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Posts Tagged ‘london’

For myself and a lot of Americans, Thanksgiving is a much bigger family holiday than Christmas.

This sentiment was not noticed until I started living in England where there is obviously no real celebration of Thanksgiving. Christmas in the UK is the major holiday and the month of December is full of many parties leading up to the event.

My view is different.

When working in the American corporate world, a week off of work is rare. Since I saw travel as an important life experience, I always used that week accordingly.

Thanksgiving, however, is a long weekend meant for families. You spend the day cooking real food, relaxing with your biological or adoptive family and trying to remind yourself of all you have to be grateful for.

Thanksgiving is the underdog. So much more wholesome than it’s greedy expensive sibling, Christmas.

When you are living abroad, things shift. Sure the grocery stores stock American food items including cans of french fried onions for your green bean casserole and free range turkeys, but you don’t get the day off work and the people around you don’t understand the holiday in its entirety.

Last year in London I decided to host a Thanksgiving dinner at my home. I had a friend visiting from the US who had brought along a friend of hers and a few other American and non American friends to invite over.

I envisioned a day full of cooking and sipping wine followed by lively conversation around the gorgeous dinner table in our conservatory. I spent time sourcing ingredients and pre-ordered my groceries online.

Thanksgiving Table

And then things just fell apart.

The girls staying with me had a massive fight the night before, leaving one of them missing until the next morning and when she did reappear they were not speaking.

My groceries were late. Really late. Which left me late to put the turkey in.

People’s schedules got delayed and I spent the day cooking alone with two house guests who were in a sour mood.

And as the weather was changing, the nights getting longer, people were more and more fatigued. Dragging their bones from across London to my house after a long day of work to have a few bites of turkey and leave.

So much preparation, and then it was over. The guests had given it their all, considering the situation. My expectations obviously needed to be adjusted.

I had made sure there were plenty of leftovers to take home, but few obliged. As I don’t eat turkey, there were to be turkey sandwiches for my husband for weeks to come.

“I tried to get a small one,” I reasoned.

“Next year can we just get a small chicken or a ham?” he asked.

“You’re lucky it wasn’t a tofurkey,” I answered.

So this year, we have done a major oops. Without the constant reminder that it is around the corner, we have made other irreversible plans that do not involve traditional Thanksgiving activities.

Maybe it will be better this way. We can celebrate the following Saturday. Gather together the few Americans we know across the island of Singapore and cook a turkey on our primitive gas fired camping stove that acts as our primary cooking device.

Or perhaps its time to redefine Thanksgiving and make it work for us. Afterall, the Australians spend Christmas having a BBQ on the beach. Maybe we trade in the warm cider and oven baked turkey for corn on the cob and champagne. Adapt. New traditions are all in the making.

Editor’s note: You’ll be happy to know that the primitive gas camping stove was eventually upgraded to a real stove complete with oven and burners.

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My interior designer friend, Kylie, tipped me off to this place. She had left London and was curious to how the design turned out. The answer is lovely, sleek and spacious featuring communal long tables, marble and fountains.

I’ve been before, but somehow seem to forget about it amongst all the other bakeries and eateries in Soho. I needed to grab a coffee and jot down some notes last Wednesday when all of a sudden it sprang to mind.

I entered and was confronted by what felt like miles and miles of amazing pastries and cakes, then pizzas, pastas and salads. I was in serious dilemma over what to order. I’m not kidding- it took me a good 10 minutes to decide where to spend my calories.

I think I chose well.

Princi, 135 Wardour Street, London, W1F 0UT
Telephone +44 (0)20 7478 8888,
Opening hours: Mon-Sat 08.00-00.00 Sun 08.30-22.00

Breakfast available — 08.00 to 11.00
Weekends — 08.00 to 12.00
Apperitivo — 17:00 to 19:00

Princi on Urbanspoon

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Rain and wind Sunday caused Londoners to ditch their damaged umbrellas while traveling on foot.

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I pass by the Bluebird Cafe on the King’s Road frequently. Often I have stopped to look at the menu, lingered and then walked by. It’s so hard to pass it by with that beautiful courtyard in the budding spring, but I just can’t reconcile it’s price-point on diner food. Erm, I mean, it’s just so Chelsea.

