Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Boys Are Back In Town

Have I mentioned how amazing the weather’s been here in London?! It’s been in the 80s which is unreal for this typically overcast city and I’ve been loving it! It so reminds me of San Francisco...lounging in Fort Mason on a hot, sunny day and all the wonderful weekend festivals. Anyways, enough daydreaming, back to the story.

Last weekend was a whirlwind visit with Jim's best friend (and best man!), Matt. It was so nice having them back here after their boys-only trip to Edinburgh and Dublin where they surely got into a bit of trouble in the pubs. We spent most of our time walking around Fulham and Chelsea enjoying the sunshine and dipping into pubs to cool off with a cold beer. As has become the norm, we headed over to Sloane Square to grab a bite to eat at the food fair on Saturday, and then walked along the Kings Road before heading back to Fulham for a wine stop at Vagabond (the cute wine shop I posted about a few months ago). It was so fun seeing Jim and Matt back together again...they’ve grown up together so act like brothers which can be very amusing.

Sunday came way too quickly and Matt had to take off, so Jim and I filled the void by renting Barclays bikes and riding around Chelsea to Battersea Park. Barclays bikes (or Borris bikes, named after the mayor who put them in place) are public bikes that you can rent on an hourly basis for pretty cheap (about £1/hour) which is perfect when you just want to cycle around a bit and you don’t have your own. I was a little apprehensive about biking in a city of super aggressive drivers but it ended up being just fine and we made it to Battersea Park where we sat for a while looking out over the Thames. It’s a really pretty park mostly frequented by locals (vs. tourists like Hyde Park). We ended our weekend with a delicious picnic in a Fulham park (along with everyone else). I can happily report that after a weekend in the sun, my British paleness has begun to fade away and I’m sporting a healthy glow!

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

I'll Make You Banana Pancakes...

Brunch is by far the best meal of the week, and I'm always after delish recipes to whip up on the weekend. I came across these fabulous whole wheat brown sugar banana bread pancakes from the food blog, How Sweet It Is last week and have been dying make them ever since. Not only do they look scrumptious, but they also sound a little healthy with the words whole wheat and banana in the title (but obviously not with all that butter and sugar!). Here's how to make them...

Whole Wheat Brown Sugar Banana Bread Pancakes
Makes 12 pancakes

- 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (substitute 1 cup whole wheat & 1 cup all-purpose)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 2/3 cup milk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 3 large ripe bananas, mashed
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted

Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl. Measure out the milk and add the vanilla extract to it. Whisk together the dry ingredients and add in milk and vanilla, stirring to combine. Then add in mashed bananas and mix, followed by the melted butter. Stir until batter is somewhat smooth.

Cook the pancakes on a griddle and serve hot with butter and syrup, or a vanilla maple glaze made with 1/2 cup maple syrup, 3/4 cup powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

[Images and recipe via How Sweet It Is]

Monday, 28 May 2012

High Tea at The Dorchester

Afternoon tea is a quintessential English pastime that I'd been wanting to experience ever since we arrived. There's something so perfect about lounging around drinking too much tea and eating way too many scones and cakes. I'd researched the best places to have high tea, and The Dorchester kept popping up, so I figure it must be good. And it was. The hotel is so magnificent inside with flowers in bloom everywhere, big, grand furniture, dim lighting and everyone dressed to the nines. There's also a wonderful pianist playing old showtunes and some newer hits, which creates a lovely ambiance.

Since the Chelsea Flower Show was in full swing when we went, there was a special afternoon tea that included a glass of bubbly to start off the festivities. Then came the dainty tea sandwiches with an array of fillings from cheddar and mango to smoked salmon. We were already so stuffed before the cakes, scones and mango cream parfait came out, but of course we kept eating! And they just kept refilling the tea pots over and over...I don't think I've had that much in my entire life. By the end of it, we were practically sinking in the plush pillows enjoying the lovely music and nibbling on the leftover chocolate cakes.

This would make a fab gift for a friend's birthday or to treat your mom...definitely can't go to often without breaking the bank but it's definitely worth it for a special occasion. Enjoy!

