Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Kitchen terms

A link from Kat... here are British kitchen terms that make cooking somewhat confusing. Also odd is how Brits use kitchen scales. Obviously they weigh food... but why? Can someone explain?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

I found Les Shoes.

So, after weeks of searching, including miles walked all over London and hundreds of stores perused, I gave up and gave in and purchased shoes to go with Le Dress. From a shop next door to my house. Yes, I know.

I'd see these shoes all summer and thought they might be a good fit, but on a whim today I took Le Dress with me and tried them on. They fit perfectly and, since they're a wedge, I can walk for miles in them. They were the last pair and on the third price reduction, so I just took them.

I spent more on them than I wanted, and am a bit peeved that they're shopworn (and that the shopgirls wouldn't give me anymore ££ off for that reason), but I'm content that I found shoes for Le Dress and can now spend the next 2 weeks getting excited for my trip, rather than scurrying around hating everyone in my way while I tracked down an elusive £25 pair of perfect heels.

This Jersey Girl has met her match.

Every Jersey girl prides herself on her ability to maneuver a shoe sale. Cutting your teeth at Macys, moving up to Lord & Taylor's, culminating with Saks and Bloomie's, by the time you're my age, you're a seasoned pro at spotting the best items, elbowing your fellow shopper out of the way, trying a shoe on by balancing on one foot, and maximizing coupon sales.

London, however, is a whole new ballgame. I went to Selfridges last weekend to try on shoes for Le Dress, and was confronted with the biggest shoe challenge of my life. The Selfridges shoe sale is not just random brands; I had Marc by Marc Jacobs, Vivienne Westwood, and Prada shoes on my feet. It wasn't just Londoners; I was angling for the shoes and grabbing items amongst a host of women of myriad nationalities - there were so many languages being spoken that it made my head spin. Just as a New Jersey department store shoe sale might have haphazard disorganization (size 9s randomly in the 7.5s), this shoe sale had the added water feature of shoe size conversions - I've found that I can fit in anything from a 4 to a 5.5, and if its a European brand, a 37, 38, or 39, depending).

I gamely held my own in the fracas, but left empty-handed; a Jersey girl's golden shoe rule is to never spend more on the shoes than on the dress, and despite a gorgeous pair of Fendi strappy sandals, £150 (on sale) was just a little too much to break the rule for.

Sistering from Across the Atlantic

Those of you who know me know there is a DZ 1 (me) and a DZ 2 (my brother). The numbers mean nothing beyond birth order. I came first, and three years later my brother wrecked the monopoly I had on the pantry.

When asked to describe DZ 2, I usually say we are really similar, nearly the same person, only exact opposites. If you can figure out that wordplay, you've got a pretty accurate picture.

DZ 1 and DZ 2 are pretty close, but I am reminded of how we got to be even closer when I went to college. The same thing is happening now. Even though we don't talk on the phone, we email more and I am being asked a lot more questions than I did when I was in New York. Rather than absence making the heart grow fonder, it's more like, absence makes the sister look smarter.

It's harder, however, to be a good, supportive role model with a 5 hour time difference and lack of real-time communication. I hope it will get easier with Skype and such, but I'm not betting on it. I am, however, looking much more forward to seeing the brat at Christmas time; somehow, I feel like his annoyingness will be much more charming after not seeing him for eight months than it would had I still be stateside.

First house guest: Emily!

The first house guest award goes to Emily, my friend from SU who is a graphic designer in San Francisco. The flat was her last stop on a whirlwind two-week tour of Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales.

Emily and I did some damage at nearby cocktail bars Friday night, boutiques on Saturday, and dinner-in-the-dark on Saturday night. It was great to have a design person to check out the quirky home-goods shops with me, as I know not everyone enjoys looking at brightly colored molded plastic chairs and tea-towels with screenprints on them. Emily got an amazing pair of dangly crystal earrings, and consulted on the shoe-search for Le Dress, before returning to Mel's house to pack for her 14-hour flight back to SF. Bon voyage, Em, and come back soon! xxx

Restaurant Review: Dans Le Noir

Last night, Mel, my friend Emily (more on that in a minute), and I went to dinner at Dans Le Noir, a concept restaurant where you eat in complete darkness. The first restaurant opened in Paris and employs blind waiters, and there are now restaurants in London and Moscow. The place is actually right across from my office in Clerkenwell Green, so when Mel and Em told me where we were going I knew I had seen it before.

