Monday, August 25, 2008

Chipmunk Chips for Sam!

Went to the Tate Modern yesterday to see the Street Art exhibit and the Cy Twombly retrospective. Both were amazing, but so was this packet of crisps in the snack shop. Sam and I share a love of all things small rodents, so this is for him!

Gone to the Dogs

Last weekend, I attended a momentous occasion: closing night at Walthamstow dog track.


The first time I heard that the British still had a dog track, and not only one but several, in the city limits, and that it was one of the most popular and cherished institutions in the city, I was appalled. I mean, really. British people are OBSESSED with animals; they banned fox hunting, cropping of dog ears and docking of dog tails, and it's a widely known fact that Brits would rather spend more time with their animals than with their fellow countrymen. So why, exactly, do they still race greyhounds, and consider going to the dog track such an event?

I can't answer that question, but early this summer the announcement came that Walthamstow, the city's favorite dog track deep in East London, would be closing to make way for a housing development. So I swallowed my disapproval (and my pride), and put visiting Walthamstow on my to-do list for the summer. Ashley and I went with friends last Saturday on what turned out to be the last night of races ever. It was mayhem, craziness, and a lot of fun. Not only was it exciting to watch, but the people watching was yet another exercise in my cumulative ethnographic education of the class system in England. Walthamstow's appeal crosses socio-economic strata; Brad Pitt supposedly loves the place, as do 14-year-olds who just earned their first paycheck and want to blow it on Carling and the dogs. I loved the hen parties and the old bookmakers, who have to inherit their stands from their fathers. There's one guy who has been making books since 1933!

Those who know me know my love of dogs, and, in the end, the best part for me was the pups. I figured out how to judge which dogs would win based on their anatomy (duh, that's what the standard is for) and was thrilled to see that they actually raced Afghan hounds there (who knew they could still do what they were bred to do?!) I don't know that I can get behind dog racing as a sport/hobby, but my night out at the track was quite thrilling. It is too bad that "the 'Stow" is shutting down, but I'm just glad I got to see it!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Islington Beach

This appeared on my street earlier this summer... I've only seen it open once or twice, and never in the evening or on the weekends when I would gladly pay a few pounds and sit on lounge chair with my toes in the sand. It's a shame, because I really miss the beach; I get really excited when someone trucks in a load of sand, dumps it in an urban center, and sticks a fake palm tree stuck in the middle of the lot, all to appease sun-starved urbanites. If you ask me, and no one is, this is a wasted opportunity!

Spice packaging for Rietje!

Waitrose's house brand spices... using the alphabet for coding. Sorry about the light setting... the colors are much more rich in person.


The weekend before my vacation, I did some sightseeing in the far eastern side of London - in Greenwich. Greenwich is home to the Naval College, the Greenwich Mean, and the Cutty Sark warship (which is currently under renovation). It was the first weekend of really lovely hot weather here in London, so you can see in my pictures here all of the pale Londoners who scurried out to sit in the sun and bake in the rare rays.

Greenwich is really cute, although there isn't much to do beyond the touristy stuff like standing on the Greenwich mean. It's a great place to take the 'rents when they visit (Mom, we can go if you like) but the park is really pleasant as well, and it was really great to see how far east the city actually stretches.


If you know me, you know I am serious about coffee. Only the best beans, only the finest grinds, preferably whole beans to grind at home moments before brewing, extreme pickiness and snobbery about ubiquitous coffee chains, and very specific rules about when to drink what. Just as fashionistas proclaim calendar rules for colors and shoe types, I religiously follow a doctrine of hot filtered coffee with cream and sugar from September/October through mid May, and iced lattes made with skim milk (preferably acquired at a farmer's market from the dairy farmer) during the warm spring and summer months.

However these rules, it seems, only apply to the eastern seaboard of the United States, where weather follows predictable hot-cold trajectories. Here in London, where the weather patterns are much more subtle and one 24-hour period can bring an meteorological smorgasbord, I've found myself breaking my own rules and craving sweet hot coffee more often than not. I tried to restrain myself, citing the coffee rules, but to no avail. And even worse, I've turned to the Americano.

