Thursday, October 30, 2008

My Perfect Saturday Roundup!

You might have noticed a few weeks back, I wrote up my perfect Saturday (Sunday, always have to be different) as part of Londonelicious' quest to find out what bloggers who eat like to do on their day off. She's now compiled everyone's responses, so take a look:

A few weeks ago, Krista from Londonelicious put the call out to London bloggers: What's your idea of a perfect Saturday in London? The American girl who likes food and London but not cooking wined and dined her way around town and wrote about it here in the post that kicked it all off.

Others quickly followed, posting their idea of a perfect Saturday in London. So whether you've always lived in London, or whether you're just visiting for the weekend and want to experience London as a local, here's some inspiration for you and all of your Saturdays. Now get yourself out there and explore!

ML at SPAstic, Tales from a London Spa takes you around South Kensington and Notting Hill for a culture-filled day that ends in Holland Park.

Su-Lin at Tamarind & Thyme gets some culture and shopping in as she trolls central London, imagining the riches she deserves.

Two entries from Mini-et-moi, a great site for modern mums in London. Sarah takes in Marylebone and The London Transport Museum while Michelle explores in the South Bank, tots in tow.

Gourmet Chick hits all the foodie haunts--Ottolenghi, high tea at The Ritz, and Borough Market.

Danielle at Bloody Brilliant starts with a full English and then heads east to explore Brick Lane and Spitalfields.

Over at Gourmet Larder, Gregory begins his day in Borough and then works his way south through Clapham and Vauxhall.

Leah from Curiosity and The Cupcake arrives at Broadway Market bright and early and then enjoys a leisurely stroll through Victoria Park and east London.

Christine over at If Music Be The Food of Love has a musical slant to her day as she explores Hampstead and hits the town with her idol.

Blogger Priyanka begins at Cafe au Lait in Brixton and ends her day at Meson De Felipe and The Beehive in Borough.

Another blogger choosing to start around Borough Market. Helen at Food Stories kicks off her Saturday with a visit to Tower Bridge, wanders over to Borough and then ends her day with a visit to Shunt and by checking out Dinner in The Sky.

Lizzie of the eponymous Lizzie Eats London is very busy geographically and takes us through Blackheath, North Greenwich, Trafalgar Square, Belgravia, Shoreditch, Whitechapel, and then back to Shoreditch.

Charles of London guide and his own blog, Grumblemouse, spends his perfect day in Islington, The City, Borough Market, Greenwich, and Shoreditch.

And finally, new-to-the-scene Liz (of Liz Does London, not to be confused with Lizzie above) hits Chelsea, Hyde Park, Notting Hill, and Parson's Green.

I think that's everyone. Thanks to all the great bloggers who contributed their perfect Saturday. Please feel free to republish this post on your own blog and add your own perfect London, or elsewhere.

Thank YOU, Krista!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

First snow!

It SNOWED last night in London! It left about 2" on my balcony railing before melting by morning, but it was magical nonetheless. It makes the onset of bitter winter cold that much more tolerable, and I am hopeful for more. It certainly makes up for the absolute DEARTH of snow that fell in New York over the past two years...


If you watch British TV a lot, as I do, you might notice everyone wearing a red paper flower. I did, and I asked my co-workers what these silly red flowers meant. They're not silly at all, it turns out; they are to mark Remembrance Day, which is the same thing as America's Veteran's Day. Clearly, it is centered around remembering soldiers who fought in THE WAR (WWII) because Britain doesn't really talk about any other war (except perhaps THE GREAT WAR (WWI) but not many soldiers are left from that fight). The poppies are given out when you donate to the British Legion.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

US politics from this perspective

To follow up from my earlier post imploring America to vote, I thought I might share some of what I've noticed about America and American politics since moving to London. It's been nearly five months (!!! I KNOW), and I'm still confronted every day with a new understanding of myself, my country, and the world-at-large.

Let me start out by saying that Britain, and I'm sure the rest of western Europe, is very concerned about the US presidential election. BBC News has a segment on every news cast with a countdown to election day and has reporters following each candidate on the trial. There are special programs and documentaries about the US election system, the candidates, our political history, what the parties mean and stand for... as one anchorwoman ("presenter") said in an ad ("advert") last night: "We can't vote in this election, but its outcome will surely affect us and the rest of the world." Britons might not want to stay up all night and watch election returns hosted by Anderson Cooper on CNN with me, but they sure as hell will be waiting with baited breath to buy their newspaper first thing on November 5th.