Perhaps it was my recent trip to the Design Museum and my new respect for Terence Conran and his projects, but more likely it was spotting the 2 courses for £10, 3 for £15 sign after a sweaty carb-killing workout that made me finally stop and get a table.

The atmosphere is quite fun with funky chandeliers, hodge-podge chairs and sleek lines. The building itself is an art deco former garage complex built for the Bluebird Motor Company in 1923 that sets the scene perfectly. Despite this, you can’t help but get the feeling that being in a diner to the target clientele here is a novelty.

Funky chandeliers and sleek lines

As a lone diner, I invoked the advice of the server on what to order. She advised that the pumpkin soup was spicy and that the prawn cocktail was popular. She also added that the coley goujons were highly recommended and mumbled when I asked about the spinach gnocchi.

Well, alright then. Lets split the difference. I’ll have the pumpkin soup and the coley goujons. Shit. Did I just order fish and chips? This is not helping me at all towards my goals of a.) losing weight and b.) eating more vegan.

The soup came and the waitress was dead wrong. That pumpkin soup was not spicy. It was actually quite bland save for the pumpkin seeds on top that added an important contrasting texture. The focaccia bread was fresh and soaked up the warm liquid nicely.

Not very spicy pumpkin soup

As for the goujons, they were delicious. I know it’s really hard to go wrong with fried food, but the batter was crisp and light on the tongue if heavy on the stomach. It was a true warm plate of comfort food.

Coley goujons.

There’s something to be said about this style of dining. There is usually some innovation to the dishes and like the decor, the lines of the food are sleek and neat. You are getting something calculated and well presented. But if you want something greasy spoon authentic, this is not it. For a true King’s Road diner with appropriate prices and ennui-ridden waitresses, head to the Stock Pot a few blocks down the road. It’s the kind of place where you can get a decent lunch at 10 am and no one bats an eye. I truly love the Stock Pot for that alone. Plus, a plate of chips there is equally delicious and costs £1.50 compared to the Bluebird’s £4. But if you are treating your girlfriend’s West London mother, new South Kensington business prospect, or random posh friend to a “casual” brunch, this is probably a good bet and chances are you’ll like the food too. Just don’t forget to slyly ask for the 2 for £10 menu, and trust me, you have to ask. Most of the menus conveniently have the insert missing.

The Bluebird Cafe is located at 350 King’s Road near Beaufort Street and is open Mon-Fri 12-2:30, 6-10:30; Saturday 12-3:30, 6-10:30 and Sunday 12-3:30 and 6-9:30.

Bluebird on Urbanspoon

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Grouplove at Relentless Garage, London, 28 Feb 2012

Oh wait where did Hannah’s head go?

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Grouplove at Relentless Garage, London, 28 Feb 2012

Oh good, there it is.

Great night. My personal favorite was Hannah’s belting out of Slow led into an amazing drum solo by Ryan. I left a glowing sweaty mess. I’ve wrote about them before here and stand by my words: really down to earth, nice people who deserve all the success in the world. I’ll add talented to the description too.

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If you’ve been around London and paying any vague amount of attention, you’ve probably heard something about the Designs of the Year exhibit at the London Design Museum. What? You’ve never heard of the London Design Museum? Well I guess neither had Justine when I suggested we go one afternoon, so scratch that first sentence.

It’s in a slightly undesign-y looking building near Tower Bridge on the Thames. In fact, it is housed in a former 1940’s banana warehouse, but this all to change with a slated 2014 move to the former Commonwealth Institute building in west London. The museum covers product, industrial, graphic, fashion and architectural design and was a brainchild of Terence Conran, who coincidentally has an exhibit dedicated to him on the entire first floor. The museum costs £10 for adults to enter, which feels a bit expensive in a city full of free museums, but is totally worth it if you are a design geek. Being slightly artsy with a background in product design, I felt like I fell well into this category. As for Justine, she had an upcoming date with a design and art book publisher, so naturally this would aid in the development of dinner conversation material.

Along the River Thames near the Design Museum

The current museum consists of only two floors, but to be honest this was perfect for my museum attention span. When I find myself at places like the Victoria and Albert or the British Museum, I try to see to too much and end up heady and overwhelmed. The Design Museum with a cup of coffee in the cafe and a peruse in the gift shop can easily be done in 2 hours.