Anyone who studied abroad as a student in a country known for coffee (ie, the rest of the world) was warned that you just won't find regular American coffee where you're going, and their alternative was stronger, more bitter, and hard to swallow. Filter coffeemakers are a rarity on this side of the pond, where everything from stove top Italian espresso pots to the French press to however the Dutch brew Douwe Egbert coffee rules. Europeans believe that the idea of running hot water over ground beans and drinking the filtered result is barbaric. So to appease American tourists, someone invented the Americano - espresso watered down with hot water. After witnessing the look of disdain that a follow countryman received when requesting an Americano at a bar in Italy, I quickly resolved to stick with what the locals drank (when in Rome and all that) and swore off the Americano without even trying it.

Until now.

In England, known not for coffee but tea, you can't get a filter coffeemaker either unless you mortgage your home and shell out upwards of £40. The Brits are excellent at importing and adopting what they don't themselves have, and went straight for the moda d'Italia of coffee selections. They also serve hapless American tourists Americanos - with less derision over the menu choice and more of a general air of superiority. So what was this American to do, craving hot filtered coffee, but with no place to get it?! (Starbucks being out of the question as, really, one can only break one rule at a time). So I tried it. And I LIKED IT! The Americano has the rich, full taste of espresso, with the drinkability of filtered coffee. And it takes skim milk much better than American filtered coffee, so I don't have to moan about the lack of Land o'Lakes Fat Free Half+Half. And it's fun to make!

So although I recently acquired a filter coffee maker from a friend who left London to return to the States, I think it might lie dormant for a while yet as I revel in the joys of the watered-down coffee created for weak American tourists like me.


One of my most annoying traits is that even with a baby hangover, like the one I have this morning, I cannot sleep past 7am after a night of drinking. So I'm up stalking the house with not enough energy to do anything remotely useful, but there is no way I can go back to sleep.

This is what the internet is good for. I have been sitting here for about 2 hours stalking people on Facebook, learning the latest goss about Brangelina's ridiculous commune of children, and FINALLY LEARNING THAT BARACK OBAMA CHOSE BIDEN FOR VP.

I've been waiting with baited breath for this news all week, and I'm quite pleased with the decision.

So now I will retire to my couch with my laptop and coffee, as my brain has sufficiently woken up for me to read the indepth and exhaustive analysis on

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

There's something fishy about this...

It's called, cooking fish you don't know about. One of my favorite things to cook is fish en papillote. It's a really easy and tasty way to cook fish, consisting of putting a fillet in a piece of parchment paper (or tinfoil if you're cheap like me) with vegetables, spices... pretty much anything you want. You cook it for about 10 min on 400 deg F, and the fish cooks in its own juices and the spices you include. It's best with a light, delicate fish like tilapia or sole.

I realized the other day that I don't really eat fish here unless it's fried, so I decided today that I would make a quick easy papillote dinner tonight. Only, its been about a half hour. I'm currently sitting on the broken chair in my kitchen (the one where you fall through the seat if you slide around too much) staring at my oven. For starters, tilapia and sole are unknown in Britain. They must be farmed mostly in the States, or more warm-watered fish. The best I could do is get a loin of haddock. I'm sure I've eaten haddock before, but I've never cooked it - so I don't know what "done" looks like. After the first 10 minutes, the fillet still looked like jelly, so I stuck it back in for another 5. I also consulted to find out that 400 deg F is 200 deg C - something I should have probably discovered before I started cooking. (Nevermind that the cooking instructions on the fish wrapping said 180 deg C)

I last checked about 10 minutes ago, and I was peeved about this whole situation. But then I thought to myself, man, Danielle, you've had it EASY lately. Things are going WELL. You should stop having a WHINGE because guess what, you live in a foreign country. Just because they speak English doesn't make them American, and doesn't make this automatically your HOME.


So, carrying on with this bloody fish, and hopefully I don't die of food poisoning when I finally deem it done.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Cockney Rhyming Slang

I have no explanation for this shit. I don't understand it, it's crazy, and Brits just accept it and use it as if it's normal to rhyme words with other words that have no related meaning and use that new word to stand for what they wanted to say. GOT THAT? The apparent origins of Cockney slang were shysters trying to confuse police in the pub, and talk about their scams in code, but their wordplay has entered British lexicon and it's completely incomprehensible to foreigners.

Try to understand it, if you can, by reading this.

You okay?