Someone in my office asked me a few weeks ago "Can Obama really NOT win"? My reply was, Sadly, yes. From this perspective, and it's always been my personal perspective, Obama is the clear choice and a no-brainer. Britons, my Dutch clients, and other western Europeans I've come in contact with here all find it very perplexing that America and Americans can be so deeply divided on issues to the effect that a non-numerical majority could hand a victory to John McCain and Sarah Palin in November. Barack Obama's stature, composure, demeanor, and attitude fit in here; Europeans can relate to him. They are interested in his background, to be sure, being half-black, half-white, but they are judging his words and actions more than his pedigree: his middle name does not raise eyebrows, his supposed connection to a former terrorist seems irrelevant, and, to be honest, I think that everyone here feels like Obama is the sort of chap you can invite over for dinner and have a pleasant evening with and not worry he'll do something stupid – unlike our current President and the potential new VP-ette.

Because when it comes down to it, what I've noticed the most since moving here is that western Europe is waiting for America to grow the fuck up. America is like their littlest sibling who showed great promise by inventing a lot of stuff, getting good grades, and making a ton of money, but like any youngest, it works hard, plays hard, throws tantrums, has fits, gets greedy, jealous, and often cries foul at the littlest slight; it lacks the perspective and understanding of its' elders who have been around, seen a lot, and can process complex meaning without immediately pointing fingers or laying blame; yet at the same time, its' lack of history allows to go places and do thing its' older siblings would never dare attempt. I think the biggest misconception, though, is that western Europe is shutting America out, or has some superiority complex - on the contrary, it WANTS America in the sandbox, but frankly, only if it's going to behave itself. And for the last several years, it hasn't.

A lot of that bad behavior, in my opinion, stems from America's politicians trying to negotiate America's identity crisis. That is the single most difficult situation for me to watch from afar. It's like once I left America and turned around to view it from the other side of the Atlantic, all of its' political nuances drained away and the nation became one entity; my understanding of it as a union of 50 disparate states, each with its own individual personality and culture, got pushed to the back of my brain and I realized that my personal tolerance and rationalization of "Northern industrial attitudes" and "Midwestern values" and every other political persona that struggles for dominance in America is an insular characteristic of all Americans.

Of course other countries, western European or not, have broadly ranging political views; even Canada has one province that repeatedly demands to secede. But no country has such divided politics, especially along religious, financial, and social issue lines. Europeans are shocked by the US map that shows blue coasts and a solid red interior. They don't quite comprehend the roots of the chasm that splits an Easterner from a Midwesterner. I think much of their confusion can be explained by the traditional 2-party system to which the US clings; in much of Europe, multi-party coalition governments represent a range of views and stances on myriad issues important throughout each nation. The American 2-party system forces politicians to shoe-horn themselves into party structures that are either out-of-date, too vague, or too corrupt for voters to take them seriously. A politician shouldn't apologize for being overtly liberal, or for being radically conservative. The nation is too large and too complex for only two parties to represent it; if countries as big as New York state have support several parties to represent all of the political views of its citizenry, why can't America?

America's superiority complex about its own system of government is a perfect example of its role as little sibling. From this side of the Atlantic, American pride in its system of government feels like an immature boast: only American democracy is real democracy, while European democracies are bloated, paternalistic, intrusive, and lacking in real participation from the citizenry. Yet we all know that the Electoral College itself is a barrier to full American participation in government, and I can't tell you how many times I've stumbled through a botched explanation of how it works. As one reads newspapers and watches television news programs documenting the antics of the US Congress, though, American democracy looks like a 2-ring circus.

