Friday, December 30, 2011

Day 31: Boxing Day

Boxing Day marked my one month anniversary in London. While I can't believe it's already been a month, I sorely demonstrated how I'm still quite a newbie to this city. My mistake? Visiting Oxford Circus in the middle of the afternoon.

Wow. How naive I was to think it'd be fun to see the crowds! I felt like a country bumpkin in the big city watching the waves of shoppers and their unwavering commitment to shopping. Laden with bags, children, purses, phones, and take-away food, the shoppers carried on shopping: in and out of stores, queuing for fitting rooms, queuing for cashiers, flagging down buses. They weren't even phased by news that a stabbing had occurred just a few blocks away!

It was a pleasure coming home to a cup of tea, big bowl of homecooked food, and the promise that I'd never, ever do that again.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Day 28: Tayyab and Charring Cross Road

Over the weekend, Lauren, Thomas and I went to Tayyab, a crowded, noisy, delicious restaurant in Whitechapel. It's off the high street and on a relatively quiet road, but I knew I was in for a delicious meal when I saw the line-up spilling out onto the road. Inside, Tayyab was packed with people - office workers, families, students, and Christmas merrymakers. The tables were crowded inches apart and waiters carried food past us that looked and smelled delicious. Lauren wisely made reservations and, within minutes, we were seated and pulling beer and wine out of our bags. We'd been alerted that the restaurant was a BYOB establishment, and it was so much fun! The waiters didn't bat an eye, there was no corkage or bottling or pouring fee. They just brought over a bottle opener and let us be!

To eat, we had sizzling lamb chops, chana, a mixed okra and onion dish, karahi chicken, and heaps of fluffy, chewy naan. Despite being full, I finished off my 2nd piece of naan by sopping up the bottom of the chana bowl. So good. I could eat that meal every day.

Yesterday, we worked off our Tayyab meal by walking all around Covent Garden and Central. We must have wandered up and down Charring Cross five or six times, including long visits to Foyles and Nisbet's, a kitchen supply store. The streets were bustling and the pubs were packed. Christmas in London really is something else.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Day 22: One more sleep

Thomas arrives tomorrow! And with Thomas comes maple syrup.

In a moment of pig-head-induced jet lag last night, I made this recipe card.

Click here to enlarge the recipe and print. And the title ain't no lie: it really does make the most delicious pancakes.

Recipe via

Friday, December 16, 2011

Day 21: The Long Table

Have you ever had pig's head stew? Slow braised with brussel tops, mustard, pearl barley, and topped with pickled carrots and crunchy barley? Or a goat taco? How about shredded duck in creamy rice with chorizo? A lamb wrap with lovely greens? Or a really juicy, cheesy hamburger on a soft bun with a side of dill pickles? Grilled pork belly with cucumber in a pillowy soft man-tou? How about all of these in the same evening?

I just had all of the above, seven of the tastiest little meals I've ever eaten (including the best cheeseburger I've ever had ever), served in paper bowls, with napkins stuffed into my pocket, huddled under a too-small tent.

Tonight, I went to the final evening of The Long Table, a pop-up street food market in Dalston. It was amazing. Some of London's best restaurants, including St. John (a.k.a. the happiest place on earth), Moro, Yum Bun, and Lucky Chip, set up stalls in a tucked-away square near Dalston Junction. We lined up, sorry, "queued" up, at 5:30 for the opening at 6, and the line was already half a block long. It was a cold night, with a hint of rain, but the sound and smell of a bonfire, roasted pork, and spicy mulled cider kept us in line, blowing steamy air into our hands and stomping our feet to keep warm.

I was first in line for St. John's pig head stew, which was packed with flavour. The broth was rich and thick and bursting with a meaty, gamey flavour. It was delicious. By the time we finished the stew and lined up for other plates, all the queues were lengthy and the tables were crowded.