For a while now, I've been wanting to share some ridiculous British slang and phrasing. So here's one that I encounter every day and it never ceases to cause me discomfort. In the US, if someone asks another person if s/he is "okay" - as in, Are you OK? - the connotation is one of concern because you probably look NOT OKAY. Like, worried, like you might puke, uncomfortable, hungover, maybe your mascara is smudged because you just woke up from a nap at your desk at work or you have a piece of toilet paper hanging out from your skirt (none of these things have happened to me, PS, I'm just being creative). But here in London, if someone says "You OK?" to me, THEY ARE JUST SAYING HI. It's the British equivalent to "What's up". And because that is its meaning, the acceptable responses are "OK, you?", "I'm OK, you OK?", or as Mark put it to me when I queried him on this topic - "A simple nod of the head will suffice". I'm still trying to get the hang of, as I'm rushing into work (late) in the morning, responding to "You OK?" with "You OK?" instead of a huffing explanation for oversleeping.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

My Best Friend's Wedding: Chicago

After weeks of anticipation, planning, and shopping, the epic 10-day holiday spanning 2 continents was finally upon me. I cleaned my house, packed my bags, and left my apartment exactly at 7:30AM to make my 11:20AM flight at Gatwick. Eight hours later, I was in O'Hare and boarding the blue line El train to downtown Chicago.

I stayed one night at the Millenium Knickerbocker Hotel off of the Miracle Mile, right on Lake Michigan. The hotel was under renovation, so the lobby was kind of ugly and the carpeting worn, but the room was quite nice. Small, but with an excellent bed and flat screen tv. The highlight, however, was the rainwater shower head... amazing. Unfortunately, the setup of the bathroom was such that as you stood under the shower you were watching yourself in the mirror; any latent body images I ever have were definitely brought back to the fore as I washed my hair.

Anyway! After my rainwater shower, I had to eat before I fell off my feet. The concierge suggested a sushi place on Rush Street, which turned out to be a really nice little strip of restaurants, bars, and clubs. I sat at the sushi counter, ate some seaweed salad, gyoza, a nice roll, and had a cocktail that tasted like a Shirley Temple but made me sway when I got up to leave. On my way back to the hotel, I stopped into a CVS and did the first of my US shopping - soap, deodorant, tampons, some sunscreen, and a few other odds and ends came to $55 and about 3 lbs additional weight to my suitcase. Nothing makes me happier than a good CVS trip, and I stumbled back to my pillowtop King mattress to sleep off the flight.

The worst part about traveling, however, is jet lag, which for me ended up being the inability to sleep past 7AM. Every day. So Friday morning I was up and out of the hotel at 7:45 and sightseeing by 8:30. I walked from the hotel to the shore of Lake Michigan, over the river, into downtown, and then did some more shopping. I had to be on a 2:30 train out to the suburban location of the wedding, so at 1PM I picked up my suitcase from the hotel and stopped into a nail salon for an excellent mani/pedi (lasted over a week!) and then headed to Union Station. A mere 25 minutes later, I was dropped off in Downers Grove and a cab took me to the Doubletree. I guess all Doubletrees are suites, so I had like a small apartment for just me, and I made a nice big mess in all of the rooms pretty quickly.

Friday night was a party for Rick's family and guests. It included a few Indian rituals that his family was kind enough to explain for all of us. Rick sat under a canopy held by the women while they rubbed a powder into his skin and chanted. We all got a chance to do it, and the boys of course used it as an opportunity to be cruel the way all dudes do. Then the women danced with these pots that held lit candles on their heads, and the men started lifting Rick up on their shoulders. All this merriment was interrupted for only an Indian buffet, and continued in a big dance party until about midnight.

Once the party was over, I had to go straight to bed because the next day's festivities started at 9AM sharp. And by 9AM, I mean that at 9:05AM 2 drummers started an amazing beat in the lobby of the Doubletree. Rick appeared in a turban and an amazing outfit, and the entire wedding party followed him and the drummers down to the wedding location down the road. Rick got on a horse a bit down the road, and rode up to the door of the conference center where the wedding was taking place. Anjali's family met us, and the men from both sides exchanged flower necklaces while the women on Anjali's side offered sweets. After much ritual, we entered the building for the first buffet of the day.