The point of the restaurant is to enhance your other four senses to increase your eating experience. You aren't told what you're going to eat, and there is no menu; before you enter the dark dining room (dark = pitch black), you are asked to choose from menus - white can be any meat, blue is seafood, red is red meat, and green is vegetarian. You can also have 2 or 3 courses - starter and main, main and dessert, or all three. Wine is also an option, as well as cocktails and beer, and are chosen for you to complement your menu.

When you enter the dark dining room, they group parties together to form tables of 8. Mel, Em, and I joined a procession with two other parties, and we followed Takashi, our waiter, with our right hands on the shoulders of the people infront of us. We were led down a dim corridor and into pitch blackness, and seated at a long table. For the first 10 minutes I really freaked out; Takashi seated Mel and Em next to each other and then put me to the side, seated a few other people, and then led me around to the other side of the table so that I was facing Mel. Just standing there alone, not knowing where I was going to go, was awful. Once I sat down, however, and ate some bread, I felt much better.

Eating the entrees was fun, because you have no idea how the food is placed on the plate or in what proportion (how much of one thing to another). I had ordered blue, for seafood, and was pleased to find I had cod, giant shrimp, mashed potatoes, fennel, and something that tasted like sauerkraut. I was able to eat with a fork, which got harder as there was less food on my plate, but it was relatively easy once I developed a system for understanding where things were located and how to get them on the fork (the clock/time directions were helpful). Dessert was not so good, as there was something fruity and Jello-y that was pretty nasty, and not enough chocolate for our group's taste.

The time in-between courses was too long, and not being able to see my companions' faces was really hard for me. I also feel like I missed out on hilarity, as Em said she ate most of her food with her hands and had sauce all over her face. We had wine with dinner, but definitely needed another drink after the whole experience. We left the dark dining room and it was a relief to be able to see again. I was spot on with my assessment of my meal; the gross dessert was mango custard (yuck), and our wine was a rose which none of us expected (we had guessed Chardonney or Sauvignon Blanc).

Overall, it was an experience I'm glad I had, and would recommend to adventurous sorts, but I don't think I would ever replicate. I will also now eat more carrots to ensure I protect my vision.

Guided tour of my new flat

I know this is the moment you've all been waiting for... a guided tour, in pictures, of my new apartment. I took these at 10AM, so there is great light - so much so, infact, that a lot of the photos are a bit washed out. The decor is rental chic; clean, sophisticated cream shades with bursts of color. Please note that the sheets on my bed are NOT the wonderful luxury organic cotton, but a second set that I got that are just ordinary Egyptian cotton (very nice as well). If you look closely, though, you'll see the luxury duvet cover draped over the door to the lounge, as that is the preferred British method for drying large linens. Click here, and enjoy!

Apple iPhone hits London

So, last Friday the Apple iPhone launched. Every hipster/techno-geek lined up for it, as evidenced by this photograph of the O2 store in my neighborhood – I snapped it at 9:05AM on my way to work. I thought I would be in that line, waiting like a fool, but I found myself on July 8th, the day you could start placing order for the phone, still unconvinced. Even though its half the price, and even though it's lighter, has 3G, etc, etc, I'm still not sure it's the best deal. I really want one - having GPS and a Google Maps at your fingertips in a city as big as London would be amazing - but I'm JUST NOT SURE. Plus, here in the UK, you're locked into an 18-month contract for about £35 per month, and I know there are better deals to be had. I'm thinking I might wait even until Christmas to buy one in the States, and have it unlocked. Stay tuned.


I realize I've been slacking on the blogging front. I'm going to try to make a better effort...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Best American Invention

If you know me, you know that the best way to my heart is to make me this.

It is the one American export that Brits have not embraced fully... the melty chocolate goodness of the mighty chocolate chip cookie.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Speaking of getting fleeced, but not getting an umbrella out of the deal...

I lost my umbrella at some point a few weeks ago. This is not surprising. I go through umbrellas like people go through napkins. I've successfully navigated the raindrops without getting soaked until this morning, when it was evident I wouldn't make it to work without getting drenched. I got as far as the tube station and bailed out to Boots, the British equivalent of CVS, figuring I'd get a cheap umbrella there.


BLOODY £10 for a freaking UMBRELLA.

This thing better last me at least through the rest of the year!!!!

