Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sunny summers day

Yesterday was an amazingly gorgeous day, sunny, bright and warm. So I went out for lunch (a big deal since our canteen is so good), and met The Irishman for a banh mi at Eat Street. Here are a few snaps I took on my walk there along the canal.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Learning About Bees

Last week, I tweeted about how was so excited to join my company's social enterprise centered around urban beekeeping. It's been going on for a while, with limited membership, and I finally got a chance to become a member. So last Wednesday, I finally got to don a beekeeping suit and learn about bees, beekeeping, and etc, at Beekeeping 101.

The first half of the session was devoted to learning about bees, how they make honey, their lifecycle, the hive, basically all of the basics. Then we got hands on: trying on the suits as well as harvesting some honey that was removed from the hive that morning. It doesn't get any fresher.

Above, I am peeling the wax seal off of the honeycomb: once the honey has been sealed in, you know it's ready to eat – if there isn't a seal, the honey-making process isn't complete.

Here, I'm tasting some honey that dripped onto my fingers. YUM. Because the honey is hyper-local, the flavor comes from flowers in the area that are in bloom. If you take honey from our hives next month, it will have a completely different color, flavor, and texture based on which plants are in bloom then – I love the changeability and the not-one-capture-is-the-same quality of honey as a food product. Honey bees will go up to 3 miles to find pollen, so if you have allergies you should get honey made from around where you live as it will contain the allergens that affect you and you can build up immunity.

Once the wax seals are released, you put the honeycomb trays into this modified bucket with a spinner (like a massive salad spinner) and you turn the handle to force the honey out of the wax comb. The bucket has a spigot on the bottom so you can access the honey in a controlled fashion.

Next steps were to filter the honey (get bits of wax and etc out) and then it's ready to eat! We all took little 50ml jars of honey home to enjoy – The Irishman used mine to make goats cheese and honey ice cream which was absolutely amazing.

After Wednesday's lesson, I am a big fan of bees in general and honey bees specifically. We all know they are in danger so I'm going to try even harder to promote happy and healthy bees however I can. The Irishman has agreed that when we finally buy a house, we can have bee-friendly plants in our garden which is a win-win: bee friendly plants = better pollination = better produce = happy Danielle and happy bees. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A rundown of East London neighborhoods...


My bestie sent me this yesterday, with the question "Is this true?!" She was referring to the designation of my soon-to-be new neighborhood – which she will hopefully be visiting in August (fingers crossed!).

My answer was, yeah pretty much.

I've circulated this graphic around my officemates, most of whom live on the right hand side of this graphic, for further comment. I'll let you know if any gems are forthcoming.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The big 5-0-0

I'm not one for stats and figures and monetizing and referral sites and page clicks and what have you, but the new Blogger interface showed me a few weeks ago that I was inching closer and closer to the 500 posts mark. And this is it!

When I started this blog, I never thought I'd be in the UK for four years – nevermind inching towards home ownership with a longterm partner. And I definitely didn't think I'd still be blogging. When I began Bloody Brilliant in 2008, it was definitely a place for me to capture my feelings about moving abroad – sort of like an online diary. At some point, probably around 2010, I thought to myself oooh how nice would it be if I could be like Orangette or Mighty Girl or Design*Sponge or The Pioneer Woman and just live off of talking about myself and my passions online! I'm cute, write well, work in design, and have interesting things to say! I can DO THIS!

But I realized, eventually, that whether or not those attributes above are true, I'm not committed to becoming an online persona in that way. This realization came about, I think, when an influx of other American expats to London who were blogging started linking to me and commenting; they helped me understand through their writing that I'm neither unique in my experience of living abroad nor social enough in my interactions online to become a power-blogger. Once I came to terms with that realization, found a measure of acceptance in it, I fully embraced Bloody Brilliant for what it truly is: a carefully curated record of my life since moving to London, through pictures and words. And that is enough. More than enough.

Every so often I like to look back through my posts and re-read them to remind myself of how far I've come. It's heartwarming to remember the amazing trips I've been on, meals I've enjoyed, exciting moments and sad times alike. Do I wish I had tried harder to make this blog more popular or more < gulp > famous? Maybe – I'd be lying if I said no – but do I want to grow up and grow old and say "I'm really glad I devoted my life to a blog"? No, I don't think so. So I'm satisfied for now with keeping Bloody Brilliant as living, breathing timeline of my life in London.

So what's next, then? Well obviously there is big house news that will be hitting here fairly soon, and then I will probably post quite a few retroactive entries about what the process was like – finding, offering, losing, winning, negotiating, waiting and waiting and waiting. And then of course there will be a few decorating posts and DIY posts, and maybe a few more money posts. And then it will go back to just normality: every day life posts about the weather, musings on philosophy, a few pretty things, and a few moans about, well, life.

