Lovely Bites

Rules
Established in 1798, they boast being the oldest restaurant in London and graced by the presence of the likes of Charles Dickens and Laurence Olivier as well as countless other talents.  Known for their wild game, their menu is of traditional fare such as pies and puddings.  Their game includes pheasant, venison, and hare, mentioning they “may contain lead shot”.  Our New Year’s Eve meal was Sunday Roast, with a rib of beef for two accompanied by savoy cabbage, Yorkshire pudding, and dauphinoise potatoes.  The meat was tender and the au jus was heavenly.   A highlight was horseradish sauce they serve on the side which was mild and creamy.  We finished with a white chocolate vanilla brulee.  All in all, it was a nice experience.

Oxo Tower
It’s easy to spot this tall building with blazing red letters.  Going up an elevator we stepped into a sort of loft that overlooked the downtown skyline.  The atmosphere was loud and hip.  I ordered scallops which were sort of tasteless, I much preferred the crispy pork belly my companion ordered.  For dessert we had a traditional Christmas pudding island in vanilla bean sauce.  There was brandy butter on the top and the figgy cake was comforting and delicious.

 

 

Haozhan
I was pretty excited walking around Chinatown for the first time.  After much prodding and wheedling my friends let me choose a place for dinner.  I looked over menus and decided to go here, and boy, was that the best choice I ever made!  Their menu outside caught my attention with their crispy aromatic duck for two with a fair price.  Crispy aromatic duck is not a common dish I had only read about so I was curious to try it.  The server came with the duck and pulled it apart into pieces with utensils which I didn’t expect.  The duck was smoked and juicy, with a crunchy outer layer.  Their rice pot was adorable, and the rice was seasoned with garlic and onion.  We were seated at a large table in the back and treated very well.  I missed Asian food very much and a little sad to say this was my favorite meal during my trip.  When I get old and gray I will think fondly of this place…

Barbarella’s
Basic good food for the locals, it is a hole in the wall with lots of construction workers.  Their menu consists of sandwiches and the common English breakfast which was simple but good.  I would only add that British love their baked beans and tomatoes.

Prezzo
A wedding party rehearsal dinner took place here downstairs where we saw cooks working with a large brick oven.  Their menu had loads of certified gluten free and vegan items, and they are careful about every allergen I could think of.  I split a pasta carbonara which was flavorful and cooked al dente identical to regular pasta.  Their gluten free pizza had a chewy and tasty crust which I devoured with abandon.  With dozens of locations in England, I can only hope and pray they make their way onto my humble continent someday.

Wasabi
Tucked into Waterloo station, we entered a take away restaurant that had individually wrapped packages of sushi.  Legit Japanese chefs worked in the kitchen making their staple curry bowls.  I ordered the chicken curry bowl which was fantastic, made like the Golden Curry of my childhood.

 

 

 

Poppie’s
Of course, what visit to England is complete without giving fish and chips a go?  This famous restaurant is located by Piccadilly Circus and is ranked one of the highest on must try lists for the dish.  Entering a garish 70’s type diner with toys and waiters wearing wigs, it is casual to the max.  We were seated and ordered their fried cod and haddock with chips.  Everything had the Poppie’s brand on it from the sauce to their still water.  I liked the breading, which reminded me of beer batter, and the fish was most and fresh.  I especially loved their tartar sauce but their vinegar was weak.  I’m glad I tried this place, but honestly I don’t think it’s my preferred meal by any means.


Once again, London, you stole my heart and my gluten free stomach.  Let’s eat again sometime!

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Just some photos and captions from our exploring this week…

New Year’s Eve fireworks at the London Eye

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Westminster Abbey

Evensong New Year’s service

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stonehenge aka the aliens did it 

Yup, these are the famous bunch of rocks near Salisbury

 

Pretty sure the mysterious powers that be added 10 years to my life force

 

 

Broadway near Piccadilly

Watched Aladdin, marvy show, lots of bromance xoxo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harrod’s

Hittin’ the chocolate room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hogwarts

Rushing to King’s Cross station

 

Magical Harry Potter photo time!