In the end, living in a foreign country both exposes a person to a new culture and reveals truths about one's home country. It can be hard having to defend the US to critics and those who don't believe in the founding tenets of the nation. But I've also rediscovered my pride in my homeland. Currently the BBC is airing a 6-part series where comedian and savant Stephen Fry visits all 50 states in a black cab. His thoughtful commentary and analysis, voiced over beautiful images of the vast American landscapes and cityscapes, brings tears to my eyes every time, and I'm so proud for it to be the place I came from. The series is reminding me of all the wonderful things about America – its grandeur, its quirkiness, its patchwork of people and opinions. Most of all, the people that Stephen Fry is interviewing are amazing examples of the possibilities that exist in America if you have the desire to grab them.

I think that one of the reasons why Europeans are so excited about Obama is that finally he DOES represent the good parts of America. He shows the world that maybe America is ready to stand up straighter, stop fighting itself, and present itself as a unified nation, perhaps even acting its age.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

VOTE, you twits

Today, I was reminded, marks the final 2 weeks before the US Presidential election. Today, I also voted.

Way back in June, I requested an absentee ballot from Brooklyn but I still haven't received it. Worried about the time and the Warden's message on the US embassy website that I should have voted by Oct 14, I downloaded an Emergency Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot. I put it in the mail today, and if I get my Brooklyn absentee ballot in the meantime, I'm to send that as well.

DK, my token Friend In Politics, chided me for not calling Brooklyn's Board of Elections and asking where my ballot it. I did call, but didn't get through after 3 minutes of a phone tree. At this point, I sort of gave up - New York will swing for Obama, and my vote, if it ever gets there and is actually counted, won't (really) matter. But in the end, it's the principle of the matter.

This is taking a lot more work than just standing in line at my polling place and pulling the lever to exercise my right, as an American citizen, to vote. I am annoyed by this process, and now have a sense of what it must feel like (in a very peripheral way) to be disenfranchised. If I stay here for an extended period of time, will I have to go through this for EVERY ELECTION?

So. Grumbles aside, I voted, I wrote in BARACK OBAMA/JOSEPH BIDEN on my absentee write-in ballot, put it in a security envelope, which got shoe-horned into another envelope, and mailed it off. Now you homekids back in the States who have the luxury of the polls being open from 9am-9pm on November 4th better go vote too.

Followup: Read Jezebel's post about voter disenfranchisement. I found my emergency absentee ballot here: somehow I feel this website is part of the Help America Vote Act provisions. I hope my ballot actually gets counted…

Followup II:
Even Ben & Jerry want you to vote! So DO IT!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

If one more British woman asks me if NYC is just like it looks in SATC…

I'm going to scream.

It's not that it is or isn't, it's that it was for some people and now isn't for anyone.

Sex and the City came out around 2000, 2001ish: the nascent days of the latest reincarnation of the (doomed) Gilded Age. New York was moving at the speed of light, gobbling up capital and pumping cash into a machine that spawned every imaginable service and boutique. Did you want to get some obscure kind of cat and then give it a relaxation pedicure once a week? Sure, that service existed - and if it didn't, you can bet it would shortly. For a small minority of people in New York, the Sex and the City lifestyle, though completely absurd and extremely ridiculous, was their reality for most of the early Naughts.

And, to be honest, the rest of us wanted it. And we did manage to mirror it on a much lower scale: we didn't spend $15 on a single cocktail every time we went out, or wear Manolos, or have financiers picking us up at our walk-ups in cars with their own drivers. Instead, we got dressed up in our very best H&M and treated ourselves to one extremely cher cocktail at a very chic-chic nightspot, and then went downtown to some dive bar and drank $2 PBRs until we stumbled to a subway or splurged on shared cabs to make our ways to our shared railroad apartments in Brooklyn.

It's not just that I was in my early 20s and just starting out; it wasn't that I didn't want to date suave, emotionally unavailable financiers; Sex and the City represented an idealized portrait of such a small minority of women in New York for such a finite period of time, that it can only be fantasy. I always mocked the Midwestern ladies who came to New York with their stilletos for girls weekends, trying to emulate Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte; they thought those characters were the epitome of New York women, and the New York way of life.

And therein lies the crux of the problem: no four archetypes can accurately portray all women in one city, and one television show can accurately portray life in a city as dynamic as New York for all time. It boggles my mind that women are still asking me today if New York is like New York in SATC, when the world is so vastly different from that moment of time in all ways - period. New York has always been its own creature, and its residents live a precarious existence on the brink of either succumbing to the beast or taming it no matter the cultural zeitgeist of the moment. Sex and the City depicted four mid-30s women in that struggle during a period of extreme wealth and prosperity; make that show again tomorrow and the storyline will look completely different, influenced by a completely different set of circumstances.

