Sunday, December 20, 2009

Londoner's "Holiday" Weekend in London

This weekend Keenan and I enjoyed a two-night stay at The Cavendish Hotel on Jermyn Street in Mayfair compliments of T.M. Lewin!

When I first received my job offer back in August, I decided to celebrate with a bit of retail therapy on Regents Street as I was in need of new work clothes having spent two-years living in my Seven jeans and Teva flip flops as a poor grad student (oh so Berkeley!). Whilst shopping at T.M. Lewin, one of Keenan’s favorite retailers for ‘smart’ work clothes, I entered into a sweepstake 'just for fun' knowing that the odds were against me.

A month later, we received a phone call from the T.M. Lewin corporate relations manager congratulating us on winning second prize…a weekend stay at the Cavendish Hotel! What a surprise! I wonder what the first prize was; probably somewhere fabulous like the South of France or Bordeaux? Due to the Royal Mail strike, we just received our gift certificate three weeks ago (thanks Royal Mail) and needed to use it before the end of the year. With Keenan’s birthday around the corner, I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate his birthday than some R&R (read: lazy) at a posh Mayfair hotel.

The weekend was a mixture of shopping, relaxing, and eating. My weekend started on an excellent note -- no work on Friday due to the office move to EC1! I was told to report to work at the Royal Oak Pub at 12:30PM for a team lunch, followed by a pub crawl from the Southbank to Old Street. After a few pints with my work colleagues, I made my way to The Cavendish to meet up with Keenan who had already checked into our junior suite on the 15th floor overlooking central London. I actually found him at the hotel lobby bar enjoying cocktail hour. Keenan's work colleagues remembered that it was his birthday this Tuesday and got him a bottle of champagne and chocolates as a birthday gift. This would be the beginning of many "birthday" drinks for the birthday boy over the weekend. Friday evening we went to dinner at a Malaysian restaurant recommended by another colleague who hails from Kuala Lumpur. Yum, curry laksa...

Back at the hotel, we enjoyed the evening in...watching T.V.! That's a treat for us as we don't have a T.V. and still don't plan on getting one. Yes, our English colleagues makes fun of us for not having a T.V., but to be honest, we don't miss it either.

Saturday we spent the day shopping around Covent Garden for some good winter clothes. It's been freezing cold here in London! Brrgghhhhhh....I am looking forward to warmth on my skin.

Sad that our little "holiday" was coming to an end, we had a leisurely Sunday brunch (Full English Breakfast) at the hotel compliments of The Cavendish Hotel, packed up our bags, and took a brisk winter walk to Hyde Park for the Winter Wonderland German Christmas Markets. More beer, more bratwurst, and more holiday festivities...

Cheers! Happy Holidays! And Happy Birthday Keenan!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Walk along the Southbank

I spend much of my waking hours along the Southbank, my place of employment. Well, I should say was my place of employment as my office is moving to Moorgate/Barbican area next week. A new year with a new EC1 postcode...

I will miss working in SE1, as the Southbank is one of my favorite parts of London. I love the riverside stroll from Tower Bridge to the London Eye, the Tate Modern, and of course Borough Market, foodie lover's paradise and my usual Friday lunch spot. My favorite is the chorizo rolls at Brindisa or cheesy raclette sandwich. Ummmmm...

This weekend was spent with friends, eating, being lazy on Sunday afternoon, and catching up with friends and family via Skype. Friday I spent the evening with a friend for a screening of 'Burma VJ' at UCL, followed by dinner at Mandalay on Edgeware Road where Keenan joined us after his company 'Christmas Do' (more on that later). Let's just say he had way too much fun; so much fun that he ended up nursing a hangover most of Saturday.

Keenan finally woke from his 'Christmas Do'-induced coma late in the afternoon, so we decided to head to Borough Market for mulled wine and German bratwursts, Keenan's favorite; in fact he ate three in a row when he was Munich last December. I forgot how busy Borough Market gets on Saturdays; it was packed with tourists; avid cooks in search for the freshest ingredients; and shoppers looking for holiday puddings, artisan cheeses, and food-based gifts. All makes for a wonderful holiday mood with Christmas some 12 days away.

As per usual with our outings to Borough Market, we were stuffed and needed to walk off our lunch. We made our way to the Southbank Centre for the Chocolate Festival. Chocolate galore!

Chocolate brownies, chocolate lollipops, hot chocolate, truffles...

I love the holidays in London -- so festive and cheerful! Next week we'll visit the Christmas markets in Hyde Park and Covent Garden, and maybe a Christmas pint or two with our American friends, most who will be heading home to the East Coast for the holidays. And packing up my desk for the big office move across the river...

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Monday, December 07, 2009

The English and I Speak the Same Language....Maybe Not?

Having lived in the U.K. for over a year now, I thought I'd share with you some "bits and bobs" of British English...