But it was worth the wait and worth the cold. The food was messy and hearty, and the company was warm and happy. All around were clusters of friends and families, licking their fingers, balancing steaming cups of cider with handfuls of forks, bouncing bundled up babies, or stretching their hands over smoky bonfires. Everyone was talking and eating good food. Even as we left, the queue of people waiting to get inside were chatting and generally in good spirits, and they were hours away from even getting to stand in line at one of the vendors! Brits are truly dedicated to their street food.

My favourite part of the evening:

[all fairy lights and power go out]

Crowd: Awwwww....

[all fairy lights and power turn on]

Crowd: Yaaaaay!

I came away from the evening with frozen toes, the smell of smoke in my hair, and sauce stains on my coat.

I'm so glad I'm here.

The Food

St. John's Pig Head Stew with barley, brussel tops, and mustard, topped with crunchy barley and pickled carrot


Meatballs and eggplant parmiagana with polenta

Red and Green's pulled pork and goat taco

Moro's duck with rice and chorizo and slow-cooked lamb wrap with crunchy salad

Lucky Chip's cheeseburger

Yum Bun's pork belly man-tou with chili sauce

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Day 17

Lauren is here! On Monday, my friend Lauren arrived and so far, our time together has been marked by delays in transportation. I'm realizing just how spread out this city is. It took me 1.5 hours to travel to Heathrow Airport on the Tube, and trying to find her friend's house in Brixton was a two hour affair! But it's not so bad when you have a good friend to chat with along the way.

On her first morning here, I took her to Upland's Cafe for her first British fry-up. Uplands is a no-nonsense cafe, with eight long wooden tables lined with chairs, and an order counter at the back. When we went in, it was full of construction workers (or "builders" as they say in England), which I take as a good sign. Lauren had sausage, beans, and an egg, and I had black pudding, beans, and hashbrowns. We both had mugs of very strong, very inky black tea, and then spent the afternoon wandering around East Dulwich and spending extraordinary lengths of time choosing Christmas cards and socks. It was good fun.

I also made a happy discovery: there's an Anthropologie in London! I saw it on Regent Street while sitting on the bus! I think I actually yelped with joy and frightened several passengers.

It's nice to show Lauren around and to test my wayfinding skills and confidence. While my circle of exploration is still quite small, it's so pleasing to tack on a few more new streets each day, to find a few more lovely little cafes that feel like my own little secret, and to be able to show friends my new discoveries.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

City foxes

Last night, a little after midnight, I heard this horrible, high-pitched, strangled screeching sound outside of Isobel's apartment. It sounded like a cross between a crow and a cat, and, while it only lasted about 30 seconds, it was really dreadful! In the morning, I asked her about it, and it turns out London is home to urban foxes!

I know, I know, they probably don't sound like George Clooney or Meryl Street, and they probably don't wear corduroy suits or flowered aprons or paint or play whackbat, but I can dream, can't I? City foxes do sound like something out of a novel, much more so than the suburban raccoons I grew up with!

This city is just full of surprises.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Wedding pie

I love pie. I loved that I knew the top 3 places to go get pie in Vancouver at 8 o'clock at night. I wish I knew that information for London. It will take research, dedication, and much pie-eating, but I hope to acquire that knowledge someday.

On that note, somebody needs to order this wedding pie and invite me to their wedding.

Did I mention it's filled with delicious pork?

To Piccadilly and back

Today was a test of my orienteering skills. I decided to venture to Piccadilly Circus, the National Portrait Gallery, and then have an afternoon snack in Soho. I also wanted to take the overland train, which was actually very soothing in the way it undulated over the landscape. It gave a great view of the city, too.

I rode the overland train to Elephant & Castle, and took a bit of a tour of LCC. It was so exciting! The school was in end-of-the-year mode and you could sense the excitement and nostalgia of the students. Everyone was chattering and taking down their projects from the gallery spaces. I'm excited.

I then found my way to the Bakerloo line and Piccadilly Circus, which was madness. Does it ever calm down? It's always so packed! Is that man bouncing a soccer ball on his head to the beat of "Eye of the Tiger" really so compelling?

