Sunday, January 30, 2011

2011 resolutions recap 1 month in

So tomorrow is the end of January which means I'm one month into my New Years resolutions. I thought it might be good to do a self-assessment to see where I'm at.

1. Lose weight
Surprisingly, I'm doing okay here! I've definitely slimmed down this month through cutting out alcohol, sugar, eating primarily from the veg box and getting back into running. I will say that the veg box eating is really satisfying from both epicurean and achievement aspects. I mean, I definitely feel good because my nutrition is better but also it is bloody hard to figure out what kind of tasty treats one can whip up from a load of cabbage, carrots, onions, leeks, and kale... sometimes with a random squash thrown in for good measure. The Irishman and I have definitely expanded our cooking repertoire and I think we are both pleased about the results. Let me say that kale chips are by far one of the most amazing things I've ever eaten. Please try them out for yourself!

So yes, I've lost about 9lbs this month and I've hit my wall. It's going to be really hard to get the rest of the weight off - I'm going to have to work harder at running as I'm only really managing to get 2-3 runs in a week at this point and I still haven't gotten myself to a yoga class. So February will be about fulfilling the rest of my goals from a health point of view. Also, I've reintroduced alcohol and meat... so I'm going to have to work hard to also make sure I don't go backwards now that I'm allowed to go out and have some wine.

2. Be better with money
Argh, this one, not so good. I was doing pretty well for most of the month and then I had my friend here for a week and I found myself in the sales. Yikes! I didn't get much, but I did buy things on sale that I didn't ever intend to like new cushions for the sofa, a book on typography, a Breton top that I'd wanted forever... and then spent a tad bit more than I thought I would on some things I knew I had to get like some saucy lingerie for my friend's bridal shower. Sigh. So February means a renewed discipline and commitment to frugal living.

3. Be more creative
So yay, I went to screenprinting classes! I am keeping my sketchbook up to date. I battened down the hatches and wrote my last submission to my parent company's Under 30 Essay competition, despite hating the prompt and being frustrated at not having received feedback on my last 2 submissions. I think I'm off to a good start, but I do think that this one will also be difficult to maintain; as ever, I have a philosophical internal struggle on the purpose of art for me - am I an artist? what role does it play in my life? what purpose does my artistic output serve? I think that maybe this year will be a bit of trying to understand how to reconcile this argument.

How are your resolutions going? Or should I not ask? Keep the faith, guys!

Printmaking workshop

Yesterday was printmaking day! After months of trying to get a spot in Print Club, right around New Years I finally snagged a space in their Saturday workshop to stretch some long-dormant creative muscles. I was really excited for this, because the last time I did any sort of printmaking was in 2002 during my study abroad in Florence. Helpfully, that summer I actually did do photo-emulsion screenprinting so the workshop was more of a sorely-need refresher course. 

The day started at 11am in their workshop in Dalston: 

10 of us were treated to a little overview of printmaking through the ages, and then had a tour of the studio. Then we got to work prepping our images, coating our screens, and then exposing them. After lunch we got to work printing and each left with about 6 good A4 prints. Here's mine - I made this design specifically to join a small collection of London-centric art and paraphenalia I'm amassing.

After completing the workshop, I am now eligible to purchase a membership to the studio so I can go work on whatever projects I want. I'm not sure I'm ready for that, but it's nice to have the option. Despite the cold and all of the downtime (I forgot how methodical printmaking can be!), I really enjoyed being back in the shop with ink under my fingernails. Anyone interested in learning to screenprint should definitely check out Print Club London - it's welcoming, open, and a good way to spend a Saturday.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Visiting time

Hi bloggerinis!

Lots is going on in Brillville, leaving little time for blog posts but the big news is that a lot of my favorite people are visiting me! I currently have one of them on my sofa sleeping til noon every day (lucky girl) and another will be arriving a week from today for work and staying the weekend. HURRAH!

The only problem is that due to January being The Month of Health, I'm not drinking. My mate and I went to the cocktail bar across the street and I had tea. Green tea. Sigh. But it's paying off... I've lost 8lbs already just by cutting out sugar, bread, alcohol and running on a much more regular basis. I'm back to being able to do 8k without dying and I just feel great: my skin glows again. Le sigh!

