Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Olympic [Countdown]

Hi everyone! I am back from a week in south Ireland with The Irishman's family (post on the week away coming soon) – and I'm relaxed and rejuvenated. I wasn't in such a great shape on my way out the door for the holiday; some house stuff and work stuff piled up and I literally had to slam my computer shut and run out of the office to make the train to my plane. I had grand plans to post about the Olympic build up in London for you all, but time didn't allow for it and now the security crisis and transport fears and weather woes have largely all been surpassed by a sense of optimism, excitement, and goodwill in London. Okay there are a few new scandals like Mitt Romney putting his foot in it and empty seats in a lot of venues but overall the feel in the city is one of excitement about the Olympics. Even I, a pretty big sports curmudgeon, am thrilled that we got tickets – even if it's to Beach Volleyball (those are our tickets above). But rather than recap the news any more, I'll leave you with a few photos I've been collecting of London all dressed up for its big game. 

But actually, first: watch this video. Boris has been the main man over the last few weeks, and here he doesn't disappoint. Enjoy!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Pizza on a roof

Friday night, The Irishman and I drowned our house sorrows in pizza and wine at one of London's newest pop-ups, Forza Win. I think I've mentioned before that The Irishman's two favorite things in life are pizza and ice cream, so when he heard about Forza Win he jumped right in and got us two seats. It's a good thing as tickets are sold out now.

 The concept is pretty simple: pizza on a rooftop in Shoreditch, straight out of a homemade brick oven.

Unfortunately, due to the recent weather, we didn't get to eat on the roof; instead we had tables set up in an alternate inside space inside the building. But no matter – it was still pizza!

The weather held off long enough for us to have our cocktails on the roof though, so we got to admire the view of the East London skyline, mingle and meet the other guests, and ask questions about the pizza oven. I was gutted that it was so wet I couldn't sit in the bumper car. It was literally filled with water.

Tickets to the event obviously include the pizza, but also a welcome cocktail – an Aperol spritz. This drink happens to be my favorite cocktail of the moment, perfect for a hot summers day (or a cloudy cold summers day if you want to fake it). 

As the sun started to set and the temperatures started to cool down, we headed inside for the main event: pizza. As it's a pop up supper club, you sit at communal tables and share the pizzas. We sat with a few couples and a group, and had a few vegetarians which meant more meat pizza for us! One of the main meat ingredients was a chorizo-type sausage called andouille (I think) – hot and spicy and amazing.

As the meal went on, though, the conversation started to turn slightly odd. One of the women sitting across from me started to heavily criticize America and Americans to the couple sitting beside her. Now. I am not a thin-skinned person, nor am I particularly gung-ho on the USA. As an American who lives abroad, I frequently criticize my homeland myself, find typical American habits to be grating and often apologize to my foreign colleagues for the blithely offensive actions of our New York office. But listening to someone else, a stranger, sound off about Americans right infront of me – definitely within earshot – got my hackles up bigtime.

When she finally addressed me and The Irishman, she made a few pointed remarks about the USA and proclaimed me to be acceptable when I told her where in the States I was from. I disengaged from the conversation pretty quickly at that point, and it sort of soured the rest of the evening for me.

Which is a shame, because we were also treated to a set from a band called Shields from Newcastle. They were set to open for Bruce Springsteen at Hard Rock Calling in Hyde Park later in the weekend, and were really fantastic. As we were actually in the offices of a film production company, naturally the band's performance was being shot for a video.

I have to say that I've never really been that annoyed by someone America bashing, but something about the setting of this interaction saddened me. Maybe because pizza is such an American food, despite being cooked Neopolitan-style at Forza Win; I mean, we wouldn't be having pizza pop up restaurants if Americans hadn't normalized the idea of eating pizza. Maybe because I'm so quick to defend my decision to live abroad while being jealous of the 100°F heatwave hitting the East Coast yet hating the fact that I'm wearing the same outfit I wore in February only it's July. Maybe it's because the longer I live away, the more I realize that nationalistic segregations and stereotypes are barriers to truly understanding people. And maybe, finally, it's because hearing some lady punter verbalize opinions that are so close to my own actually reinforced for me the reality that the US has a lot of work to do to repair its image in the world; the work is far from over on that regard, and as much we Americans still want to believe we are somehow more evolved than other nationalities, it's simply just not true.