As I mentioned before, the entire first floor was dedicated to Terence Conran. At the time, I had no idea who this bloke was, but turns out that’s because his contributions are so woven in to the London experience that I had been influenced by him without even knowing it. The  designer, restaurateur and retailer promoted a whole new style of interior design simplicity that reverberates today across the globe. Looking at his designs, I started wondering what things had looked like prior to this ubiquitous genre. “Like an old Granny’s house,” Justine had to remind me. In my head I tried to contrast clunky wooden furniture with heavily upholstered thick florals next to sleek clean lines and curves. Obviously I’ve spent too much time in London and not enough time at my Granny’s.

Clean Lines at the Design Museum

Teapots

In 1964 Conran opened the first Habitat and later went on to develop Heal’s. He was revolutionary in his displays as they were set up like actual living rooms, which not only taught people how designs could be arranged, but also allowed them to wander in and out of possibilities imagining them as part of their everyday life. I’m reminded of this scene from the movie 500 days of Summer.

And while we are here, shouldn’t we mention Ikea? Being founded in 1943, I can’t say that they’ve necessarily taken from Conran’s concepts, but clearly they must have influenced each other. Ikea, however, being more disposable and therefore a further step away from Granny’s living room.

Justine and I compared back and forth which Terence Conran restaurants we had been too. Most were a bit too expensive and highly appealing to the West London set. Nice area, but not quite what I consider innovative. But then again, there was a day when the King’s Road was full of Mary Quant innovation and Vivienne Westwood appeal. Funny how things evolve.

We next headed upstairs to view the 2012 Designs of the Year where my definition of design continued to expand and expand until I wasn’t quite sure what a designer is or does anymore. There was everything from a bicycle helmet that activates and extends only upon impact to a computer software program that mutates an image of your face into a creepy facsimile. Also included were an electric car, DIY design jelly shoes and elements from Kate Middleton’s wedding dress. In April, judges will chose seven winners from Architecture, Digital, Fashion, Furniture, Graphics, Product and Transport categories and one overall category winner.  I couldn’t even begin to guess who the winner would be. I left with my head spinning from so many ideas.

The Design Museum is located at 28 Shad Thames, London SE1 2YD and is open daily from 10am – 5.45pm. Last admission is at 5.15pm.

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The British Museum sat on my London bucket list for a long time. Luckily, it was on Sarah and Temi’s list too when they came to visit from Texas.

Walking up to the front doors I felt a tingle of excitement. Once inside I was blown away by the Great Court.

The Great Court

Other highlights included the section on ancient Greece, complete with opulent drinking cups depicting engagement in naughty lustful activities, Hokusai’s colour woodblock print, The Great Wave, which is on display until 8 January, and the Rosetta Stone.

The Rosetta Stone

This is one tourist attraction I won’t mind returning to, unlike the Changing of the Guard which I refuse to accompany any more visitors too. I’ll give you guys a map to that one and you can go on your own. 😉

The British Museum

The British Museum is free and open daily 10.00–17.30, Friday until 20.30.

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I always thought December was winter. White Christmases, pine trees, cold weather. If I would have thought about it, I might have logically matched up the changing seasons with the appointed dates and realized that winter doesn’t start until late December (December 22nd this year to be exact.) Or maybe I would have noticed the bright colored leaves crunching under my bike wheels and feet and known that it was autumn. In Texas, you can’t expect to align with the rest of the world’s ideas of a proper calendar so you just don’t try.

This is all part of the experience of living my first autumn/winter. It’s cold, y’all. And not in a “Oh I can’t go outside” kind of way. Just in a “It’s annoying to go outside” kind of way. The sun is scheduled to set at 3:50 pm. 3:50 PM! That’s still considered afternoon! Google kindly reminds me that is only 3 hours and 50 minutes from when I’m typing this and that sends a sense of panic up my spine. I can’t function under these ridiculous time constraints.

At work I get confused. I don’t know whether to answer the phone “good morning,” “good afternoon,” or “good evening.” I find myself jumbling them up, saying good evening in the afternoon and good afternoon in the morning. I catch myself midway through the greeting and what comes out sounds more like “good moraghdernoon,” to which the client replies “Uh…. hello?”