So hopefully more exciting news will be forthcoming soon (ie, when I am allowed back in the pub). Stay tuned! xx

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Healthy Snacks

When I started moaning about my new diet, I mentioned that I had to sort out some healthy snacks STAT. I work in the kind of job where tensions often run high, and I am an emotional eater. If I'm nervous, or I have a big deadline, or I'm worried, I want to eat. Normally, I'd wolf down some M&Ms but in my new world order those are verboten. So over the past week I've been investigating what kinds of treats are allowed. I've also called in some reinforcement: the wonderful Libby from Ravenous has kindly shared her go-to snacks to maximize your choices! So, dear readers, go on... nibble away!

Dried apricots
I love apricots, and I especially love dried apricots, so I was thrilled to find out that 1 cup of dried apricots is only 300 calories, so 1/2 cup at 150 calories is perfect for an afternoon pick me up. Plus, dried apricots retain more of their nutritional value than any other dried fruit. Be careful though as they do contain quite a lot of sugar. If you like them as much as me, you might want to try making "Shoe Leather". I grew up eating strips of this traditional Syrian pressed apricot roll; it's like a thicker, healthier version of a Fruit Roll-up and totally addictive.

Controversial: cashews have 553 calories per 100g. But they have super other benefits like antioxidants and tons of minerals. So the rule of thumb is a handful - not a sackful.

Ryvita & Boursin

Some people hate Ryvita. I don't mind it. I admit that it has a cardboardy texture, and has little actual flavor, but that is sort of the point: it is a low-cal vehicle. Paired with low-fat Boursin cheese, 1 cracker and a light spread of cheese is less than 80 calories. Top with a sliced cherry tomato, or some sliced black olives for a really nice mid-afternoon snack.


Cooked with a little tiny bit of vegetable oil, 1 cup of cooked popcorn without salt is only 55 calories. Be really healthy and just toss it with some cayenne pepper, or indulge with a teaspoon of sugar or salt or BOTH!

Jordan's Frusli cereal bars
If you're out and about and have a hungry cranky Irishman with you, sometimes you need to just get a snack in a package. Fear not. Jordan's Frusli bars are pretty tasty, pretty filling, and hit the spot for only 113 calories. Holland-Barrett's sells them individually, or you can be Mom-like and carry them with you in your bag (I might have to start doing that. As an insurance policy for my relationship).

Now for Libby's suggestions. She has some great tips for when to eat your snack for maximum benefit:

I have a few snack ideas and rules that I always follow. I pretty much always have a snack in the afternoon, about an hour and a half before my evening workout. It's good to fuel the body before a workout and if I don't, I could eat my whole kitchen when I get home after burning 400-500 calories. I really only have two rules for afternoon snacking: keep it under 300 calories (ideally 150-200) and full of protein. That way, your body will digest it quickly and it won't put your diet at risk by hiking your blog sugar levels. My three favourite healthy afternoon snacks at the moment are:

Greek yoghurt and nuts

(Especially Total 0%, but really any fat free Greek yoghurt will do). It is completely fat free and only about 100 calories for a really filling pot of healthy, protein-packed yoghurt. Because it has zero sugar, I usually add a small squeeze of honey and a small handful of chopped almonds for a little crunch. The almonds are good fats that your diet needs and also help fill you up.

Homemade hummus and raw vegetables

Homemade is the key word here. A lot of the grocery store versions have too many calories and way too much salt. Homemade versions require a hand blender, a can of chick peas, olive oil, lemon and garlic and about five minutes of your time. With raw veggies like carrot sticks and celery, this snack satisfies the need to chew and keeps you full for hours.

Cottage cheese and fruit
Low fat cottage cheese is full of protein and when mixed with strawberries and blueberries (pineapple also a fave), it is the perfect little salty sweet afternoon snack. And if you're really hungry, you can eat a lot of cottage cheese and berries for under 300 calories!

Thanks, Libby!