Because that's really, at the end of the day, what blogging is really all about – it's about sharing the little and big things that make you happy, sad, and everything in between. Thank you all for continuing to visit my small corner of the world – I truly hope you'll continue to stop by for the next 500 posts and beyond.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Dandelion Wine

Image from Flickr courtesy of peppergrass

I've been back in the UK from my recent travels for 12 days. And it has rained, consistently and steadily, each of those twelve days, with only glimmers of sun peaking through for short-lived respites.

I'm starting to suffer from cabin fever and despair in equal measure; such wintry joys as curling up on the sofa under a blanket with a knitting project while watching Don't Tell the Bride don't seem so appropriate when the sky is still light at 9:45pm. Every night I go to bed hearing the tires splashing through puddles and every morning I am woken by pelting raindrops hitting my windows. Saturday provided one small burst of sun in the earlier hours, and I used it as an opportunity to forge on with sorting out my wardrobe, pulling my summer clothes out of storage, and packing away my winter woolens. But as I dropped sweaters and winter dresses off at the dry cleaner this morning, I secretly was wishing to be wearing some of those items instead of my lighter weight summer top and trousers.

I had a bit of a temper tantrum about our "summer", one of the wettest summers on record, on Saturday night; why are we trying to buy a house in country where there aren't differentiated seasons, and instead experience one type of weather with 3-4 variations? I want heat, I want cold, I want sun and I want snow. In the four years I've lived in the UK, the famed "British summer" has always turned out to be a damp squib, and this year's is no exception. I miss the scorching, searing, hazy summers of my youth, lazy days with my feet in burnt grass and caked dirt, when the loudest sounds waking me up and putting me to sleep were the constant drones of various types of insects. I'll even take the summers of my recent past, when my freshly applied makeup slid down my face as I trudged to the subway in a blanket of air so dense it was like wading through invisible soup. Chowder, in fact.

In the midst of my self-indulgent melancholy about the weather, Ray Bradbury passed away. The dimming and final extinguishing of a bright light always gives me pause, but Ray Bradbury was more than just an iconic author. He wrote my favorite book Dandelion Wine, assigned to me as summer reading before my senior year of high school by one of my favorite teachers, which I faithfully reread every summer after for about 8 years. That book touched me in ways I never thought literature ever could, and brought home to me the meaning and power of reading in a profound way.

If you've never read it, Dandelion Wine is about a young boy who reaches that pivotal age, neither boy nor man, where everything fairly sizzles with possibility yet also now holds that new and dangerous element of disappointment. The book is the story of that summer where everything changes and the boy has to make decisions about how he will live moving forward.

When I first read Dandelion Wine, I didn't realize how much I needed its lesson of containing nostalgia into a manageable sentiment – nor did I realize how powerful the effects of change, the passage of time, and the evolution of the human race would become. I just loved it for pulling out and shining a light on the shades of grey I was experiencing in my formerly very black and white worldview. Throughout college and graduate school, I returned to the book every time I found myself unsure of how to deal with a major life event, like 9/11 and the deaths of two of my grandparents. I would often stop into used bookstores to pick up spare copies (it's the type of novel you can find with a raggedy illustrated cover for $1) as I frequently foisted that book on friends and foes, telling them to read it to truly understand who I was.

Dandelion Wine remains such a powerful force in my life, like certain paintings and scents, that Ray Bradbury's death really did make me stop and reflect – on his life and talent and contribution to our world, but also on myself and my current state of mind. Do I really have the right to moan about the conditions of the place I chose? If I really wanted the things I had in the past again, shouldn't I just make the necessary steps to regain them? But really, do I want them – and if I got them, would they be as sweet as the ones I'm remembering so fondly?

Ray Bradbury's greatest gift to us, to humanity, was the gentle reminder of not living in the past but simply to learn from it as we blaze our collective trail into the future, and to remember along the way that we should be kind to ourselves and our fellow creatures. So as I sit here at my desk, staring out at the rain falling, still falling, steadily on the canal, I decided to again try and heed his lessons: I will be kinder to myself, kinder to humanity, and I will stop stressing out about the bloody rain. Weather patterns come and go, the past is never as sweet as your memory would have you believe, and nothing ever truly stays the same. So here I go, moving forward through June with a brave face and renewed hope for a lovely bright summer afternoon.