TV Tax

Last weekend's big news was literally big: I bought a 32" TV. I've never actually owned a tv before, let alone purchased one, so this was a big deal (pun intended). A friend found the set on sale super cheap at my favorite British store, Argos, and I picked it up and took it home in a cab for my roommate to deal with. She set it up, and now we get a gazillion channels and lots of reruns (they even get Law and Order reruns here!).

To my dismay, however, despite the deal I got on it, I am still getting screwed. Why? Because everyone who owns a TV has to pay TV TAX. That's right. £140 per year for me to get basic TV; the tax pays for BBC1,2,3,4 and the radio stations - BEFORE paying for cable! It's like supporting NPR or PBS but YOU DON'T HAVE A CHOICE.

I suppose the only upside is that here, you're spared the awful telethons and fundraising weeks that NPR and PBS torture you with twice a year; no waking up to "if you enjoy the critical reporting and enlightening stories that WNYC bring to you free of charge", guilting listeners by reminding them that they'll shell out $5 for Starbucks coffee every morning but are too cheap to pay for quality radio programming. Here, you just have to pay.

BUT! When you do succumb to the guilt that NPR and PBS inflict upon you, you get a little something to pacify you a bit longer - subsidized subscription to the New Yorker, a Bruce Springsteen CD, a tote bag, etc. Where is my bloody totebag! Or umbrella?! The Brits haven't figured out that form of bribery yet.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

4th of July

It was hilarious to be an American in London on the 4th of July, otherwise known as Independence Day. There were a lot of jokes about beating up British people in pubs, pissing on the Unionjack, and guns (the gun jokes came from the Brits themselves). The oddest thing, though, was that in the office, the Brits kept saying "Happy 4th of July!" to us Americans - kind of like one might say "Merry Christmas!" to a co-worker. It made me stop and think, because in the US, a) one is not at work on the 4th, b) one usually uses the holiday as an excuse to either get drunk or go on vacation or both, and c) it's easy to forget that the holiday is to commemorate a nation beating its oppressor. Not many Americans today can trace their roots back to those who fought in the Continental Army, but it's fascinating to think that a whole culture of people celebrate that victory because it established the American nation we know today. Being in a foreign country on that day made me realize that Americans really do forget the meaning and symbolism behind our national holidays; it should be interesting to experience British holidays, and see if the Brits are any different.

And, for all who are wondering, I went to the pub on July 4th and got wasted. As per usual.

My Best Friend's Wedding

Some of you may know, others not, that my first trip back to the states since moving to London will be to attend my best friend's wedding in Chicago. I know that it's somewhat trite to say you have a "best friend," but Rick is pretty much exactly that. We've been friends since we met in French class in 1996, which means about 12 years now. He knows everything about me, doesn't judge, fields tearful phone calls, and despite our distance he's done a good job of making sure we're still as close as possible.

All this means that of all the weddings I have, and will in the future, be invited to, I cannot miss this one. It's costing a small fortune in dollars - hardship in pounds - for me to get there, and once I'm there I'm going to use it as an opportunity for me to stock up on non-liquid American items (hello, Kraft macaroni and cheese!) But before I even get on a plane, I have to acquire a very important item: the dress.

Now. Rick and his fiancee are Indian, and their wedding is going to be something out of a Bride and Prejudice-esque Bollywood spectacular. I need not only 1, not only 2, but 3 different dresses for the weekend (in addition to clothes for other events, like a Cubs game). Since shopping is one of my favorite past times, I've already been looking for a dress mock-seriously; during my travels down Marylebone High Street and Oxford Street, I've kept an eye out for good evening dresses that are appropriate for a special shindig. But now that Rick told me what I'm supposed to show wearing, the search kicked into high gear.

Coinciding with the search is the summer sale season. When I lived in Italy for the summer, the best month of the year was July when everything went on sale. Same thing here. Camper Shoes are all cut by 30%, all of the stores slash prices on all the summer stock, and there are lots of bargains to be had. Today I ventured into Selfridges for their sale, and it was worse than the big Barneys sale. Of course everything on sale was not in my size, and if it was it wasn't very pretty. So after about 2 hours I nearly lost my mind, and decamped for Regents Street. There, in the big Ted Baker, I found the Perfect Dress. Dove grey, iridescent beading, cut outs on the back, perfect length. It wasn't TOO expensive, but of course it wasn't on sale.

Rick's instructions were "sexy dress" for his wedding reception, so that's what he's getting!