Thursday, May 31, 2012

Jubilee fever

Apologies for the longer than usual gap between posts. I've been so busy preparing myself for the jubilee, that's all.

I've been rushed off my feet replacing my normal Marmite with the special Jubilee version...
You have to like what they did with the 'Ma'am', and the 'toast' gag
...having a special Jubilee haircut...
Because that catchphrase hasn't been overused at all, has it?
 ...buying special Jubilee biscuits...

...making plans to go to the Jubilee fair...
It's the same fair that comes to the Heath every bank holiday weekend. Only with union jacks on the poster.
...and drinking special Jubilee drinks at Starbucks.
Starbucks, that bastion of Britishness...

I shouldn't be so sarky really. TLOML and I are having a few friends over for a barbecue this weekend, and in a vain attempt to make it sound more exciting, I've billed it a 'Jubilee jamboree'. Wonder if any of my guests will see through the disguise, as I saw through Starbucks'?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Food wars: NY vs London

Unlike New York, London has never been famous for its food scene. In fact, until very recently, London's gastro-reputation was pretty bad for a world city. It lacked the massive number of varied, glittering, fabulous restaurants of New York. And the ethnic food wasn't up to much either. Brick Lane curry houses may have a certain appeal after a night in a Shoreditch pub, but they're not exactly destination dining.

Maybe London still doesn't quite live up to New York's foodie standards. But one thing's for sure. In London we eat a heck of a lot better at home.
Sunday Roast (Thai style)
Steak Night

Thanks to the proximity of a good - if small - Farmer's Market, and a couple of excellent - if pricey - butchers, our dining table is seeing plenty of action.

In New York we ate in only once or twice a week. I knew I was missing cooking and eating at home. But I had forgotten quite how very much I love it. From my perspective, the food in my little (Fox) corner of London, is way better than New York.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Cat face off

No, not a movie in which a cat has a face transplant to hide his real identity. Rather, what happens when you install one big dopey cat in a place where other cats have previously roamed free.

This is Catkin, from next door. In our garden. He looks pretty relaxed, doesn't he? He may be under the illusion that Fox Corner is his land.

Ah, Fox Corner, my own personal napping ground
This is Catkin at the catflap that - until we installed this microchip one - he used to pass through to come and hang out in Fox Corner.
Hello! It's me, Catkin! Let me in!
This is Jack, staring Catkin down, safe in the knowledge that no other cats can gain interest to his kingdom. Victory!
Not today thank you.

 The investment and the faffing for that fancy catflap were definitely worth it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Eating as a family

I pretty much lived in TLOML's pocket in the US. The friends I made were through him, and I didn't really bother to cultivate an independent social life. Why would I, when his was so fun and so easy to slot into? That fact, and the fact that we worked from home, meant we ate 99 out of 100 meals together.

This is a very nice way to live. However it is also very easy way to gain weight. He eats more than me, and I cater for his appetitie. Then I help him eat all the army-sized meal I made.

Already in London that pattern is changing. In addition to our mutual friends, our social lives have dimensions that keep us a little independent. A couple of weeks ago I went to the theatre with a girlfriend, without TLOML. Last week he hung out with an old friend at a sailing club, without me. Yes, I missed him. But it is nice to have the odd meal on my own. It frees me up to have a nice spinsterish dinner of cornflakes, or pilchards on toast. Something I couldn't get away with serving TLOML on a night in.

The other night we had a rapid TV dinner of leftover soup. This photo shows why it is good for us to eat separately once in a while:
My bowl's on the left

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A homecoming for Jack

Phase 2.5 is complete. My cat has been reinstalled in my home.
On arrival, a bit freaked out, Jack headed for high ground. Smart cat.
Jack is a great big fat lazy cat. He doesn't like to sit on my lap, preferring instead the company of men. He mainly ignores me, except when he is yowling for food. He brings in half-dead mice and birds - I think because he can't be bothered to finish the job.

Still, I love him. He is a cool cat. He lets me pick him up and bury my face in his tummy. I missed that when I was in the US. During that time, my friend the Activist took very good care of him - but fortunately for me, she was happy to give him back on my return. Lucky old Jack gets to move into Fox Corner, which is a paradise for birds, mice, and those who like to hunt them.

TLOML likes Jack. But he also likes his favourite, custom-made leather chair - and is not ready to have it 'distressed' by Jack's claws. So we had to buy a screen to prevent Jack from having unsupervised access to the living room.