 

 

St Paul’s Cathedral

A whole new worlllllld at 1.161 steps #almostdied

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Borough Market

Can I live here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

British Museum 

Collectors of the world’s ancient treasures

Grand and very dim

Around the World in 90 minutes with our lovely tour guide!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buckingham Palace

Giving our best to Her Majesty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Woodford for friends’ wedding ding ding ding

Church ceremony and reception

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tower of London

Strolling by the Thames

 

 


Afternoon Tea (Gluten Free)

I learned that England has long been a food hub, but what blew me away were the variety of gluten free venues.  At first I expected one or two places to serve tea with gluten free options, then was overwhelmed when I had a list of five locations doing a simple search.  Upon further digging, there were over a dozen such places, which really blew my socks off!  We only had so many days to enjoy proper tea – how could we choose among all these fabulous options?  I felt the barriers of food intolerance disappear with such a dilemma and I tip my hat to the great kingdom of England for accommodating guests like myself.  I’m exceedingly grateful that everything is transparent through website menus and blog reviews from fellow gluten free eaters, technology can be such a blessing.

Q: When is the optimal time to book for January?
A: October

It’s really quite mad, but thanks to OpenTable all the best rooms were saving our spots in advance.  All of them required confirmation emails or calls the week of the reservation, which goes to show that flaking out of appointments is a universal plague.  Of note, please bear in mind I only go for the white or green teas.  I could not speak for any of the royal blends or black teas offered by the following establishments.

Side note: expect to shell out 70 to 90 for these afternoon tea services, bon appetit! 

Fortnum and Mason at Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon
Although the business opened in 1705, the tea salon was actually established by Her Majesty in 2012.  There was a clean elegance to the decor and china sets, and their selection of teas is quite extensive.  This being my first formal tea service, I wasn’t used to the individual strainers for the loose leaf or the option of switching teas as often as I chose.  Also a pleasant surprise was that we could reorder anything we liked from the set menu.  This particular service gives you the option of choosing a cake from their table to package and take away.  They had a gluten free apple option, which was nothing to write home about.  My friends said their choices of Battenberg and chocolate weren’t exciting either.   The gluten free sandwiches had tasty filling and soft bread.  Their desserts and scones were unfortunately on the tough side.  The other floors of the building are dedicated to boutiques as well as tea products.  I was very well pleased with the quality of the teas and took a tin of the Fujian White Silver Needle Pekoe home, as well as the Pistachio Clotted Cream.

Hotel Cafe Royal
Anticipating the elaborate decor for this venue, I just had to dress to the nines topped with a tiara (trust me, it enhances the experience) .  The walls were heavily adorned with gilded Roccoco accents.  The server was helpful and attentive and the piano player near us was on point with his selections (ranging from Beauty and the Beast to the Game of Thrones theme).  Though the sandwiches were unbelievably bland and the tea was average, they more than made up for the loss with the iced tea palate cleanser and array of gorgeous French desserts.  My favorite was their version of the opera cake, which had a sumptuous layer of gianduja and featured a crunchy layer on the espresso cake.  Also, the rich dark taste and texture of their jam and silky clotted cream were so marvelous I was almost moved me to tears.

Claridge’s
Last but certainly not least. we checked our coats into a hotel met with art deco surroundings.  Claridge’s is a name I came across in Crazy Rich Asians and comes up frequently in top lists for afternoon tea.  My friends loved their Marco Polo gelee which seems to me like a bland marmalade jelly in lieu of any jam.  Their clotted cream was flavorful as were their sandwiches.  I have to concur their famous fresh baked soft gluten free scones earns favor as the best gluten free tea service I’ve encountered so far.  Their regular flour scones were crisp on the outside and buttery on the inside, I envy those who can have them.  My favorite tea was the Japanese Hojicha and could not get enough of the duck egg sandwiches.  Also, I was quite impressed with the chia seed yogurt with diced fruit, an innovative offering to gluten free guests.  Bravo, Claridge’s, I am eager to visit again.