Please excuse me while I adjust to the existence of seasons.

We’ve installed special lightbulbs in our house to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder. I hope they start working soon.

The sun doesn’t seem to be travelling through the sky. It’s advising me to do the same, to stay close to home where things are safe. The low light filtered through the orange brown leaves and a foggy urban haze cause the entire cityscape to take on a dusky glow. Beautiful? Yes, but something else I can’t place my finger on too.

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War does not determine who is right – only who is left.

– Bertrand Russell

Women selling poppies outside of Westminster Abbey.

You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.

– Jeannette Rankin

War memorial outside of Westminster Abbey.

I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.

– Albert Einstein

Waiting for the veteran's parade at Parliament Square.

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Susie was back in London from France and she suggested I go check out the protests at St Paul’s Cathedral.

“I was impressed,” she said. “They are really organized.”

Susie should know. She’s done her share of NGO work.

I’d been meaning to go down there. It was on my to-do list, just like washing clothes,  scheduling an appointment with a dentist for a checkup, jogging every morning and finally getting my life in general order. But no, I really should do this. I need to educate myself and understand what is going on. The only way to do that is to actually get out of my routine and make it happen.

I arrived and realized Susie was right. They were organized.

I had expected to see the protestors the moment I got off the central line at St Paul’s Cathedral, but instead they were neatly aligned on the side. Once you arrived in the area, posters and banners containing political messages were prevalent, but most protestors themselves were at the general assembly meeting in front of the cathedral. After wandering around and spotting the kitchen where 3 meals are served daily, the library where books are freely loaned, the first aid tent, a music tent and the info centre, I decided to climb onto the steps of the cathedral and listen in.

Working group announcements were taking place. Since St Paul’s had been so kind as to let the protestors stay, it was strongly encouraged and required that all members cooperate with the cathedral’s requests. Certain hours of operation were to be respected. Safety and fire hazards were to be obeyed.

A leader from the media working group stood to announce that filming was going to take place. The good, bad and the ugly were all going to be recorded. If there was any ugly, it was not going to be edited out, no matter what the circumstance. “We need to be honest about everything,” he explained. “That is the only way to be the change we want to see.” Hands in the audience raised and were shook to express noiseless excitement and agreement.

Another working group leader stood up and took a vote regarding meetings with public officials. Several people in the crowd stood up to express their opinions. Anyone who wished to speak was allowed their time to talk with proper attention and respect. The debate continued on. What is our goal? Are we heading toward our goal without compromising? Is this a compromise that we feel OK making?

Oh my. Could this be the type of democracy I learned about in grade school? Where we all listen to each other and go forward with a majority consensus? Where we respect one another and focus on a common shared end goal?

It is true that I only dropped in for a few hours. The real trick at these things seems to be to stick with it without compromising your core values.

I left the general assembly in search of the Tent City University. This was what truly sparked my interest: a series of lectures given for free. I wanted to know more about the issues.

When I arrived, Anthea Lawson from Global Witness was giving a talk on the process that enables criminals and brutal dictators to outflow their money into the global tax haven network of banks.

Next up was academic Mike Neary to discuss different approaches to education. As a group, the room explored concepts and strategies for education and skill sharing.

A woman sat breastfeeding in the corner. Two school aged children entered with their dad and stood in the back. A middle-aged visually impaired woman came and sat on the cushion next to me. The people in the room were from all over and represented various socio-economic backgrounds, ages, colours and life circumstances.

I left for the day more knowledgeable of our social system and with an understanding of what #OccupyLSX was all about.

I thought about how I could stay and learn for quite a long time. I then thought about my life and how I was a bit eager to get back to it. I have a lot of respect for those who have relocated here away from their comfy beds  or those who commute in and give up their days to organize and run such a long-term event.

If you have some spare time, I recommend a visit. Even if you are unsure about the movement or don’t care to volunteer, they are happy to have you stop in and learn.

Knowledge is power and truth is love, y’all.

OccupyLSX has expanded to include Finsbury Square. Check out the organization website to find a schedule of events or how to get more involved.

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