I also re-covered an old chair - using instructions from the Activist's book on refurbishing old things - with hessian. This is the decoy scratching chair. Jack may be the only cat in the world who has a custom-made chair: he is even fancier than TLOML.
The project..

Happily the book was written about this very chair, which made the instructions easier to follow

Jack's special chair

Becuase of all the cats in the neighbourhood, we installed a special micro-chip cat flap. It costs a fortune but will only let Jack in. It didn't fit right into the existing cat flap hole, so our friend the cabinet maker built a beautiful mid-century modern mount for it.
A cat who is not Jack, on our roof. Jack is not going to like sharing.
In summary, moving Jack in has been almost as much work as moving ourselves in. But it was all worthwhile.

Having said that, he's been with us for 5 days now, and hasn't so much as sniffed at that special chair. Ungrateful cat!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The hunt for kimchi gold

A big sigh of relief was sighed this week. We found a de cent sushi place that's a 15 minute bike or bus ride away. It's no Nobu Malibu, but Sushi of Shiori turn out perfectly respectable sashimi and nigri. Phew: a neighbourhood sushi joint. That's one thing I wasn't sure London could offer TLOML.

Another thing I was positive London couldn't offer TLOML was good Korean food. His standards were set by the mandoo his Korean grandmother made by scratch when he was a kid: crappy inauthentic substitutes just won't fly. And in Los Angeles, with the biggest Korean population outside of Asia, quality, authentic Korean food was easy to find. Even in Manhattan, with its laughably small Korean Town, we found some good places to eat.

London is not renowned for its Korean food. I know, I know, I read Time Out, there are a couple of new places which promise good kimchi and have Korean-themed interiors. But we have superior information: a Korean friend from LA who's been living here for a few months, and who describes her sampling of London's Korean restaurants as 'disappointing'.

She gave me this book for my birthday:
Frankly I was amazed there are enough Korean restaurants in England to write a book about. (I wonder if the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland books are coming out as separate volumes.) Most of them appear to be in New Malden, but there are some in London that look worth a try. After all this is a book written by Koreans, for Koreans.

So we tried one from the book. Han Kang, on Hanway Street. It was good! They did charge for kimchi, which is a bit like charging for tapwater realy. But the food was good, and truly Korean. Phew: a good Korean restaurant we don't need to go to New Malden to enjoy.

And we still have the rest of the book to work through!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Dogs of New York

I went for a run on Hampstead Heath on my return from New York on Monday (there's nothing like an overnight flight and United coach catering to leave me longing for fresh air and a bit of breathlessness). And as I ran I saw lots of dogs like this:
Roaming free, off the lead and muddy

They are a stark contrast to the dogs of Manhattan:
Groomed, on the lead, and walked by a professional
It struck me that the ladies of New York are similarly well polished, compared to their scruffy London cousins.

The night before the wedding we went to rehearsal drinks, with a dress code of 'very casual'. In London this would mean jeans and a t-shirt. In New York it means a dress and heels.
A Londoner

Fortunately I knew this having been burnt before (I remember going on a date in New York with TLOML when we lived in Malibu, and I wore my best jeans and luxe jersey tee, and felt like a farmer compared to all the girls in frocks).

Two New Yorkers
Living in New York did raise my game. And I lifted it again this weekend, with a mani-pedi, and a couple of dresses. But I think, like the muddy dogs of Hampstead Heath, the scruffier look of London is my natural millieu. Ah, it's nice to be back in a city where a manicure is considered making an effort, rather than an every day essential.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A return trip gives pause for thought

Every now and again someone asks me 'Do you miss anything about the States?'. 'Not much, besides the beach in Malibu, of course, but I've been missing that for a year already,' I say. 'Nope, the only thing I really miss is the people'. By 'the people', I don't mind all the people of the USA. I mean the friends I made there, and the family I got to know. I miss those guys, of course.

But I didn't think I was missing anything else particularly.

This weekend in New York I realised I'd been lying to myself. I do miss some things. Namely:
  1. The food. That Smith and Mills burger. Fresh, plump oysters at a price that didn't put me off my dinner.  And brunch, glorious brunch. I'd gladly trade the Full English for a lifetime of pancakes, and Cookshop's dandelion and egg salad.
  2. Cocktails, and table service. We had a drink at Bar Pleiades on the Upper East Side, which is one of my favourite bars in Manhattan, and it made me wistful for fabulously well-crafted cocktails, gracefully served. Mind you, it really isn't fair to compare a fancy hotel bar with our local Kentish Town boozer. If I want a posh cocktail in London I could go to a fancy hotel bar here. We just don't do that sort of thing here as much. Hmmm... new resolution: go to more fancy hotel bars in London. Zetter Townhouse is going to get to know us pretty well, I think.
  3. A walk-in mani-pedi for $33. My Kentish Town mani costs more, takes longer, and actually isn't quite as good.