After a few studies of the map, I managed to make my way to the back of the National Gallery. I was overwhelmed with relief when I saw the back of the building and the huge "National Gallery" banner. Around the side of the National Gallery was a little door to the National Portrait Gallery, and that's where I spent my afternoon. There were some amazing pieces. I overhead some of the visitors saying that all those eyes staring out were creepy, but the skill demonstrated in the pieces just amazed me.

My favourite area was Room 16, a small space dedicated to a single-room exhibit titled Queens in Waiting: Charlotte and Victoria. The unfinished watercolour of Princess Charlotte by Thomas Heaphy was the piece that I kept returning to time and time again. In it's unfinished state, it looked so surreal and bizarre, but the watercolours also make it so soft and romantic. I really liked that juxtaposition, and the fact that you can see the artist's work in progress. I noticed that my favourite pieces at the Degas exhibit were also his preliminary sketches where you could see his pencil marks and almost read his thoughts as he planned his painting.

The portraits of Prince Leopold made me smile, too - he had quite the jaunty moustache!

By the time I'd wandered all three floors of the gallery and made a thorough inspection of the bookshop (where I pondered purchasing this book), my stomach was rumbling. I went to Soho and had a lovely piece of banana bread with ginger tea in the library room at Leon. It was cozy and just what I needed on a chilly day. From their bookshelf, I pulled down the Sugar Club Cookbook, which I'd never heard of before, and scribbled down a few delicious-sounding recipes for laksa.

That was followed by more warming up at Wagamama, where I had a big bowl of spicy coconut soup with noodles, and a brisk walk home with Isobel. We decided to have a quiet night in for the rest of the evening to prepare ourselves for St. John's donuts in the morning! Hurrah!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Where there's smoke

I had a lovely day afternoon in town with my friend John today. I met him at Oxford Circus, and found my way there on the Bakerloo line all by myself! The first order of the day was to have lunch at the Riding House Cafe, which was delicious. We had lots of small plates and a basket of the softest bread. We sat at the bar, right by the open flame grill in the kitchen, so it did feel warm and slightly hell-like. But a pleasant kind of hell, with delicious food and a very lovely bathroom.

Fortified by lunch, I made my first pilgrimage to Uniqlo in two years. I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to return. And I also can’t believe that I live in a city where I can go to Uniqlo everyday if I wanted to! I bought a pair of woolly tights and I may or may not have come home, ripped open the packaging, and immediately put them on. Ahem.

After wandering around Oxford Circus and Bond Street, ogling all the jewellery in the windows, and wandering around a Chihuly exhibit (I never thought I’d be interested in glass art, but this stuff was amazing. Like beautiful, glass jellyfish), we decided to go to the Tate Britain. But then it got really windy, and we decided to duck into the Royal Academy of Art instead.

Wow. What an amazing place. The courtyard and the building are regal stone and just magnificent at night. We went into the Edgar Degas exhibit, which included lots of film, photography, sculpture, painting and, my favourite of all, his rough study drawings. The film of an aged, nearly-blind Degas walking down the street, filmed by an art student, broke my heart.

While the Degas exhibit was fantastic, I was more intrigued by the societies that are housed at the Royal Academy. I peered into as many windows as I could and saw lots of white-haired old men wearing tweed, drinking tea and possibly brandy, engaged in lively discussion in book-lined rooms. One door was marked the Linnean Society. Another, the Society of Antiquaries. And, my favourite door, the one I wanted to sneak into the most, was a friendly, squat, wooden door next to the cloak room, lettered in gold with Academicians. Who are these people? Are they academic magicians? Scholarly wizards? Both? Do they use wands? I want in!