And actually, I have to say that one of her comments was very very apt: she was astounded that the US was exporting so many bright, articulate, and interesting people... and she wondered why the US wasn't doing enough to keep them. Which is a pretty fascinating comment – I mean, why isn't America doing more to keep its brainpower within its borders? I don't particularly want to move back, nor do many of my expat friends. So maybe the truth of it is that her comments hit far too close to home.

At any rate, if you can get there, check out Forza Win: the pizzas are great, the spritzes are authentic, the bands are fantastic, and the conversation is nothing less than stimulating.

Spotted: Phone Roses

Not to be confused with Stone Roses...
Spitalfields Market
July 14, 2012

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

He was right

Let this be a lesson for you all in couples who think your partner is being crazy and superstitious.

He or she is probably right. Always trust your gut.

(That's him, above, telling me not to take his photograph in Barcelona – he hates when I take his photo on the sly).

Anyway, remember my last post when I told you I was sick of not talking about the house and that I was going to blog about it despite The Irishman's objections?

Well the next day we got our search results back. Yippeee! It only took 8 weeks despite Hackney Council promising them in 1 week. Except that we didn't expect our search results to include problems.

I don't want to go into too much detail here, but basically the house we're buying has a loft conversion. And that loft conversion, based on the type of house and area, needed to have planning permission before it was completed. And the seller didn't, to our knowledge or the Council's knowledge, have that permission.

This could be a major dealbreaker. Or it could be a simple hurdle to overcome. We simply don't know what will happen, so we are playing The Waiting Game again.

I have to tell you, this is a really depressing process. We've stopped everything in its tracks. We aren't buying a bed anymore (because if we don't buy this house, we won't need a king-sized bed - we won't have anywhere to put it!). We have a stack of packing boxes in the corner of the bedroom that we were going to start filling last weekend, but they've been forgotten about for the time being. All of the moving procedures we started to think about have been shelved – no talk of giving notice, or forwarding mail, or anything. My spreadsheets are all saved in Google Docs for one day, hopefully soon.

I feel like the weather is also compounding my disappointment; because of the house-buying process, we haven't had a vacation at all this year save for those we've been able to tack on to business trips or wedding visits. We can't plan one, either, because again, who knows Рwe might move in August, we might not! All of our money is being fed into a down payment fund, and we can't risk saying fuck it lets escape the rain and head to a sunny beach when we might have to buy paint and pay for a locksmith and homeowners insurance and and and and... My only consolation is that because of this weather, I'm not too angry about missing out on the evenings The Irishman and I could have spent in the back patio of The House this summer, drinking ros̩. They would have been rained out anyway.

So we are headed to Ireland in two weeks to see The Irishman's family and I will cherish this trip as my summer vacation. My expectations for our 7 days away have been downgraded; I don't hope for a secret heatwave in southwest Ireland but I would love a sunny afternoon or two while I'm there. To be honest, I actually just want to get away from everything: from rainy London, from lawyers who don't call back, from real estate, from the economy, from my job, from my life at a standstill. Going to the green rolling hills and rocky Irish coast feels not quite relaxing but maybe soothing. I'll take soothing.

Also, I am suitably chastized enough to revert to my promise to The Irishman that I will not blog about The House until we exchange – which might be tomorrow, or might be never. So don't hold your breath for house-buying posts but please keep us in your thoughts as we navigate the murky waters of the London property market.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Retroactive recap of Taste of London

I'm sitting here watching the rain out our window while The Irishman contendedly flicks back and forth between the British Grand Prix and the Wimbledon's men final, and I realized I never blogged about Taste of London. Since the crap weather is very similar to that which we enjoyed the night we went, I figured I'd use the opportunity to give you a retroactive recap.

We went to Taste of London for our 4-year anniversary, figuring it would be a great treat and fun food-related outing that we wouldn't necessarily have done without a special occasion to warrant it. Held in Regents Park, it bills itself as the world's greatest food fair.

In some ways, yes, it was a spectacular event of food, wine, beer and liquor, with some of the biggest chefs cooking highlights from their restaurants' menus. We went to around 10 different stands to try dishes from the likes Gordon Ramsay, Theo Randall, Michel Roux and Jamie Oliver. Our standout favorite dish was braised slow-cooked ox cheek from the Hinds Head Pub in Bray, owned by Heston Blumenthal.

Our worst dish/waste of time and money went to the crispy salt and pepper squid from Maze – I've had better versions of this Asian classic at the BYOB Vietnamese restaurants on Kingsland Road, and for a fraction of the price.