Hiya = Hello
You Alright? (like there's something wrong) = How are you?
Peckish = Hungry
Poorly = Sick
Aubergine = Eggplant to us Americans
Nappie = Diapers
Brolly = Umbrella
Tellie = Television
Biscuit = Cookies in the States
Chips = Fries
Crisp = Potato Chips
Gherkin = Yes, as in the Gherkin means pickle
Pudding = Dessert
Pants = Underwear not to be confused with Trousers which means pants, Americans
Suspenders = no, not that kind. It means lingerie or garder belt.
Braces = suspenders in the UK
Jumper = Sweater
Boot = Trunk of a car
Bloke = Guy as "that's a nice looking bloke (read: guy)"
Mate = Friend
Brum = people from Birmingham, also called Brummy
Drinkie-poos = drinks
Pressie = Presents as in "I got a birthday pressie for you..."
Chav = derogatory for someone of the underclass
Mum = Mom in the U.S.
Yank = us, we Americans!
Quid = Buck, "That will be 10 bucks/quid"
Fancy Dress = Halloween Costumes
Serviette = Napkins
Boot = Trunk of the car
Bonnet = The Hood of the car

That's all for now. Hopefully more to come!


Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving from London!

Every year on the fourth Thursday of November, we Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, an annual tradition of eating and drinking, and of course to be thankful for life's many blessings. While this American holiday has been celebrated since 1863, Thanksgiving did not become a federal holiday until 1941. Americans get not one, but two days off; one day to devour delicious Thanksgiving food and the next day to recover from the aftermath i.e. food/wine coma, or indulge in some retail therapy on Black Friday. Thanksgiving...bring it on!

My first (and Keenan's second) Thanksgiving in London was lovely. We hosted Thanksgiving dinner for 9 people at our flat and had a wonderful time with our London-based friends! I took half-day off to roast the turkey and make the trimmings for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Oh the joys of cooking -- I love it!

The Host at Work:

Keenan made one and half dozen deviled eggs and a killer (artery-clogging) mashed potatoes. Our friends brought yummy desserts, appetizers, and lots of wine (and Estonian banana liqueur) to round out the menu. I'll just let the pictures speak for itself.

Hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving! Be thankful everyday...

~L + K


The Kitchen as the buffet area

Veggie Platter | Charcuterie of Cured Meats & Cheese | Deviled Eggs | Mushroom Soup | Spinach and Beet Root Salad | Turkey with Herb Butter | Sausage, Mushroom, and Chestnut Stuffing | Roasted Green Beans and Carrots | Classic Mashed Potato w/ Gravy | Cauliflower Gratin | Brussels Sprout | Apple – Orange Cranberry Sauce

Desserts: Cheesecake | Apple Tart | Pumpkin Pie -- made with love by M.P., L.G., and F.A-W (respectively)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Night at the Opera: A New Take on Puccini's Turandot

I first saw Puccini’s Turandot years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it, so when I heard that a production was coming to the English National Opera in London, I had to secure tickets.

The best part of our night at the opera was our seats. We were in the front row stalls, center stage, seated directly behind the Conductor. You couldn’t have had better seats than these. The music was superb with Welsh tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones as “the unknown prince” and German soprano Kirsten Blanck as the “ice princess” headlining the performance. Jones’ rendition of “Nessun Dorma” was amazing, reminiscent of Pavarotti, and I have no complaints on the music whatsoever.

However, this particular production of Turandot was a bit too quirky for me to give it a fully positive review. As you can see from the production photos, the costumes were a bit over-the-top on the scale of randomness, ranging from Elvis impersonators, pregnant mothers-to-be, retro golfers and tennis players, and goth and punk youngsters. While I appreciate what director Rupert Goold was probably trying to achieve in “individualizing” the members of the chorus, I found that this tactic created a constant annoyance to me, distracting me from the superb vocal and orchestral performances and cheapening the overall production. The English National Opera is known for putting a contemporary spin on classic operas, but this went beyond presenting a darkly modern interpretation of the original and at certain points even inserted obvious, but silent side storylines that were never written by Puccini. I didn’t understand the purpose of this as it added no visual or musical value to the experience. The stage sets were fantastic, no complaints there.

We watched Rupert Goold’s production of Harold Pinter’s “No Man’s Land” last December and to date it has been my favorite show in the West End, so I was a bit surprised to see this eclectic and sometimes nonsensical interpretation of one of the greatest operas of all time. Apparently the gentleman seated beside me was a bit thwarted as well. At various points throughout the performance he would shake his in disagreement with what he saw on stage and at one point dramatically dropped his head in his hands, gasping, and averting his eyes from the performance altogether. Next time I think I’ll avoid the English National Opera altogether and stick to the traditional Royal Opera House.

Overall, it was a great performance by all musicians and a terrific night at the opera, but I could have done without the arbitrary and outlandish costumes which at times made me feel like I had accidentally wound up at a night at the circus instead.

Puccini's Turandot Production Photos (Courtesy of C. Ashmore):

Act 1: Liu - the Slave Girl and The Prince

Act 1: Ice Princess -- Princess Turandot

Act 3: "Nessun Dorma" (No One Shall Sleep)

Act 3: Liu would not reveal the Prince's name