Across the street was Fortnum & Mason. Now, I was expecting some spectacularly Christmassy windows, featuring snow and pine trees and all that cheesy stuff. It appears, however, that they’ve decided to go with a Sexy Christmas theme: the windows featured mannequins dressed in burlesque costumes surrounded by champagne bottles and boxes of chocolate. They even pained a horribly sleazy moustache on a male mannequin. Perhaps they’ve foregone Christmas and jumped right to New Years instead? Inside, the store was bustling. The shopgirls and shopboys all wear red morning coats! There were piles and piles of British Christmas sweets, cheeses, teas, puddings, creams, candies, and on and on. My favourite part was the bottom floor, which was the food market. It was there that I had the most inspiring moment of the day (sorry Edgar): I smelled oak-smoked garlic. It was a braid of garlic, about 7 or 8 bulbs, dark chestnut in colour, with an intense, smokey, salty, garlicky smell. It was mouthwatering.

After that, we wandered (well, John wandered and I followed him) over to Piccadilly Circus and had dinner at Polpetto in Soho. It was the coziest, tiniest place, all squeaky-chaired and candle-lit. I had my first taste of blood pudding (yum!), a lovely braised purple kale, buratta with celeriac, an amazing grilled squid with chickpeas, and pistachio polenta cake with cream. John had beef cheeks, which were pretty damn tasty.

By that time, it was raining and windy, and everyone’s umbrellas were turning inside out. With just 30 minutes to get home in time for Masterchef, I boarded the bus and headed home. Alas, the bus got stuck in traffic and then terminated early so I missed Masterchef altogether. But have no fear, BBC iPlayer is here! So I can watch Monica and Michel Roux Jr. in the comfort of my pyjamas, and Skype with Thomas a the same time. Hurrah!

6 December 2011 / Cough, cough

There's no beating around the bush in London pharmacies. There's no "chest congestions" or "stuffed up sinuses". Over here, they just tell you like it is: you, my friend, have mucus.

Mucus aside, I'm sitting in my room at Isobel's house, freshly showered and pyjama-clad after a rousing evening of BBC1's University Challenge and Master Chef. British television really knows how to reel you in.

I had lunch at Blue Brick Cafe today, a lovely, tiny cafe in East Dulwich. It's vegetarian, and I had the most velvety, squash and carrot soup, drizzled with a garlicky olive oil, and a de puy lentil salad with roasted peppers. I really wish I'd saved room for the carrot cake, which I saw sitting on the counter too late. It was covered in frosting and leaned slightly to the left in a way that said "I'm homemade and extremely delicious".

The afternoon was blustery in every sense of the word, and bitingly cold, but the air was still clear and the sun was out. There were swirling leaves everywhere, and everything was red and golden.

I only have a few days until Lauren joins me, and then, a few days after that, Thomas arrives. I can't wait to say those hello's.

5 December 2011 / To the left

I’m sitting in my room at Isobel’s house, freshly showered and pyjama-clad after a rousing evening of BBC1’s University Challenge and Master Chef. British television really knows how to reel you in.

I had lunch at Blue Brick Cafe, a lovely, tiny cafe in East Dulwich. It’s vegetarian, and I had the most velvety, squash and carrot soup, drizzled with a garlicky olive oil, and a warm du puy lentil salad with roasted peppers. I really wish I’d saved room for the carrot cake, which I saw sitting on the counter too late. It was covered in frosting and leaned slightly to the left in a way that said “I’m homemade and extremely delicious”.

The afternoon was blustery in every sense of the word, and bitingly cold, but the air was still clear and the sun was out. There were swirling leaves everywhere, and everything was red and golden. I did tsk under my breath (and my scarf) at teenage girls walking around in short skirts and bare legs!

I only have a few days until Lauren joins me, and then, a few days after that, Thomas arrives. I can’t wait to say those hello’s.

Note to self: Start using your camera.

5 December 2011 / Sleepmonster

Well, after yesterday’s victory over jet lag, I had to be woken up by Isobel today because it was 3:30 in the afternoon! She was also sweet enough to text me before waking me up: "Are you alive in there?"

I blame the hot toddy.

4 December 2011 / Night, day, and donut

It’s Saturday. I woke up quite pleased that I had finally slept the whole night through, not a single moment of jetlag! And it was good timing, too, as I was meeting John and Toni early in the day to make my first visit to Bermondsey and the Maltby Street Market. It was an absolutely lovely experience, and one of the stalls even sold bok choy (called pak choi on London)!!! I learned what flat white is, and, while smelling some marvellously, unapologetically stinky cheeses, I learned that most cheeses no longer have lactose in them. But, most importantly, I ate my first St. John custard donut (I forgot my camera, but there’s a picture over here). It was truly a monumental morning.