As annoying as it is to be asked about SATC every other day, I'm strangely okay with it. Somewhere along the way I realized that every woman who asks me is really just hoping the answer is yes - yes, there is a place where the economy is okay, women can live their own lives and do what they love and can afford a really nice apartment with a really great wardrobe and men aren't douchebags and if they are they at least take you to nice restaurants. Outside of SATC, that seems like a tall order and pretty impossible. Once in the comfort of that pink-boxed complete series boxset, however, the future can feel quite rosy, no matter what perfect storm - economic, cultural, political - is raging outside.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Stratford, Oxford, and Warwickshire in between

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to leave London and see a bit of the English countryside. The Irishman's work colleague got married at Coombe Abbey in Warwickshire, outside of the city of Coventry, and the Irishman asked me to accompany him as his date. I gladly accepted and we made a 3-day weekend of it, stopping in Stratford-upon-Avon on the way up, and Oxford on the way back.

The weather for this adventure was gorgeous, sunny and warm, and we set off Friday morning in fine spirits. It really is true that the minute you leave London, England is rolling hills dotted with cows and sheep – it just takes you about 2 hours to actually get out of the city. Traffic is horrendous and London is so sprawling that you can't tell if where you are is city or suburb. The only way I could tell is when I stopped seeing rows of houses one on top of another.

It took us a bit of time to get to Stratford-upon-Avon, and upon arrival we were confronted with tour buses, tourists, and construction. We decided ahead of time that we weren't going to be going to every single historic house that might have housed Shakespeare, or one of his relations, at one time or another. Instead, we went to his church, saw his grave and his birth and death records, and then wandered around the pretty town on our way to a pub on the Avon River. The town itself was gearing up for a festival, so there were rides, games, and fried food trucks lining the streets - a bit too American for this expat looking for the quintessential English village.

After a shandy in the sun at the Dirty Duck pub, we headed to the hotel to check in. The drive up the lane to the hotel more than made up for the festival in Stratford, because Coombe Abbey is AMAZING. We walked into a lobby that looked like a medieval palace, with dark wood alcoves, old books, and candles burning brightly. Our room was painted deep red, with a raised four poster canopy bed, velvet cushioned sofa, and clawfooted bathtub. I was so excited and kept saying "we don't have this s**t in America!"

Coombe Abbey, being the classy establishment that it is (and also, I suspect, inundated by rowdy footballers and WAGs), has a suggested dress code of "no trainers and jeans". So the Irishman and I decided to hunt down some dinner off the premises, in our casual clothes. We took a quick drive through Coventry, which has the reputation of being the ugliest city in England - it was the center of the country's automobile manufacturing prior to World War II ("The War"), when it was bombed to smithereens by the Germans and subsequently rebuilt in a boring, poured-concrete kind-of-way - and quickly decided that we'd do better outside of the city center. We found a nice country pub called The Bull on the outskirts of the city, just down the road from the hotel, and had a really nice dinner of the traditional English variety.

Saturday was the wedding, my first English wedding, and all I can say is that they really know how to drag it out. We went to bed around midnight, and been at that thing for 12 straight hours. It was a lovely affair, complete with an excruciatingly long Best Man's Speech and several toasts.

We woke Sunday with sore heads, and walked off our hangovers with a lovely stroll through the grounds surrounding the hotel. The hotel was a former monastery, converted into a stately home by a private family and over the years the land was acquired by Coventry to create a public-use parkland. So we walked the fields surrounding the now-hotel like one ought to on a Sunday in England, enjoying the sun and fresh air. Invigorated, we decided to make one last stop in Oxford on our way back to London.

Oxford was amazing - ancient buildings, scholarly traditions, high-street chain stores, and hipster youth all rolled into one. We only spent about 2 hours wandering through town, so I will definitely go back; Oxford is home to several of the museums that I studied in graduate school - the Ashmolean, the Pitt-Rivers - and I want to actually go into some of the school buildings. It reminds me of an older, more built up Princeton, NJ - my own pre-collegiate stomping ground.