So what are your favorite low-cal, healthy snacks? Feel free to share and if you want to write your own post, let me know and I'll link to it. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Shareworthy: Daily Drop Cap

One of the things I love about the internet is how a specific web-search can lead to 30 minutes of web-browsing that ends up with you finding at least 5 new things that are amazing. One of which I'd love to share with you, which is Daily Drop Cap.


Today's drop cap of the day

For those of you in the typographic know, a drop cap is the highly decorative first letter of a sentence. Jessica is designing a drop cap per day and offering them up for us webnerds to use. How gorgeous! Jessica also seems pretty hilarious - check out her Mom, This is How Twitter Works tutorial, perfect for all of those interwebs-challenged moms out there (you know who you are, Elaine).

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Before and after 30

I received so many nice comments and notes about my last post (not the veg one, the one before, the one about life) that I thought I ought to come clean regarding its impetus. Basically, it came about because of a little mental breakdown I had last Monday.

I turn 30 in less than two months.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!! she cries, frantically trying to hide her 6 grey hairs (3 more than last year) while desperately examining her eyes for faint lines and the start of wrinkles.

I know. I know that the world doesn't end when you turn 30. My friends who've already taken the plunge say its better than your 20s! One in particular calls it the decade of decadence! Apparently I'll actually be a woman! And I'll feel more confident and self assured and life will be GREAT!

Hey, I'm down with that. And actually really looking forward to it.

My freakout actually was more about 30th birthday PARTY. Specifically, who would and wouldn't be there.

In my perfect world, all of my peoples in the US would magic themselves to London and all of my peoples from this side of the pond would magically all be available and have babysitters and plus-ones and disposable income and we'd tear up the town and party til the break of dawn and I would be skinny wearing an amazing dress with high heels that I could dance in for hours and my hair would be perfect and I'd be tipsy drunk but not sloppy and hey while I'm at it a limo would be there for the night to take me and said peoples to all of the party spots we want to go to.

Back to reality: Two glasses of champagne insures unruly behavior. Heels don't actually allow me to comfortably enjoy an evening on the dance floor. I barely go out on the town, so while I'd love to go out I wouldn't have the faintest idea of where to actually go. And now for the worst part - who would come? My American friends can't, and shouldn't, fly over here for a weekend. Most of my friends here are either married and living out of London with newborns or are good friends that I spend time with, in couple-y situations, but not as besties. Basically, at that moment I was mostly upset that 30 was a big glaring light illuminating the fact that I don't have close friends here like I have in the US. And that felt like a failure.

The Irishman, ever the sweetest gentleman, suggested that, if I were this upset about not having my American peeps with me on my birthday, perhaps I should go to them - ie, flying to New York for a 30th birthday vacation. When Virgin announced their fare sales, it really did seem like a possibility. But something was stopping me from clicking BUY NOW for the tickets. I discussed this situation with my friend Kat who, ever pragmatic (she is a Taurus after all), gently suggested that maybe I had to shift my expectations of what my 30th birthday should be. I thought about that for a while, and realized that she was right.

Rah rah partying and dancing might have been a total option for my 30th birthday had I stayed in New York, and it would have been BALLIN'. But I didn't stay in New York. Instead, I moved to London and fell in love with a lovely man who just happens to be 5.5 years my senior and therefore at a different lifestage than me. We are old souls whose idea of a night out is more of the wine drinking variety, rather than raging. While I do every so often miss putting on a sparkly top and bouncing to Rihanna, I have to accept that at this point in my life I actually don't want to go for it all too often. AND THAT'S OKAY. It may be what I want to do for a big milestone birthday, but if it can't happen because I don't have the people around me to go for it, well, that's just life. MY life. Who knows - maybe 35 will be a bitching dance-on-the-tables-at-the-club event. But it's not going to happen this year and secretly I think I am more relieved than disappointed.

The part about close friends around me? That, I realized, isn't true either. What is true is that my friends in London are different than my American friends: I don't have anyone here like my friend Rietje, with whom I speak another language of design, boys, and giggles, or my friend Sloane, who sees all of my faults but thinks I'm okay anyway. But I DO have more than a handful of warm, funny, endearing and sweet boys and girls I call my friends here in London. I am not alone, nor a failure. I have to accept, however, that as I age and as life slides through different stages, friendships will be made in many different forms. It's not because I'm American, not because I'm different, but because this is how life works.

