.

The Electric Hotel was a temporary structure consisting of shipping cargo crates and set among the beautiful monstrosity of Gas Holder 8, a bit of green space and St. Pancras station in the far far distance.

The Electric Hotel

We were given a set of binaural headphones as we entered that proved to be a major highlight. One actually felt like the splish splash of the rooftop pool was going on behind them. Several times during the evening I looked to my left and right to see where the voices were coming from, thinking “that’s so rude of the audience” only to discover that the noise I was experience was an intentional part of the show.

The audience was given a voyeuristic treat: a look into the private moments of the people staying at the Electric Hotel. This causes the viewer to consider the multitude of events going on simultaneously at any given moment and our limited capacity for absorbing and witnessing them.

The actual performance

The show was put together as a looping plot. Each loop allowed the viewer to grasp another relationship, situation or idea. The loops built upon one another as the characters danced, fought, loved, cried, plotted and eerily established their subconscious psyches. Just as one began to understand the storyline concept, the situation would become a bit more absurd.

At the end, our group left the theatre trying to grasp exactly what had happened. The experience felt poignant, although none of us could entirely agree why.

I look forward to other Sadler’s Wells shows. September 3-11 there is a show just about shoes. With a concept like that, it either has to be awful or genius. Considering my Electric Hotel experience, I’m leaning towards genius.

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Barclay Cycle Hire Station

I’ve been watching the Barclay’s cycle hire stations around town very closely. I had a great time riding a bicycle and sightseeing around Paris last year. I was very excited to have a similar system in my own city and neighborhood. I ordered keys from the TFL website and after a few phone calls to try and get my keys activated, we were finally able to use them.

You aren’t required to order a key from TFL as long as you have a credit card with a chip in it, which American credit cards don’t seem to have. The key cost a one time fee of £3 and it makes the process quicker and easier to hire the bike. The hire cost is £1 for a day’s access. Any number of journeys under 30 minutes are included in that price. If you keep the bike for more than 30 minutes you are charged additional fees. So if you are coming up on 30 minutes, you simply locate a bike station, return your bike and check it back out again. It’s important to note that you do not have to return the bike to the exact location of rental. There are bike stations located all over central London and you may return the bike to any of these locations as long as there is an empty space on the bike stand. Make sure the area you are traveling to is within the zone before you set off. TFL is extending the bike hire area but right now there is not very good coverage south of the river, west of Chelsea or in areas north like Highbury.

We set off on our bikes towards Covent Garden. Unfortunately, we arrived just as the shops were closing. All in all that was OK as the purpose of the trip was to try out the bikes and get some exercise and buying a new pair of blue trousers was secondary.

We stopped in to have some frozen yogurt at Snog, a psychedelically designed shop that’s just a little bit too proud of it’s suggestive name. A small cup with 1 topping will run you about £3.50. You get to choose from three flavors: plain, green tea or chocolate and loads of different toppings. We went with granola on green tea. The frozen yogurt was nice, but after a while the loud music and colors really got to us. Heading back out to the street seemed very calm and relaxing in comparison. I did like the lighting concept at Snog, however, if  I were the interior designer I would have gone a little easy with the bright pink wall. There is such a thing as too much.

Snog in Covent Garden, photo courtesy of Snog website

Bottom Line:

Barclay’s Cycle Hire –  Best way to get around London when the weather is nice.

Snog Frozen Yogurt – Decent FroYo in an overstimulating atmosphere.

Snog Pure Frozen Yogurt on Urbanspoon

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What’s London?

So we’ve made it. We are in London now. With internet too! A few months ago when we were packing up condos, calling moving companies and disconnecting our lives in Texas, this moment felt so far away.

So who am I? A yogi, a foodie, a writer, a recovering corporate American, an expatriate. I enjoy cooking, museums, traveling, reading, photography, creating community and blogging about it. You can check out my past adventures at Dining In Austin Blog.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, on to discovering London.

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