Strangely, I feel better having realised that I felt this way. There was something a bit cold-hearted of me, leaving that wonderful country behind with barely a shrug. Like the whole experience was wasted on me somehow.

America wasn't wasted on me! I do miss it! I suspect the list of 'things I miss' will grow, as time goes by. For now though, I'm happy to be back in rainy old London.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Just a regular weekend in New York

TLOML returned to New York this weekend, for the wedding of an old college friend to a brilliant girl who happens to be Greek: cue, awesome wedding. A beautiful, if baffling, service and an absolute blast of a party afterwards, with plenty of good dancing - of the Greek and non-Greek varieties.

We were only in town from Friday afternoon till Sunday night but I think it's fair to say we made the most of it, and packed in some quintessential New York experiences.

Within an hour of landing I was enjoying a quality mani-pedi with the much-missed New New Yorker. TLOML was eating a slice of pizza nearby, obvs. Later that day I saw a couple of frazzled Manhattanites get into a chest-shoving 'you talking at me?' 'I had the light, man! I had the light!' fight on 5th Avenue. Coffee and bagels featured, as did several white knuckle yellow cab rides, naturally.

On Saturday we had a lovely brunch with more much-missed New York friends, at an old Chelsea hang out of ours. We walked on the High Line and mooched around the West Village. I bought Nars and Bobbi Brown bargains at Sephora. We caught up with our favourite New Yorker over rose and oysters in Tribeca. All in all, I'd say we covered all the required NY bases.

Oh, and we saw a goat wandering along 23rd Street. That's right, a goat. Sauntering past Duane Reade as if it was the most natural place in the world to be. What's funniest about that is that no-one else was paying it a blind bit of notice.

Only in New York, I guess.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

2012 is OUR year!

2012 is quite clearly our year. It is the year we move to London and get married. The end (for now) of my transatlantic adventures and the start of a life of marital bliss.

Some other people and organisations seem to think it is their year. And I'm not just talking about Blue Ivy Jay-Z Carter.

There's Her Maj and Prince Philip, celebrating 60 years reigning over the lumpen British masses. And the London Olympic committee, for example, polishing the tiles on the Underground so that the American visitors can admire the reflection of their shiny white teeth as they wait for an overcrowded tube to whisk them back from the Olympic village to leafy Kensington. Not forgetting those athletes: I bet that nice Rebecca Adlington and that naughty Tom Daley think 2012 is their big year.

I don't mind sharing 2012. It has its advantages.

My birthday card had special Jubilee teabags in it. That doesn't happen every year.

There's a glut of Bank Holidays - a four day weekend to mark the Jubilee, for example. And there's a tonne of 2012 memorabilia around. I have put a disproportionate amount of teatowels on our wedding list, and am calling them 'our special 2012 commemorative teatowels'.

As we dry the dishes together in the years ahead, we will always look back on 2012 as 'our year'.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Our waterlogged new life

I don't mind the rain. I don't mind doing a bit of gardening when it's drizzly, or going for a damp walk, or even popping to the shops on my bike. Like any proper Brit, I know there's no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes. But I don't love it when it rains all day every day, like it has been lately.

TLOML does not share my tolerance of wet weather. Far from it. It actually makes him angry. 'Where is it all coming from?' he asked me yesterday, in a tone that can only be described as outraged. He tells me there is rain forecast every day for the next 15 days. A bleak outlook indeed.

This weekend we visited Oxford for some wedmin. As I looked down over the rainy quad, and damp lawns, I wished I were able to confidently state that our wedding day won't look like this:

As it is, grim realism has to triumph over blind optimism. The best I could manage was a highly equivocal 'We really ought to be able to expect good weather in July.'

It wouldn't be so bad only for the contrast with Malibu. It's okay to trade the beach for the Heath, especially when you have good friends and quality gastropubs to soften the blow. But comparing year round warmth and near-constant sunshine with weeks of grey Spring rain... TLOML is questioning the wisdom of this move and I don't blame him.