 

 


Down to London Town (again)

 

On my own I wouldn’t be too keen to go to England in the middle of winter.  However, since my friends had a wedding come up, I could not resist hijacking their holiday so that I could too escape from the mundane trappings of the familiar.  Plus, the tickets were super cheap!

Our duration being only a week, the nerdy planner in me burst out, researching the best sites, afternoon teas, and winter events few and far between.  From my last European trip, I knew there was a certain art to scheduling tours and meals.  Overall, the week totaled $1K not including the plane ticket.

I hung on through the dreary last days of 2017 anticipating the trip, singing from this golden movie:


I had in mind some differences for this trip compared to last time.  First, I no longer had a constant paranoia of being mugged.  I used to be on high alert and was afraid of carrying any currency or ID, but this time I was carefree running around midnight on the streets in search of the next point of interest (or Pokemon).  Second, I was able to speak to some locals to dispel or confirm my perspectives on English life.  Yes, they are very aware of Americans, or shall I say obsessed with us, like the rest of the world.  I still couldn’t get a hang of their currency, but it seems they have trouble with it as well.  Lastly, I had to brave the bitter winter conditions.  I expected constant rain and some snow but apparently London doesn’t encounter much in terms of snow and I was only drenched a few times during my stay.  My group stayed near the Waterloo Station, which I highly recommend as it is pretty accessible to most of the sites one would have to see.  The station has an array of shops of restaurants, as did some of the major stations, which is a convenient and safe way to get food and other essentials.  My only regret is not having more time to enjoy the local Netflix selections, the options I saw overseas disappeared as soon as I returned home, much to my chagrin.  That, and not being able to find a sim card.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself and fell in love with London.  I can totally see myself living there, with the juxtaposition of old and modern, tasting authentic chocolate and gluten free delights, basking in the nearness of Ed Sheeran.  If it’s meant to be, here’s hoping it will.

Time stamps:
– Harry ❤ Meghan
– Trump’s new book
– Layover during Bomb Cyclone
– Gas $5.79 in London
– Exchange rate =  x1.34
– Big Ben undergoing plastic surgery 😦

 

Hacks/Notes:
1) book everything well in advance
2) spend all your money on the last day
3) get preloaded Oyster card for Underground transportation (we ran around $70 for the week)
4) Harrod’s chocolates are easy, elegant, and unique souvenirs
5) ear plugs and extra coats are musts for the plane ride
6) always arrive early to famous sites
7) for gas pains, Gas X = Windeze


Respecting the Help

Maybe You Get Bad Customer Service Because You’re a Bad Customer

That’s right, who needs a job that badly?

In first world countries the demands of customer service representatives are as high as the hopes of a senior on graduation day.  We’re not seen as people, just ciphers who are always supposed to respond to the orders of clients.  Seriously, I don’t know where people learn to be so spoiled and abusive.  So many crazy people love to exploit companies every day left and right.  Look at all the complaints when it comes to restaurants, airlines, and retail stores.  It is true that there should be standards when it comes to a customer’s experience.  But really, half the time the extent of what people expect is disproportionate to what they are purchasing.

Who do you think you are?
You are the victim, you are negative and it’s everyone else’s fault.  You lose all reason and make sure that your picky attitude ruins our day.  After all we are living in Sue.S.A. bringing your lawyers when things don’t go 100% your way.  You are entitled to go off the deep end and being abusive over the smallest things.  It’s not like you have any other choices where to get products and services.  Way to be mature.