After the buffet, the first wedding ceremony began. Rick is Sikh, and Anjali is Hindu, so they had two marriage ceremonies. Each one was unique and special, and so interesting; their program explained the ceremonies and their meanings, which were really awesome – much more interesting than a Christian marriage ceremony. In between the ceremonies, we had coffee, and after the last ceremony there was another buffet. The whole thing ended at 3PM, and we had only 3 hours to digest and rest before the reception. I of course fell asleep and woke up an hour late, and I missed the cocktail hour (dammit!) but Le Dress and Le Shoes performed admirably - I was able to run up to the reception space right quickly!

The reception featured ANOTHER buffet, and six hours of Bollywood dance party complete with music videos projected on a screen. Le Shoes were so comfy - I danced in them for the entire night, and I had an amazing time. All of a sudden the lights came up and we headed for the after party, consisting of Rick's grandma dancing with us until 2AM. I went to bed around 4, which was a problem as my jetlag didn't allow for me sleeping past 7AM. After tossing and turning for 2 hours, I went to breakfast and said goodbye to people who were leaving; once I was fully caffeinated, I decided to head back into Chicago to see a bit more of the city. I took the train and walked up along the river, back to the blue line, and went out to Wicker Park - the "Brooklyn" of Chicago. I wandered about and did some more shopping and treated myself to a burrito. After about fours hours, I was about to pass out and headed back to the hotel. Two episodes of Law and Order and half of a PBS documentary later, I was asleep in my huge hotel bed and very very happy.

I woke up Monday to thunderstorms, and freaked out about my flight connections. After a hasty but loving goodbye to the newlyweds, I headed out to O'Hare for the next leg of my vacation adventure. Pictures, of course... here!

You know you're turning into your mother when...

… before you go on vacation, you have to deep-clean the entire house and do all of your laundry in order to properly enjoy your trip.


So after 5 days of Indian buffet, dancing, and sightseeing in Chicago, I endured a typical O'Hare flight delay and successfully got to Cleveland to make my overnight flight back to London. Once on the ground at Gatwick, I hopped on a shuttle to take me to the South Terminal for my flight to Alicante, Spain and my 5 day vacation visiting Jon and Ana.

People kept asking me where in Spain I was going, and I couldn't really answer. I'm sure Jon told me about a million times where he and Ana live but I never remember, and Jon told me to fly into either Murcia or Alicante. So when I arrived, Jon informed me that they live in neither Alicante or Murcia but Cieza, a small city in the region of Murcia and about 100 km northeast of the capital city of Murcia. Cieza has a population of about 40,000 and is easily walkable in less than a day. I spent most of the time there, with side trips to Jumilla (farther north into Wine Country), Murcia, Cartagena (old Roman city), and two days down at the shore in La Manga. The whole time, it was hot... 40-45 degrees Celsius. I don't know what that is in Fahrenheit, but it's hot. I sweat more this past week than ever before in my life.

Ana and Jon both bent over backwards to show me the region, despite having to work while I was there. I was very happy to sit at a cafe drinking a cafe con leche while they worked the morning, and meet them for lunch and siesta and sightseeing in the afternoon. Ana grew up in Cieza, and I was privileged to meet her family in the campo (countryside), in the town of Cieza itself, and to stay at her parents' shore house in La Manga, as well as meet her friends. I was also treated to some of the most amazing food I've ever had - snails, octopus, a dozen different kinds of sausages, freshly picked peaches, and of course, paella.

One of the best parts of the trip was the fact that every Spaniard I met thought I was Spanish; mothers and grandmothers all said I looked Spanish, my features were Spanish, and were disappointed I didn't speak Spanish. My Syrian Jewish family thinks our ancestors were pushed out of Spain during the Spanish Inquisition, and after hearing how Spanish I look, I guess its possible. All of the old ladies I saw looked like my Syrian grandmother and great-aunts and cousins, and even some of the food I ate reminded me of the vegetable dishes my grandmother cooks. I am really interested to now do research into Jews who left Spain in 1492.

Pictures of my trip are here... enjoy!

I'm back!

Due to unforeseen circumstances 2 weeks ago (aka, work), I had no time to post before I left for my 10-day summer holiday. But I'm back now and plan on posting up a storm tonight on many topics, not the least of which will be Chicago, my first Bollywood-style wedding, Spain, traveling, design, the Olympics...

Sheesh, I'm tired already.