Friday, 25 May 2012

Scenes from Myriah & Corey's Visit

Drinks at The Valmont Club in Chelsea after dinner at Tom’s Kitchen
Strolling through the colourful Notting Hill neighbourhood
Loved our breakfast date at Gail's Bakery!
Checking out the Chelsea Food Fair and Chelsea Flower Show exhibits 
What a hot couple! Shopping in Chelsea after breakfast at Megan's
Watching Chelsea win the Champions League and FA Cup 
Chelsea fans proudly hung the flag before the match started
Enjoying a walk through Hyde Park before our high tea at The Dorchester
The boys looking dapper in the park, our friend Matt got here on Sunday!
It was so wonderful to catch up with my sister and Corey when they were here last week – although it went by way too quickly! We mostly walked around, popped in pubs, ate loads of delicious treats at markets and street fairs and cheered on Chelsea as they became double champions of the FA Cup and Champions League! In case you're not familiar, the Champions League is made up of the best football clubs in Europe and the FA Cup is a competition between the best football teams in England. It's hard to describe how passionate the English are about football...the people in the pub literally went wild when we scored the winning goal...and this was followed by riots in Fulham near our home!

Oh, and on a lighter and more refined note, we also had a very posh afternoon tea at The Dorchester in Mayfair...I'll share photos soon.

It literally could not have been a better weekend..get back here soon you two! x

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Mediterranean Wine & Dine

Cooking and dining sounds amazing, right? Well I thought so, and that's why I went along to my first cooking class at L'atelier Des Chefs the other night! This cooking school is actually part of a big global network, but the location in Oxford Circus was actually quite small and lovely. The course was all about Mediterranean dishes and the menu was inventive but still manageable for a beginner/intermediate cook.

Our class was only five people so we really got to get up and close with the chef. We learned how to chop without making a lot of noise with your knife, how to make tapenade, how to make an amazingly simple French dessert and how to clean and prepare prawns and sea bass. Very useful techniques to have in your culinary repertoire. I would definitely recommend treating yourself to a course, or inviting a friend for a fun night out where you can learn something and drink wine!

The fabulous menu included these recipes:

Garlic Tiger Prawns with Rocket Salad and a Paprika Mayonnaise
I absolutely loved this recipe since it was light and fresh - it would make a great lunch with a glass of Chardonnay. Instead of making your own mayo, I'd probably buy it pre-made and add in some of the ingredients we used to make it fresh like lemon, paprika and cayenne pepper. Also for the non-Euros, rocket is arugula.

Crisp Fillet of Sea Bass with Spiced Aubergine Salad, Provencal Viniagrette and Black Olive Tapenade
This is a tasty and healthy meal with a lot of flavours. To make life a little easier, I'd buy the sea bass already de-boned and the prawns already peeled and de-vained. Take note that aubergine is eggplant and courgette is zucchini.

Apricot Clafoutis
Despite the fancy name, this was so easy to make and would be a wonderful weekend dessert. If I made this again (which I likely will), I might choose peaches over apricots since they're a bit sweeter and juicier and I can see them working really well with the almond flavour.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