Anthem for our customer service reps
We are the ones working at minimum wage, trying to make ends meet.  We are the laborers taking everyone’s crap day in and day out.  Working menial tasks and seen as less than those who deign to give us their money.  Introverts who want only to get what you want in time and move on, but are instead being tied down to the b.s. of all these bougie “problems”. Seriously sick of it; damages my calm how petty and cheap people are.

My philosophy
Have some patience.  If you don’t like a company then try to review where your expectations went wrong and give them another chance.  Overall be polite.  Even if service is lame, try to show some class and manners.  I get it, you have issues in your life and it’s easy to take it out on someone waiting on you.  Sometimes I wonder, are you seriously unaware of how crazy you sound right now?

I am very forgiving when it comes to waiters and staff since I started to pay my own way, and my tolerance has increased since I have been in the game.  I would like to ask everyone, think twice before demanding a specific performance based on what you’re paying and the reality of the situation.  Because the way things are going, all customer service reps will be robots with a permanent smile on the screen.  Their responses will be automated with possible scenarios because the pay and the mistreatment of those who are stuck in service positions is definitely not worth it.  

Service with a Smile: The True Cost of Faking It


Farewell, The Vampire Diaries

As much as the series was about monsters and mayhem and love triangles, as much as Elena was important to the show, at its heart it was always a story about two brothers who were tragically, permanently tied to each other via a series of both horrible and wonderful events.
– Carrie Raisler, AV Club

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****spoilers all around!!!!****

This is a show that delivers and blows away expectations constantly throughout its 8 seasons.   Quite a departure from the original novel series, which had its issues from murky to bland to straight up random fantasy realms, TVD made its own intense world and we are privileged to be a part of it.

It’s not only the exceptional show that gets to me.  I’ve relished the brilliant recaps of Price Peterson and the wry comments from the fans through all the outstanding ups and abysmal downs (season 4 and 7 big time).  All this made me glad I’m alive; although a part of me died during every summer hiatus for years until my attentions were engaged as a Sheerio.

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Elena
Foolish and judgmental.  She would be such a pill if she weren’t such a foxy doppelganger.  You could make a drinking game out of all the times people die because of her idiotic decisions.  Which man would you choose, the one who lets you make your own decisions risking your life or the one who will protect you no matter what?  Both.  It’s okay to choose both.

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Stefan
(Mr Passive with the hero hair)
The broody, noble Angel type to Damon’s snarky and immoral Spike.  He is called a “pure” soul?! What a load.  He is usually a gentleman who respects the wishes of others and can say the right words to work out issues. He can be a bore but there are times he can be cool and violent when someone he loves is in danger.

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Damon
(Dashing, gorgeous, irresistible)
I don’t normally do bad guys but hot damn, this is the reason I started watching this show.  Like Tony Stark or Domyoji he is one rich hot jerk who changed for the one they love. He can be amazingly sweet and loyal to those he cares about.  He was most intriguing in the first few seasons when he was an unpredictable threat, therefore the wild card in getting things done.  His reckless temper would get him into bad situations when outnumbered or facing a more powerful being.  He always mocks everyone and gives hilarious nicknames.  When he turns on the charm it is nearly impossible to resist.

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Compelling Features to Love:

  • Captivating soundtrack
  • Witty one liners
  • Glorious action (stabbing, throttling, shooting guns/ crossbows, etc.)
  • Horror themes
  • Magical artifacts
  • Fast burn plot with twists and turns and loads of murder schemes
  • Lots of fan awareness and appreciation
  • Epic bromances & romances
  • Mythology
  • All the gorgeous cinematography, sets, outfits, and hairstyles
  • Turning humanity switch off/on
  • Large elaborate events
  • Period flashbacks
  • Smoking hot actors