John then took me on a tour of Shoreditch, during which I stroked some very beautiful, very expensive garments and art books. I even hugged a Junya Watanabe jacket (it has plaid lining! And a split hood!). I spent a good long time in Labour & Wait and decided I still wanted everything they have to offer. I smelled some briney sausages at Leila’s Cafe. I ate my first gammon steak and learned that you don’t refrigerate eggs in the UK.

In the evening, Isobel took me to a pop-up, hole-in-the-wall bar called the Peckham Hotel. I drank a hot toddy in a backyard, surrounded by Christmas trees and fairy lights. It was a good day.

1 December 2011 / Master Chef

Similar to my experience with potato waffles, I’ve had my first taste of Master Chef and am now addicted. It’s a BBC One show where professional chefs compete to work for Michel Roux Jr. In the first half of each episode, the contestants have to pass a technical skills test. This is done individually in front of Michel Roux Jr.’s sous chef, Monica Galetti. She’s hardcore and her facial expressions say it all. After the technical challenge, she eliminates one contestant, and the rest carry on to the second half of the show, where they must cook a classic dish of Michel Roux Jr.’s choosing. My favourite part starts at 21:48, when he cooks the dish himself. So good!

29 November 2011 / 4 dinners

Dinner 1: Homemade Indian food from the S family

Coming off an 8-hour flight to land in a country where you’ll be living farther from your family than you’ve ever lived is an anxious experience. I can recommend nothing better to remedy this than a greeting from the family of a good friend. Now, this is no ordinary family. The S family is one that I’ve never met before. They immediately wanted to make sure I was safe and sound, and came bearing a bag of homemade Indian stew, rice, yogurt. The S family is easy to hug.

Dinner 2: Spuntino

To celebrate my arrival and Mouse’s new job, we struck out for Soho on a Sunday night to eat at Spuntino. The industrial room is tiny, with most of the seating around a large open bar, but the food is momentous. The menu consists of share plates, and we pretty much ordered it all: deep fried stuffed olives, aubergine chips, 4 varieties of sliders (bone marrow, pulled pork, lamb, and mackeral), an amazing fennel salad, an even more amazing calamari and ink salad, a creamy macaroni and cheese, fluffy shoestring fries, sprouted broccoli with romesco sauce, and a delicate little pizza. I paired my meal with one of the most delicious clover clubs I’ve ever tasted, and followed it all with their “peanut butter and jelly sandwich”, a dessert of jelly sandwiched between two peanut butter flavoured ice cream wedges. It’s intense and well worth the effort of remembering to wear a skirt with an elastic waist the next time that I go. I also had a bite of the whisky chocolate cake (very boozy) and the quince ice cream (very lovely and exactly what quince should taste like). All in all, yum.

Dinner 3: A quick-fix English dinner

By Monday, I was exhausted from jet lag and banking. I just wanted to stay home and Skype with my husband all evening. And this I did, with the help of some lovely English supermarket delights: a bowl of organic split pea and ham soup and a toaster potato waffle. Both were lovely, but the potato waffle did steal the show. Why are these not available in Canada? Why did it take 29 years and a trans-Atlantic flight for me to have one? There is no justice, and I’m determined to spend the next few months righting this wrong.

Dinner 4: Tastes like home (sort of)

Four days in and I’m feeling brutally homesick. It’s started to rain in London, which only made me think more of Vancouver. I was tempted to stay at home and wallow, but I decided to get out of the house, hop on a bus, and head to Silk Road in Camberwell, a restaurant which has received some great blog and newspaper reviews. Imagining my mother was at the table with me, I ordered a plate of garlic bok choy and steamed dumplings. The waiter didn’t seem very impressed, but I was homesick and I wanted my mom, okay? When the dishes came, I realized that I had been so spoiled by the Chinese food in Vancouver. I’m sorry, London, but Silk Road does not compare. This ain’t no Congee Noodle House. The dumplings were overly salted and the bok choy was limp. It wasn’t bad food, and on homesick, rainy day, I’ll take it.