Oh look. I think the rain has stopped.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


I love Barcelona. Everyone told me I would, which made me slightly suspicious about the city; I mean, if everyone tells you that you will love eggplant and it actually tastes gross then you a) are disappointed, and b) annoyed that your friends led you astray. But I shouldn't have worried. Barcelona is the perfect combination of history and cutting edge, food and art, city and sea, and I was smitten from day 1.

I arrived on a Tuesday evening for the conference I was attending, and checked into my hotel around 10:30pm. Even though that is standard eating time in Spain, I was tired and needed to check in at work so I decided to just eat in my hotel's restaurant. That didn't stop me from having tomato bread and jamon, both of which made up the majority of my diet for the balance of the week. That and cortados.

The next morning consisted of work as well, and then I took myself on a lengthy stroll to the Musée Picasso where the conference registration and first sessions were taking place. I was staying near the Mercado Sant Antoni, and my stroll took me through the Ravel to the Boqueria for lunch.

Unfortunately the Mercat Sant Antoni was in the midst of refurbishment. There were some pretty cool temporary market buildings around the area, but I was still slightly disappointed I couldn't go in the actual market structure.

My route, which I used frequently throughout my stay, was the Carrer Hospital. It conveniently takes you straight to Las Ramblas right by the Boqueria.

 And the Boqueria is A-MAZING.

I ate lunch at the Bar Boqueria, squeezing myself onto a stool amongst a mix of locals and tourists. The menu was extensive (and slightly expensive) and initially I felt a bit lost – what should I eat? what is typical for lunch? how much should I order? But in the end I followed my gut (literally) and ordered my favorites.

Chichirones (fried baby octopus) and pimiento padrones (small hot green peppers cooked in oil with sea salt on top) and a beer to wash it down. I was in heaven.

After my lunch, I continued my stroll across Las Ramblas and through the Barri Gotic to the Barcelona 
Cathedral. The Barri Gotic is really lovely, a maze of old streets now sort of taken over by touristy shops but with some real gems of vintage and antiques shops and small boutiques.

Barri Gotic slowly turns into El Born, a really fashionable area between the Gothic heart of the city and the seafront. I found myself starting to windowshop in stylish boutiques and designer home stores and realized that this neighborhood was one to remember.

At that point I had to head into the Musée Picasso, where I stayed for the rest of the day meeting other conference attendees and taking part in the opening night panel discussion. It was a great way to end my first day in the city, and get excited for the following day of conference sessions.

Thursday the keynotes started at 10am, so after running through emails and work stuff, I headed to a cafe for a cortado and then over to the conference. The conference was held at MACBA and the CCCB which are two stunning building situated next to each other at the northern edge of the Ravel. My hotel was less than 10 minutes walk from the site, which was perfect, and I loved walking the old streets to "work" each morning. It reminded me of my summer abroad in Florence – in fact, much of Barcelona reminded me of Florence, that medieval urban plan of winding streets, impressive stone buildings, wrought iron furnishings, and curious alcoves – only with a distinctly Iberian flavor.

I spent Thursday and Friday in various sessions at the conference, and when it closed Friday evening I was completely inspired and overwhelmed. I was glad I had the rest of the weekend in Barcelona to decompress and sort out my thoughts in a leisurely manner.

The Irishman had arrived Thursday night to join me in Barcelona, and we started our weekend Friday night by eating at Cal Pep. As foodies, we were massively annoyed at ourselves that we missed out on getting reservations to Tickets, Ferian Adria's new tapas bar, but heard that even better, and more authentic, is this gem of a tapas bar in El Born. Apparently Thomas Keller says it was the best meal he's ever eaten in Europe, and several friends independently recommended it to me. So once my conference had closed Friday night, The Irishman and I dashed off to the restaurant so we could be there as it opened. 

What can I say? It was one of the best meals of my life. You sit down at the bar and they ask you what you will and won't eat, and what you want to drink, and voila! Six courses of the best fish I've ever tasted, one of the most lovely white wines I've ever drunk, a fabulously multilingual waiter who assured us we would love what we were served (and didn't grumble when I asked him to add in an order of pimiento padrons), and the most amazing dessert of flavored whipped creams. Amazing. We were lucky too – a mere 10 minutes after we sat down, a line had formed along the back wall of the restaurant and was out the door. Because of that we were rushed, but it all felt like part of the old school Spanish tapas experience.

Saturday was devoted to checking out all of Gaudi's greatest hits, including touring the interior of La Sagrada Familia, his unfinished cathedral. I must admit I didn't really know anything about it besides how it was unfinished and will continue to be constructed for the next 50+ years, so when we entered the interior I was astounded. I literally was blown away by how imaginative and otherworldly it looks, like nothing I've ever seen before. Because I was taken so off guard and thrilled by the surprise, I'm not going to post any images of the interior; I want those of you who might go to be equally as impressed.