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Wham moments
– Damon and Elena’s near touch dance Miss Mystic Falls pageant
– Elena breaking down about becoming a vampire during her hike with Stefan
– Stefan closing his eyes as Elena gets taken away for the ritual
– Damon getting his groove on at the 60’s dance
– Stefan protesting at dances then after some cajoling displaying incredible moves
– Stefan bonding with Matt over cars during a double date
– Stefan threatening John in the hospital
– Damon compelling Elena to forget his love confession
– Bonnie demonstrating the power of a hundred witches to Jeremy
– Stefan’s silent emo phone call to Elena on her birthday
– Damon pushes Elena in the water while tracking werewolves
– Elena and Damon’s extremely hot first kiss
– Tyler with glitter on his hands helping Caroline with homecoming saying out of anyone he is sired to her
– A dying Damon failing to make amends with Elena and allowing her time he doesn’t have
– All the times the gang gets together to plan a murder
– Damon tells Stefan he will be there for him
– Damon playing piano
– Alaric and Damon at the bar with bourbon
– Any time Elijah makes an entrance and rips out hearts
– Caroline making fun of Stefan’s it’s Tuesday face.
– Katherine being pleasantly surprised by Stefan’s confession
– Katherine sentimentality looking at the moon and reflects telling Stefan they’ll be united as she kisses him in 1864
– Damon spurning Katherine when she tries to seduce him in favor of reading a journal
– Damon and Rebekah exchanging looks in the grill after hooking up.
– Katherine cheerfully throwing wolfsbane grenades at the hybrids while saying kaboom
– Damon showing up in Elena’s house invading her space and her trusting him fast asleep as he lies in bed with her
– Damon winking at Elijah at the dinner party.
– Bonnie and Jeremy’s first kiss.
– Damon tries destroying Elijah’s body with a flamethrower in the basement for fun
– Katherine’s impersonations
– Damon and Bonnie holding hands and time in the prison world (hi Ms. Cuddles!)
– Damon shoving Elena off the ledge into the water and walking into the lake reprimanding her
– Caroline singing Eternal Flame for Matt
– John’s letter to Elena and giving up his life for her
– Bonnie being a badass witch
– Klaus’ entrance to save Caroline at graduation
– Kai’s quirky psychotic return and ultimate fate
– Jo’s twins, surprisingly cute
– Damon’s reading New Moon and 50 Shades
– Hell’s bell
– All cameos of season 8

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Killer lines
She’s selling it.  He’s buying it. She’s giving him the sex smile. 
Sometimes there is honor in revenge.
I know you said to kill her with kindness but can’t I just kill her?
When people see good they expect good.  And I don’t want to live up to anyone’s expectations.
He’s your first love.  I intend to be your last.  However long it takes.
It’s Mystic Falls.  Nothing bad ever happens here.
It’s okay to love them both.  I did.
Why do you look like someone just shot a panda bear?
Don’t mistake the fact that we haven’t set you on fire in your sleep as trust.
Damon challenges her surprises her. He makes her question her beliefs.
You want a love that consumes you.  You want passion and adventure and even a little danger.
Damon is either the best thing for her or the worst.
Katherine, there are six other bedrooms in this house.  Go find one.
Have I lost you forever?
We’re at irreparable odds.
I’m not sad, I’m freaking hungry!
Everyone needs to stop kissing me!
It’s always going to be Stefan.
Didn’t you find it weird that you made a friend so fast?  Have you met you?
Our life is one big proverbial coin toss.
Is it so wrong for me to want you both?
That thing where you pretend you’re dating but not.
I’m just having a moment.
Elijah’s one scary dude.  But with nice hair.
Got to run.  Got a murder to plan.  Busy day.
You want doppelganger blood? I’ve got doppelgangers coming out of my ears!