10 More English Lessons

Back when we first moved here I wrote a post about things I'd learned about living in England. After seven months in the country, I think it's just about time for another round of observations.
  1. Tea is more than a culture here, it's an obsession. People get up countless times a day for a "hot drink" and always come back with cups for everyone around them (made just the way they like it, of course).
  2. Members clubs are very big here (meaning private clubs that you pay to go at night or sometimes in the day). If you manage to get in they're super fun, but if not you can be left feeling a bit like a loser! It seems that people really like feeling exclusive...probably goes along with the whole class system here that's much more obvious than in the States. 
  3. Before we came to England, Jim attended a cultural training session about country differences where they described Americans as peaches and Brits as coconuts. Why, you may ask? Americans are typically friendly and tend to share their lives with many friends, but maybe only a few that know them at their very core. On the other hand, Brits have a harder shell and tend to be more closed off, but once you get in, they're quite sweet. So far I've found this to be very true.
  4. One cannot mistake politeness for niceness over here. Case in point: if you meet someone and they invite you over for dinner, they may well never intend to follow through even though you may be planning what dish you'll bring. You just have to take these things with a grain of salt because in the end it's quite comical.
  5. I've acquired a new few favourite funny words: niggles (annoying everyday occurences), faffing (messing around) and sorted (get it sorted out). Every week I seem to learn a new, ridiculous word that just doesn't translate in America...and I love it.
  6. I always seem to hear people talking about having a "lie in" in the weekend (meaning sleeping in, perhaps with a bellini and a croissant). I think it goes along with the fact that weekends (and all time away from work) is very valued here. No complaints here! 
  7. Londoners love getting out of the city on the weekend...and love talking about it! If you live in a city it's always nice to get away, but there's something different about the way people talk about the countryside here like it's a magical place (it is actually really beautiful).
  8. Certain fruit and veg (vegetables are almost always called veg) have different names: aubergines are eggplants and courgette is zucchini. Who knew!
  9. Sentences are often shortened as in "could do" or "should do" for I/we could or should do that. You hear this ALL the time, and I now use it too.
  10. Fair Dinkum is not only a Disney character here, it also means fair or true in Australia, but I've heard it said here. I'm not kidding.
So there you have it...ten more things you may not have known about English culture. Until the next installment...cheerio!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Sisters in London

Today is a wonderfully fabulous day because I get to see my sister, Myriah! I am literally excited beyond words. It’s been about five months since we last saw each other, and although we talk on the phone and Skype all the time, there’s nothing like some quality time with my best friend. We lived in San Francisco together for three years, so it’s been a big change not being able to go to Blue Fog for an iced latte on the weekend or grab a quick bite at Bistro Aix any night of the week. We’ll just have to soak it all in this weekend! She’s coming over by train from Paris tonight with her boyfriend Corey, so I can’t wait to pop some bubbly and celebrate their arrival. I'm taking the day off tomorrow to tour around the city with them, and then on Saturday we’ll do a bit more lounging about in Fulham before catching the big Chelsea Champions League match. Stay tuned for a post next week on our adventures!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Blue Haus

If on the off chance you happen to be travelling to Berlin in the near future and you want to stay at a great little B&B, take a look at Blue Home. When I was researching hotels for our trip to Berlin (check out the post here), I randomly tweeted asking for suggestions on where to stay and I quickly got a reply from a co-worker who recommended Blue Home. It’s amazing how connected everything is these days – you can get tips from anywhere – Facebook and Twitter to TripAdvisor and travel forums. I usually always read the reviews and ratings on TripAdvisor before booking, and luckily this one fit the bill.

Blue Home is an eclectic  boutique hotel owned by sister property, Ackselhaus. It’s located in Prenzlauer Berg, a borough in East Berlln, and is made up of a collection of themed flats. Our flat was mostly blue and white with tall ceilings, an adorable breakfast nook, a bed with a TV built into the frame, oversized turquoise lanterns and a mini balcony overlooking the street. Although we didn’t spend a lot of time there, staying in a flat (vs. a hotel room) made us feel a little more like locals which is nice for a long weekend. And did I mention the scrumptious breakfast spread? Each morning breakfast was served in a cosy room on the lower level. You could order cappuccinos and fluffy croissants or have a more healthy muesli and yogurt kind of morning! And there was also a cool outside lounge area where you could relax over a drink watch the fish swim in the wading pool.

Definitely worth looking into if you’re making your way to Germany!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Ladies Who Blog: Cybher 2012

On Saturday I attended my very first blogging event and tiny bit of joy made its UK debut! Cybher is the  first all-female blogger event of its kind aimed at bringing together the most influential bloggers and speakers to network, share, learn and inspire. I was a little hesitant about attending, but am so happy I did. I learned loads from fellow bloggers about how to create “sticky” content, make your blog pretty,  use new gadgets, and so much more. Here are a few highlights from the day...

Hearing from established beauty blogger, Louise Pentland of Sprinkle of Glitter, about how to find your voice and  grow your blog. She is hilarious and humble, and I love that she’s made a living out of blogging...that would be a dream!