Alas our lovely Midlands weekend had to end, so JP and I wrapped it up with a comforting curry at our favorite Indian restaurant, Zaffrani. We couldn't have had a better weekend, and I was really not pleased to have it end. At least (of course!) I took pictures, and you can see them here.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

My Perfect Saturday

Continuing the topic of food, and travel, and the fact that I live in London, etc, my friend Kat hipped me to another food blog called Londonelicious who she thinks I should befriend over wine and tapas somewhere in N1. I have to admit the girl has a way with words and a keen eye for London restaurants, so I was excited to see that she has invited comments on her post "Your Perfect Saturday in London - or elsewhere" - bloggers are asked to detail their perfect Saturday with food and link back to her post. So, gamely, I shall try... be gentle with me, I've only been here for 5 months! The only caveat is, I'm going to do my perfect Sunday - I seem to eat more and do more foodie-type things on a Sunday. Here's my perfect Sunday in the East End.

9am: wake up and make coffee to deal with hangover
10amish: after shower, interwebbing, etc, set off for a nice big English breakfast at either S&M (Angel, Essex Road) or Workers Cafe (Angel, Upper Street)
11:30ish: after lingering over my roasted tomato and gathering the energy to move, head over to Islington's farmers market for ingredients for the soup of the week, flowers, etc. Taste cheeses from the various mongers and definitely use the hand cream tester from the honey/beeswax lady!
12ish: Pop into Aria to browse, just because you never know what you'll find!
1ish: Drop off veggies at home, and head back out to Regents Canal to walk over to Columbia Flower Market and Shoreditch/Brick Lane (or bike by road if feeling saucy)
1:30ish: get a deal on some sort of plant as the stalls close up
2ish: stop for a pint to quench your thirst at any of the fine establishments on Shoreditch High Street or around Hoxton Square (bonus points for sitting in Hoxton Square)
3ish: head over to Brick Lane for the Sunday markets and general fashion parade, pick up a snack at the Sunday market in Old Truman's Brewery, perhaps some Thai spring rolls - eat while you browse the market stalls and Rough Trade Records
4ish: head down to Spitalfields to see whats up, still open, etc; pop nose into the little British food shop A Gold's, perhaps get a little something at Market Inn
5ish: head back to Angel, stop at the Camden Head for another pint to quench the thirst sitting outside on the patio
6ish: here's the dilemma - either cook, or out for Sunday roast. I haven't found the perfect Sunday roast place yet, and I always get there too late when they've run out of food, so there is no one place here - recommendations, however, would be great!

Food, glorious food!

I've written a bit about my cooking fiascos and interest in most things culinary. I wouldn't necessarily say I'm a foodie like the Irishman, but I do enjoy preparing a good meal and conquering a new and exciting recipe. And of course, reading food blogs to find those recipes is an excellent way to waste - um, I mean, spend - time.

Another aspect of food I enjoy is eating in places I've never been. When I was in Amsterdam with Riejte, we ate some amazing pancakes in the Negen Straatjes neighborhood; in Spain, I couldn't get enough cured meat and sauteed vegetables. Culinary exploration might be the best kind of travel.

So I was thrilled to see that one of my favorite food bloggers, Clothilde at Chocolate & Zucchini, recently marked her blog's fifth anniversary, and celebrated by posting online maps of her favorite food and shopping destinations in Paris. Wheee! She has managed to get 3 of my favorite things into one: eating, shopping, and Paris. Now, I just need to scrap together a few pence for a Eurostar ticket to use those handy guides!

Sick Day

It would be my luck that I come down with a bug on the first sunny day this week. Meh. Feeling generally weak and flu-y, I'm lying here catching up on my blog-reading, blog writing, and UK daytime TV. I must say, the latter is not inspiring.

I've been a bit remiss in writing, so I'm going to make a few random posts of random items. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sunday rainy Sunday = Duvet Day

Today is a typical London day. It has been raining since I got up, with no indication it will stop anytime soon, and therefore I deem this an indoor day of pottering, cooking, reading, and relaxing. I'm highly looking forward to it... my first Duvet Day! Hooray!