28 November 2011 / Lagging jets

Just when I thought I was clever and had fooled jet lag once and for all, I've started to wake up every morning between 3 AM and 6 AM, unable to fall back asleep. Thomas tells me that a traveller needs one day to recover for every hour of flight, so that means I'll be on London time in 8 days. Hurrah for next Sunday!

Yawn Sequence

I've noticed that a jet-lagged adult and babies have some uncanny similarities: sleeping most of the day, waking up in a confused daze in the middle of the night, and the desire to eat soothing, mushy foods. I wonder if babies feel something similar to jet lag, and I imagine that new parents do. Perhaps they all need a month to recover for every hour of labour?

27 November 2011 / Good morning

This was the view from my window on my first morning in London.

26 November 2011 / International waters

After a good flight, quick queue through the border agency, no wait for luggage, a friendly afternoon drive into London, and a lovely tea and chat with Isobel, my dear friend and temporary host, all I had left on my to do list were: 1) take a hot shower, and 2) go to bed, which just happen to be two of my favourite activities in life.

Now, you know I love a good hot shower, and I especially love one after sitting on a plane for 9 hours. Isobel had to step out for a bit, so I could hog the bathroom and take as long as I wanted to get ready for bed. After I’d showered and brushed my teeth by candlelight (the bathroom bulb had burned out and candlelight was more quaint anyways, wasn’t it?), I tried to turn off the cold water tap faucet. Emphasis on tried.

Within the 10 second time span of turning the faucet on and attempting to turn it off, the handle had loosened from its threads and just wouldn’t tighten. It spun with ease in both directions and water just kept on streaming out. Curious. So I ran upstairs to the boiler in the kitchen, turned one of the dials on it, ran downstairs, still running water, ran back upstairs, tried the second dial, downstairs, still lots of water, upstairs, third dial, downstairs, no change. Down on hands and knees with a flashlight torch taped to my head (did I mention that the lightbulb in the bathroom had burned out?), looking for a shut-off valve. No luck. Googled. Nothing helpful. Discussed the situation with Thomas over Facetime. Aimed my webcam at the area under the sink so that Thomas could assess the situation. He confirmed there was definitely no shut-off valve under there. Yay! With no cell phone, I eventually just emailed my friend in Manchester to text Isobel, left an “I’m sorry, but I broke your tap but please don’t kick me out” note in the hallway, and eventually fell asleep to the soothing sounds of running water.

In the morning, I found a note from Isobel saying this had happened before and it would get fixed next week. Yay! Hurrah!

21 November 2011 / Beyond the sea

How are you supposed to get on a plane to London knowing that, at any moment, your husband might start tap dancing to Bobby Darin in his slippers while brushing his teeth and you won’t be there to see it?!

21 November 2011 / Execution

“Execution is important because you don’t learn otherwise. We learn best through experience and by doing, and doing creates artifacts. If you make something (even just a rough something), now you have something to talk about, something to critique, something to analyze and something to change. More importantly, you get a sense of accomplishment. You were productive and you get to see what you did that day. I think there’s a special satisfaction to that, but unfortunately the fear we have of judgement is stronger than our memory of the pride of doing something.”

Frank Chimero, in an interview with Scout Books

21 November 2011 / The English

On top of remembering to look right and then left before crossing the road, I also have to not giggle when asking for an eraser. And, at all costs, NEVER comment on anyone's fanny pack hip bag.

Bandaid = plaster

Eraser = rubber

Fanny pack = hip bag

Elevator = lift

Washroom = toilet or loo

White out/correction fluid = Tippex

French press = cafetiere

Ground beef = mince

Garbage = rubbish

Truck = lorry

Cilantro = coriander

Eggplant = aubergine

Zucchini = courgette