Listening to Mark Solomon from Black Cab Quotes talk about how he went from cab driver to blogger and published author by having passengers write down inspiration quotes in the back seat. What an entrepreneur!

Taking a mini-photography class with BBC journalist and founder of the photography website Someone One Told Me, Mario Cacciottolo. We learned how to take the perfect portrait using the right lighting, background and positioning. Get ready for your close up!

Getting some fabulous design tips from the talented Jo Gifford of Cherry Sorbet Creative and Dexterous Diva. Lots of really useful tips like how to create digital collages and keep your blog looking smart. 

The thing I’m happiest about is how proud I felt being there representing something I feel so passionate about. I can't wait to take the juicy bits I learned and give tiny bit of joy some extra loving! 

Friday, 11 May 2012

Hallo Berlin!

It feels like we've been going non-stop and jetting here and there, but that didn't stop my excitement for our trip last weekend to Berlin! I'd heard so much about this up and coming German city that's full of recent history, culture and an incredible night life. We arrived late Friday night and got a little lost on our way into Prenzlauer Berg, a lovely part of East Berlin inhabited by young families and professionals. After failing to understand the tram system, we jumped in a cab and made it to our adorable B&B, Blue Home, which is made up of a few dozen themed flats (more details to come on this place in another post!). I always get really excited when we choose a good hotel, so the trip was off to a good start.

On Saturday, we took one of the infamous walking tours to get the full city history, and it was well worth it. Seeing the Third Reich, the Nazi headquarters, and the bunker where Hitler spent his final days really brought everything I'd read in history classes to life. And standing next to the Berlin Wall and all it represents for Germany was so moving. I could really go on and on about everything we saw, but I'll let the photos speak for themselves!

When we were planning our trip, we found out that my sorority sister, Erin, now lives in Berlin with her boyfriend, Gustav. Could the world get any smaller? Not to mention, our London friends, Tici and Filipe (he's in Jim's same company programme) were also going to be there the same weekend. Luckily we were able to meet up with both of them. After our walking tour, Erin and Gustav took us to a Hertha Berlin football match at the Olympic stadium (they won!), and then we went out to a few pubs including a ping pong bar where you take turns hitting until there’s only two players left standing – random but amazing at the same time. Then we ended up at a techno club in the middle of nowhere...just what I imagined Berlin to be!

On our last day we stopped by places we hadn't covered on the tour: Brandenberg Gate (the grand entrance to the city), Potsdamer Platz (the site of the largest construction effort to have been undertaken in modern history) and the Jewish Memorial (an understated sea of concrete blocks that are actually a maze). It was nice having three and a half days in the city because we didn’t have to rush through all the sites, meaning more time for wandering leisurely through the cafes, museums and monuments. I really thought the language and food would be a bit tricky for me since I don’t speak German and don’t eat most meat, but most everyone spoke English (and we tried to speak a few German words like gutefahrt!) and I ended up loving the tasty bratwurst sausages they sell on almost every corner. 

We may be headed to Munich this fall for Oktoberfest, so until then, auf wiedersehen Germany!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Grey Spaces

Recently I've been loving grey design and decor. It's the perfect neutral palette: a bit more edgy than the typical beige, and the perfect complement to white, pink and gold accents. And it goes so well in stripes, geometric patterns and even polka dots. I'd love to have more grey in our flat, and if we could paint the walls, a grey room would definitely be in order. For now, it'll just have to be some new grey pillows and perhaps a duvet! 

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Camden Markets

Camden is a cool, culturally rich area of north west London filled with open-air and indoor markets, each with its own distinctive flavour. It’s quite touristy and has lots of street shops, bars and restaurants to explore. It was drizzling when we went, so we probably didn’t see Camden in all its glory, but I still loved the retro vibe and all of the vintage clothing shops and foreign foods. The random shoes, pop art figures and other odd bits fitted on the multi-coloured buildings are quite a sight to see! You could literally spend hours milling around the main markets, Camden Lock Market and Stables Market, or eating at the local food markets full of international cuisine. I’ll have to go back during summer, or whenever the sun comes out!
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