PS: Duvet Day means sitting on ones' couch all day under a duvet with junk food and tv.

The best kind of hangover

Yesterday I had the worst hangover: a headache that wouldn't quit, a roiling stomach, terrible ear ringing, and not much energy to do anything beyond walking from bedroom to couch and back again. I didn't mind, though, because I suffered this hangover after an awesome girls night out with new friends.

Moving to a new place is really hard. I keep doing it, and every time I forget just how lonely and terrifying it truly is. I experienced it in New York, Philadelphia, and now here in London: Friday and Saturday nights in the apartment, listening to merrymakers outside on the street while sitting alone watching Law & Order reruns, wishing I had exciting social plans. It's not easy making friends, especially lady friends, outside of community structures like college and work, and elbowing oneself into already established friend groups can be exhausting and stressful. I personally think it's worse than dating - you're not just convincing someone that you're cute, fun, smart, and witty - you're trying to convince another girl to become your confidante, partner in crime, advice-giver, style guru, and objective listener. That's a tall order, and it's not easily accomplished even with alcohol.

My friend Kat and I discussed this weird phenomenon over a couple of bottles of wine more than a few years ago when we had our first awkward meeting as friends of friends. An article was published not-soon-after about the anxiety women go through trying to build social circles. We had a good laugh then, but I'm still reminded of it every time I see a group of girls walking down the street together, cackling and joking. It's hard to recreate a bond built over years of shared experiences every time one moves to a new place.

That's why I was so thrilled when my friend Anna invited me to her girl's night. I made sure my outfit was fab and I brushed my teeth and I was really nervous on my way to meet them. But her ladies welcomed me with open arms and bottles of wine and lots of laughs, and I had an immense time dancing until my feet didn't fit in my shoes and I had to stumble to the night bus. So despite the pain I felt all day yesterday, I bore it happily knowing it was well-earned and hopefully the start of something really great.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The credit crunch gets crunched back!

Your friendly Londonista is feeling the wrath of distressed debt and derivatives. Everything costs more, taxes seem to be enormous, and every other day on my way to work the newspaper broadsheets proclaim more job cuts in The City, London's financial center. Despite scrimping and saving, paychecks never seem to last the month. But today I won a small victory over inflation and the uncertain economy: an absolute steal at the Ted Baker sample sale.

I rarely went to sample sales in New York; they stress me out and I never seem to have the luck that other ladies do in finding something amazing for $25 – usually I end up leaving empty-handed after getting elbowed in the ribs or having my toes crushed by someone's stiletto. But today I braved the crowds and walked away with an angora sweater, silk dress, and 2 pairs of gloves (one grey leather!) for £20! Ok, so the silk dress is a size too big, and the sweater has these sleeve puffs that would be at home in The Tudors, but I'm pleased with my purchases. Take that, Henry Paulsen and Ben Bernanke!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Cold weather means soup time!

Since I moved to London, I've turned into an old woman in more ways than one – but the most apparent is my new love of soup. I think I've tortured my roommate with at least four pots of soup over the last four weeks. But making soup in England is – well – odd. The biggest hindrance is that you can't buy pre-made stock. No broth in cans, no stock in cardboard liter containers - the only option a budding chef has is bouillon. I tried some weird chicken goop in a packet, and I gotta tell you its kind of really gross. It is a high viscosity brown stuff that you're supposed to mix into boiling water. It tastes okay, but it is so weird that I think I'll just stay with OXO cubes, thankyouverymuch. Also, I will say right here that metric is SO much easier to use than the English system - but how weird is it that in England, they don't use the English system. Um, hello? It's really frustrating when most of my recipes are American, but I have other ingredients that come in Metric measurements. For instance: said Oxo cubes make 700 450 mL of broth. But my recipe calls for 5 cups of broth. So how many mL is in a cup? Um? Help? I feel like I did these conversions in 6th grade, but fuck if I know how to do them now. I've mentioned before, and that website is really helpful, but it is slightly odd to be cooking and have your laptop next to you on the counter. But despite these hindrances, I'm currently enjoying a lovely bowl of White Bean and Vegetable soup, courtesy of the Simply Recipes blog. Yum.