Runner up favorite went to the scallop served in tomato and caper sauce with lentils from Theo Randall at the Intercontinental, whose restaurant I wish to visit immediately. Their booth was awesome, frantic pace and amazing atmosphere; I mean look at these people trying to get the food out to the roaring crowds!

In terms of drinks, one of my favorites, Chapel Down Winery, had a booth serving all of their wines and oysters (yum!). There were also brewery stands, Grey Goose Vodka, and a few other bars and labels. We tried some French and Italian wines from two independent distributors, and also stopped by the Savoy Hotel stand. They had recreated their Art Deco style bar in their tent, and were serving specially themed cocktails for the occasion. One of their bartenders was wearing a customized dinner jacket that said "Drink My Encantador" and of course I had to ask; he is a finalist in Bacardi's Legacy Cocktail competition with his drink the Encantador. That's the cocktail I had, and I can vouch for its deliciousness.

Our final drink was a cucumber and rose petal granitas with Hendricks gin from Bocca di Lupo. Refreshing and fragrant. PS I also had pasta from Bocca di Lupo and it was out of this world.

But Taste of London wasn't all fun and delicious games. We went because we got half-price tickets on Groupon; full price would have set you back over £25 per person, and that doesn't include food. To eat, you have to purchase "crowns", the Taste of London currency. Two crowns equals £1, so you have to do some math every time you walk up to a booth and a dish is 4 crowns, 9 crowns, etc. Halfway through your night, you realize that you've spent all of your crowns, are still hungry, and want another glass of wine – and that's where the trouble starts. 

You buy the crowns in larger amounts (ie, 20 crowns for £10) and then go off on your merry eating way. But very quietly bars stop serving at 8:45, and you only really find that out when you're done with your food. So then you start running around trying to use up your crowns, but you've eaten too much and don't want any more food. But the crowns aren't good anywhere else so you don't want to waste any more money than you've already spent. In our case, we used the rest of our crowns (4 leftovers) to buy a Lindt chocolate bar.

And the layout of the fair leaves much to be desired. There are a few concentric rings of tents but it's really confusing; we had to use our map the whole night to figure out our route to and from specific food destinations. Which is fine, except that the map isn't very helpful. At all. 

Of course, the weather had a lot to do with it. We went on a cold damp Friday (well, which one this summer hasn't been like that?) and needed wellies because of the mud. Walkways were put down so you don't completely sink in mud, but because of the conditions there wasn't really anywhere to relax. Had the sun been out and it been dry, you could have plopped down on the grass and really enjoyed the evening. Instead, you scurried from booth to booth for food and huddled against the wind. I can't even remember how many times my glass of wine nearly flew through the air when I accidentally left it on a table for a minute.

So final verdict: a great experience, a great activity, but poorly executed and very expensive. We've always wanted to go, and are glad we did, but I don't think we'd rush back. To be honest, the best part about the event is that we now have a list of 5 restaurants we really want to try this year and they aren't the 5 we thought we'd love. I'd say that's the best part of Taste of London – trying a little bit of the best food in the city, and making a list of where to eat next.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

We are buying a house

I haven't posted in a while, so I figured I'd come back with a bang.

I've thrown off the Irish embargo on not talking about The House because, frankly, I'm bored of holding it in. We're 98.5% there so I'm going to give you and overview and once we are at 100% then I can fill you in on all of the juicy details.

So yes, we are buying a house. It is a house, not a flat nor a maisonette, and it is completely different from all of the houses we'd seen previously – in a good way. It is halfway between Stoke Newington and Dalston, so I don't have decide quite yet whether I'm an organic hippie or a too-cool-for-school hipster.

Our offer was accepted in early May and our mortgage has been approved, so all we're waiting for now is the land searches from Hackney Council. Their computer system has been down since Christmas, so all searches are being conducted by hand with lead times of up to 40 working days. We counted back and are at 35 days as of today since our lawyer initiated the search so literally we could be ready to exchange contracts any day now.

Once we exchange contracts, we can be confident that the house purchase will go through and then I can tell you much more detail about the house itself and our plans for it. We're hoping to move in sometime in early August so we've started mattress and bed shopping, which is proving nearly as hard as finding the house itself.

So yeah! Phew! It's a like a weight off my shoulders to tell all of you the news. I'll probably start blogging about the house purchase now, as well as the bed/mattress buying process I'm currently in the midst of, so if you have any specific questions or want me to write about something in particular, please do let me know in the comments.