So I decided to embrace my birthday party in the same way that I've embraced my age. I'm going to be 30 and I live in London so that is where I shall celebrate. I want the people I care about most in this country around me, so I've chosen to plan a big meal on the day before my birthday at a child-friendly place so that more of those mommy-and-daddy friends can join me. I'm going to get a sparkly dress, alright, and maybe some beautiful heels as well (at a restaurant, I can sit down) and I will definitely drink champagne. And I will sit with my peoples, and laugh, and smile, and think about how far I've come in the last 30 years, and hope that all of those people around me on that night will be in my life for the next 30 years.

It's not going to be epic, but it's definitely going to be perfect.

Our first veg box haul

All for £11.34!

Any one have a good squash soup recipe? Or, for that matter, know what to do with black kale?!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A tale of two cities

A week or so before Christmas, I received advice-seeking instant messages from my two expat friends - coincidentally both named Jon.

Spanish Jon is one of those friends that you just expect to be a superstar. He grew up in Brooklyn and is an architect with a Master's degree from Harvard School of Design. Only the best students get into that programme, and it produces famous architects like Philip Johnson. Spanish Jon met his girlfriend, Ana, while studying abroad in Denmark and after finishing his masters degree he moved to Spain to help her take over her father's architecture studio. I visited them in 2008, while Jon was in the middle of completing even more studies; apparently all of his US qualifications were null and void in Spain, as it's part of the EU, and he had to basically retrain all over again. That's some bureaucratic bullshit. Anyway, Spanish Jon was IM'ing me with bad news: he didn't pass his exam, and therefore couldn't practice architecture in Spain. I didn't get the full story from him as he was understandably upset. I couldn't believe that of all people, my good friend who is SO SMART and SO TALENTED could be in such a situation.

A half hour later, I got an IM from French Jon. French Jon met his girlfriend Alix while she was interning in his office in New York, and after 2 years of long distance that included him flying to France nearly every month he finally quit his job and applied to graduate school in Paris so they could be together. Fast-forward to now and he is in a sustainable development masters program at HEC, the most prestigious business school in Europe, and he and Alix are engaged to be married (SO looking forward to their wedding in August!). French Jon's message was much more expat-related: the impending holidays, commercialism, disconnect from family and friends, and general isolation were getting to him and he really was questioning WHY WE DO THIS.

I have been in both places. I have been at the point, all too often, of utter frustration when the realization that I've moved from being a big fish in a small pond to the smallest of plankton in a big sea where no one cares whether I survive, let alone thrive. I've also had too many moments of desperation, wondering why I'm putting myself through this exercise of establishing my identity in a country that isn't mine. Both are easy extremes to swing to at any point when you realize your expectations for life aren't quite matching up to reality.

What did I say to the Jons? Well, there isn't much you can say, is there? I can offer a shoulder to cry on and talk through options (like with Spanish Jon), and I can offer perspective and reminders of the wonderful things about expat life (like with French Jon). But at the end of the day, the expat experience is what you make of it and though there are some fundamental truths that we all encounter (banks! cell phones! flights home! bureaucracy!) we each have our own story. Sometimes it's hard to remember that and encourage our own individual growth while we're so desperate to assimilate. Not in the way you might have back in your homeland, but how you could grow now: it's not worth it to ponder what you "might have done" if you were back in your old life, or "who you might have been" because even if you went back tomorrow, you'd still be different from the person you were when you left. You'd be better.

Recently I encountered this very helpful article on Expat Women about the expat's hierarchy of needs. She is totally right. The top self-actualization point really is all about striving for that deeper meaning and confidence in what you're doing living all the way across the world. After the glow of the first year wears off, and austerity measures and tube fare rises kick in, it is so easy to ask "why". Coming up with an answer that fulfills you, though, is the tricky part. I think I'm at stage 4 - I still haven't figured out, after 2.5 years, what's in it for me. I think an underlying New Year's resolution is for me to come to terms with just how being an expat fits into my persona. I want to be Danielle, not Danielle the American or Danielle who comes from New York. Expat, for me, should be a footnote, not body text, in the story of my life - and it's my responsibility to write it that way.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

And, it's begun.