Silas owes me a fuse box
You’re Katherine Pierce.  Suck it up.
Time to strap on the hero hair.
Uh oh. Elena’s human again. Am I sensing another brother swap?
See, Stefan? Even the bear knew.
This is pointless. Pointless with pumpkin pie.
Hope hurts. I don’t want to hurt anymore.
Not every victim needs a monologue. 
Slowest. Murder. Ever.
Two vampires are better than one. It’s basic math.
If you’re reading this it means I’m dead. Which sucks.
You’re the one who did this to him. So unimpossible it. Fast.
I’m leaving. Because I’d rather let you down once than let you down for the rest of your life.
 We’re going up against a mind reader who is also a pyromaniac. But I’m sure it’ll all be fine.
That’s for me to know and for you to dot, dot, dot. 

Hello, brother.

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TVD, for almost a decade, you’ve throttled me and stabbed my heart with vervain.  Thank you for all the amazing backstories and high body count.  I will love this beautiful story forever.

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Mornings in Manhattan

” ‘So many people,’ she thinks, ‘each one with their own story, each following their own singular line of fate.’ ” 

– Blood and Beauty

In my suburban desert opinion, all big cities are the same.  Tall buildings, heavy population, and an endless jumble of concrete streets to negotiate.  I visit such places wanting to be surprised and delighted which usually works out well.  It makes my life seem so small in comparison, but I suppose seeing what’s out there and picking up ideas on the way is a form of growth.  I prepared myself for dense masses rushing to and fro on every street, but luckily it being a weekend I experienced a very slow version of the city.

Central Park (Upper East Side)
This was probably the highlight of my trip.  It is a free destination and nature always appeals to me so long as it’s tamed rather than wild and potentially dangerous. Countless films such as Home Alone 2, Enchanted, and You’ve Got Mail featured scenes from this sheltered green sanctuary.  I couldn’t imagine it in the fall or winter but I’m sure it’s all lovely no matter what the season.  The zoo area is especially charming with its brick exteriors that suit the surrounding trees.  My cousin said the reason we don’t see brick buildings in the West Coast is due to our earthquakes which would crumble them apart.

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Guggenheim Museum
I’ve been wanting to see this place for years.  My heart lifted seeing the iconic white building as I was walking alongside Central Park.  The spiral is closed, they told me when I made my way in.  They were working on renovations so for a reduced rate one could walk in to see a portion of their exhibits.

Before that day I didn’t give much thought to how the works at placed, just figured someone hangs it and makes sure it’s level.  But I see now it is actually a big production with angle specialists, photographers, and other directors who double check placement and other expert details to ensure the right positioning.  They had plenty of modern art such as Kandinskys and Picassos which didn’t disappoint.

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Bloomingdale’s
Fancy shops, whoop de doo.  Straight to the 7th floor where they I found a dessert and smoothie restaurant called 40 Carrots.  After miles of walking the cool tartness was good to my soul.

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Dean and Deluca
In a rush to get some last minute souvenirs I rushed down to this infamous gourmet shop.  They have a deli with all kinds of vegan offerings and a other hoity toity selections for those that are into that kind of thing.

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My bag of pretty gifts in tow, I made my way to JFK (traffic is gold, my female cabbie said) and had an easy go for the return flight. I’ll miss the selection of gluten free items and being driven around like a celebrity. I’m grateful to have had this chance to spend time with the family, and that no one was injured, plus I unexpectedly hit everything on my list (not an easy task, my stay being only 36 hours, effectively making this almost a layover trip).

During my time here I reveled in clear skies and overcast weather, the same dry and chilly gloom I’m used to in dearest California. It only started drizzling when my plane was taking off.  Don’t cry for me, New York.  I’m coming home.

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Side note: Jet Blue is aces!  Compared to my first flight, where I was given a single serving of cranapple mix since cranberry is unavailable or offensive, I got 2 beverage services (with entire cans of straight cranberry juice), a bag of chips, and a hot towel!  They also have a “marketplace” where you help yourself to more snacks.

– My cousin likes to cut the plastic 6 pack rings to save the ocean (awwww)
– Natives are polite and service is courteous, same as back home (weekends only?)
– I did not encounter any classic NY accents, maybe it’s just from older generations