We also saw the apartment building and a few homes he designed, as well as buildings "in the style of". 

Sunday was devoted to walking along Las Ramblas to Barceloneta and the seafront. We discovered a whole new part of the city that was emerging from years of decay and becoming a vibrant, regenerated community. When I return to Barcelona, I would seriously consider staying down there.

We rounded off our day with a lovely final tapas meal and sitting on the beach for a few hours before having to go pick up our luggage and head to the airport. On our way home, I thought to myself that I didn't really get to see all of the "highlights" in Barcelona, and felt slightly guilty that I didn't see any of the museums despite having attended a museum conference. But I'm okay with that because it gives me so many reasons to go back to Barcelona again and again. I loved the spirit and attitude of the city, and am already thinking of when would be best to go back. I hope that every single one of you get to go there soon, if you haven't already been.

If you go:
All major airlines and discount carriers fly from London to Barcelona El Prat (the main airport in Barcelona). We flew Ryanair from Stansted for £60 return, no checked baggage, including fees. There are literally hundreds of hotels in Barcelona; we stayed at Hotel Market near Mercat Sant Antoni for the majority of our stay, and then moved to Room Mate Emma for the last night. Hotel Market was lovely, fantastic location, and bargain priced, but the walls were extremely thin. Room Mate Emma was in near Passeig de Gracia and in a more suburban part of the city but clean, tidy, and good value. Metro is safe and easy to use for €2 per trip. Taxis are relatively inexpensive but drivers can take advantage of tourists. Taxi from the airport to city center is roughly €25 each way and there are also busses and trains that go direct to the airport.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My first festival: Field Day

Saturday I spent the entire day in Victoria Park at my first festival, Field Day. For those of you who aren't aware, music festivals are part of the social fabric of Britain. Everyone goes to them, young and old, hipsters and fuddy-duddies, as there is a festival for every interest and subculture: rave, electropop, hip-hop, pop, indie, folk, dubstep – you name it, you can find a festival catering to it. If you can't make it to one, the biggies like Glastonbury and Reading are televised on the BBC. I've always wanted to go to a festival, but the requisite camping in certain-to-be-bad weather always put me off. The Irishman is a big fan of festivals, but at his age most of his mates are having babies and diaper changes aren't exactly suited to muddy fields and drunken revelers, so our festival-ready friends are sort of out of commission. Last year we contemplated going to Latitude, which I've heard is brilliant, but I didn't have that many days of holiday so we gave it a miss.

So when some of The Irishman's friends announced that they wanted to come up to London for Field Day, we decided to join in on the fun. Usually Field Day is 2 days, no camping but you can buy a ticket for either day or both, but with the Jubilee it was only the Saturday. A colleague of mine who was also attending gave me the official Field Day clashfinder so we could plan our day, and who we wanted to see on what stages. Below are my legs and my clashfinder, with my picks.

It was a great line up, so there were some tough compromises, but in the end we had a schedule that looked like this:

With that plan in mind, we headed over to Victoria Park to join in the festivities.

What I didn't realize about the festival was the carnival atmosphere. There was a himalaya ride! and giant swings! My favorite, which I didn't get a photo of, was the WI (Women's Institute) table where they were doing Dalston dip-dye hair treatments for free. No, I did not get one.

There were tons of food stands throughout the park, and even a Pimms truck!

The general feel of the festival was like a big fair, with massive movements of people between tents as sets finished and others started. There was even impressive festival fashion, like these guys:

The best acts were in the smaller tents, which actually felt like concerts and the crowds - though jampacked - were really into the music. Unfortunately, the main stage performances felt really far away and distant. Most people were talking through the music and not really engaging with the musicians. I think I enjoyed the main stage best during the afternoon when it was sunny and bright and you could lounge in the grass and soak up the atmosphere and music in a relaxed way.

At the end of the day, in true festival tradition, it started to rain. At first it was sprinkly and bearable, but towards the end of Beirut we were getting soaked and I was freezing. So we had to go and miss the final acts.

Overall, though, the day was really fun. I would definitely go back as for £50 we got to see a ton of great bands and discover some new ones too. Obviously there were queues for some subpar porta-potties, and overpriced beers, but the big flipside of Field Day is that you get to rock out all day and then go home and sleep in your own bed. Priceless.

*The Irishman and I were torn over which headliner to see: I wanted to relive the grrl power 90s and see Mazzy Star and he wanted to bounce around to Franz Ferdinand. We had agreed to decide in the moment but in the end we left so it was a draw.