We ordered our veg box, and pick it up on Saturday.

I brought all of my excess sweets (a box of Girl Scout cookies - Samoas! - and the leftover chocolate chip cookies from the batch I baked on Sunday) into work to dispense them to the masses.

I ran home from work yesterday, and will run home tonight.

The Irishman procured a digital scale, and we had a weigh-in.

My new yoga mat should arrive this week, and then I'll get back into a class routine.

My friend Betty gave me a Pinguinos and I shoved it in my drawer.

I am hyper-hydrating. Since 9am, I've had 4 pints of water. I'm about to fill up #5.

Oh god. This is really hard. I know its in my best interest, but seriously?

Healthy is boring (at the moment).

This weekend's challenge: make healthy food awesome. And figure out snacks!

Monday, January 3, 2011


Ever since I read this article in the New York Times, I've wanted to go to Whitstable to feast on its treasures from the sea. So when The Irishman and I decided to spend a quiet New Years in London I thought this would be a great opportunity to finally get out to the Kent coast.

An easy 1.5 hour train from Victoria deposited us a 5 minute walk from the Whitstable high street, which we strolled along until we hit the harbor. Unfortunately being a Sunday of a bank holiday weekend most of the shops were closed but we got to see some of the town's famous alleys and historic buildings. Whitstable wants tourists and their website offers a lot of information about the town's history, culture, and part in the fishing trade.

At the harbor, we were tempted by a fresh seafood bar but held off as we had highly anticipated lunch reservations at the Michelin-starred* The Sportsman gastropub 4 miles up the beach. After wandering and exploring for about an hour, I changed into my wellies as our plan was to walk to the pub. The temperature was around 2°C and it was perfect for a beach walk; I collected a lot of sea glass and shells, and marveled at the beautifully painted beach huts along the coast.

An hour later we arrived at The Sportsman and I must say it was one of the nicest meals we've had in a really long time. Sat in front of a cosy fire, we indulged in really amazing fresh seafood: The Irishman's starter of pickled herring and salads was phenomenal and I was so jealous, while my curried parsnip soup was a bit heavy – there was just too much and I would have been happy with half as much. But my ray and cockles main was buttery heaven and my dessert of warm chocolate mousse with salty caramel was unbelievable. Three hours later, we rolled into a taxi to get a train back to London not quite believing we'd had such a lovely feast in such a comfortable, relaxing environment.

After wanting to visit Whitstable for nearly two years, I wasn't disappointed by what I found. I'd highly recommend Whitstable for a day out or even a weekend away; it's an easy trip with a lot to offer, and apparently they have an oyster festival in July which seems like it could be so much fun. If you like the sea, and seafood, and small English towns with cosy English pubs, then go go go! If you'd like more pictures, look here.

*Unclear as to whether The Sportsman still has a Michelin star - I can't find anything on their website that they do but the NY Times article mentions that they did have one in 2009... either way, the food is absolutely fabulous and so not pretentious that it shouldn't matter.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Fun holiday craft: champagne cork ornament

Last night while waiting for the stroke of midnight, The Irishman told me of a sweet tradition to keep the cork from your New Years eve champagne bottle. As we were posh last night and had Mo√ęt-Chandon, I said sure, let's! But today, looking at the cork, I realized it resembled a simple angel shape and got crafting. A quick dig around The Irishman's change piles produced a shiny 2010 penny to serve as her halo, and I used a sharp knife to make a grove for it to sit in. I labelled the back with 2010, and I will probably knit some quick wings for it over the weekend. I love the idea of every year making something special with our New Years cork - a fun, easy tradition!

(PS: Sorry for the terrible photo and the fact that my iPhone sent the picture, but not the text!)

Happy New Year!

We are so glad we braved the crowds and cold to stand on the Thames and ring in the New Year. BBC 1 provided the soundtrack, helpfully broadcast by the party boat moored nearby, and we had a great view down the river from a small terrace off of Embankment. At New Years, they amplified Big Ben clanging out 12 strokes - and the fireworks began! Hope everyone is feeling well and happy today and bring on 2011!