Tag Archives: American in London

Thanksgiving in London

Thanksgiving Day is one of America’s most celebrated holidays, and one I look forward to every November. We Americans have an uncanny homing instinct this time of year, when people travel an average distance of over 200 miles over the hills and through the woods to be with family and loved ones. For an ex-pat like me, it can be a day tinged with homesickness. Luckily, the American community in London has a tradition of gathering at St Paul’s Cathedral for the Thanksgiving Day Service.

St Pauls Old Red Double decker bus London

St Pauls Cathedral Statue facade London

An American Bald Eagle above the altar in the American Memorial Chapel

An American Bald Eagle above the altar in the American Memorial Chapel

St Pauls Cathedral Steps Front

15272367003_51de6ce7fa_k

St Pauls Cathedral Thanksgiving Service Inside

St Pauls Cathedral Thanksgiving Program

The US Ambassador to the UK, Matthew Barzun, addressed the congregation and read out the President’s Proclamation. He spoke of the “special relationship” between the United States and the United Kingdom.

Then we all sang America, the Beautiful accompanied by the Combined Choirs of the American Congregations in London and I was flooded with a big dose of the warm-fuzzies.

1 Thanksgiving St Pauls Ambassador Barzun delivers his address

Thanksgiving Service St Pauls Choir

St Pauls Cathedral Front Steps London

St Pauls Cathedral Front Steps

After church, it was home to roast the turkey and make those last-minute adjustments to the Thanksgiving table before the guests arrived.

Thanksgiving Table COffee Table Champagne Bucket Glasses Nibbles

Thanksgiving Table Floral Centerpieces Ajusting

For my Thanksgiving table centerpieces this year, I used bouquets of blue thistles, hypericum berries and sprigs of green bell. I love the architectural beauty and the periwinkle grey color of the thistle blooms.

Thanksgiving Table Flowers Centerpieces

Thanksgiving Table Flower Centerpiece

Thanksgiving Table Place

I had some extra sprigs of berries, so I tucked them into the napkins to make the place settings a bit more festive.

Thanksgiving Table Place Setting

Love these adorable baby squash I picked up at Daylesford to accent the table.

Love these adorable baby squash I picked up at Daylesford to accent the table.

Thanksgiving Table Prepping

Thanksgiving Table View

Thanksgiving Table Place Cards

With the candles lit and everyone excitedly gathered round the table, it was time to feast!

Thanksgiving Table Sitting Down

Thanksgiving Table sitting down end

Tuscan kale salad with quinoa, red onion, pomegranate seeds and pistachios

Tuscan kale salad with quinoa, red onion, pomegranate seeds and pistachios

Sweet potato and sage gratin with parmesan breadcrumbs

Sweet potato and sage gratin with parmesan breadcrumbs

Thanksgiving Menu Stuffing

Thanksgiving Menu Turkey Carving

Thanksgiving TABLE Laughs BW

Thanksgiving Table Smiles

Thanksgiving Table Wine

Thanksgiving Table People Smiles

There have been so many wonderful things happen this year. As dictated by tradition, we went round the table with each person sharing just a few words about what they’re thankful for this Thanksgiving. There were some teary eyes, a few excited whoops, and lots and lots of laughs.

Thanksgiving Table Laughts

Thanksgiving Table People Talk

Thanksgiving Table Cheek Kiss

Before we knew it our plates had been cleared, and it was time for dessert. Two American behemoths – a beautiful latticed apple pie made by Maria, and a traditional spiced pumpkin pie I whipped up (with a slightly burnt crust – oops!)

Thanksgiving Table Menu Apple Pie

Thanksgiving Menu Pumpkin Pie

Thanksgiving Menu Pumpkin Pie Cutting

Thanksgiving People Cheeky Look

By the end of the meal, we were all feeling the love – and the silliness!

Thanksgiving People Peace

Thanksgiving People Girls Wining

Thanksgiving People Girls Talking

Thanksgiving People GIrls Laugh

Thanksgiving People Girls

thanksgiving Forehead kiss

As the Christmas season kicks off, and we will soon be consumed with the worry of what to give (and what we will get), Thanksgiving is an opportune moment to simply appreciate what we already have.

Thanksgiving Night Friends

I am so lucky to have such wonderful friends to stand in for family when I can’t be home for the holidays. A wonderful evening, keeping our home traditions alive!

HKK London

Cover

Hakkasan’s newest London venture HKK has arrived in the City – which does wonders for my lunch hour. In this case, it was more like an hour and a half, but partly because I got slightly (really) lost in the badlands behind Liverpool Street. I arrived somewhat flushed – equally from the heat and agitation – into an air-conditioned blast of modernist tranquility. My seat was cushy soft, the orchid blossom on the table scented the cool air, the servers all had placid expressions like they’d just been meditating. It felt like the whole place was soothing my workday anxieties.

HKK

HKK1

HKK6

HKK7

I was absolutely wowed by the four-course seafood set lunch. The presentation was so dainty but the flavors clobbered me! So delicious.

Minced Lobster in Home-made Black Bean Sauce

Minced Lobster in Home-made Black Bean Sauce

HKK Supreme Seafood Soup

HKK Supreme Seafood Soup

Monk Fish in Italian White Truffle Sauce with Egg Rice

Monk Fish in Italian White Truffle Sauce with Egg Rice

Coconut & Lime Panna Cotta

Coconut & Lime Panna Cotta

HKK8

End

The service was so efficient, no doubt I could have been in and out within an hour had I not been late getting there – but Magellan himself would have had trouble finding this place! If you have keen navigation skills, you would behoove yourself to dine here one weekday – it’s bonafide City fine dining.

Udon it

I don’t think there’s ever a time when I couldn’t go for a mean bowl of udon. Fat, doughy noodles in a steamy bowl of miso broth with a dash of Nori Fumi Furikake – that’s how a make ’em. Of course, there’s a plethora of varieties. Koya on Frith Street has 27 kinds of udon on the menu. Last night I went for one of the Hiya-Atsu options – cold noodles with hot broth. Oh, with prawn and vegetable tempura… mmm, tempura. Delicate, crispy hunks of sweet potato, broccoli, mushroom caps and one lanky, long jumbo shrimp – brittle and flaky and ready for a dunk.

1

2

seaweed

food

tempura

After dinner, it was show time!

Helen Mirren in “The Audience”, to be exact.

proramme

dresscir

theatre

saloon

stage

curtain

What a dame she is… I wish Helen Mirren actually was the queen!

z

Hopping on the Piccadilly Circus tube – home to bed!

West End Wednesday

wedapollo

There’s no better remedy to the mid-week slump than a trip to theatreland. Last night I went to see ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’ at the Apollo Theatre. I have been meaning to read the book for ages. I picked it up in Daunt Books and skimmed the beginning; I even had a glance on the Amazon ‘Look Inside’ preview, but it just didn’t grab me. Maybe because it’s narrated by a 15-year-old boy with Asperger’s syndrome – you really have think about how he perceives the world so differently; hyper-sensitive to sound and touch, he thinks in graphic mathematical equations.

wedchampersA little pre-show champers before the bell.

wedplaybillLuke Treadaway who plays Christopher was brilliant. The manic way he furiously twists the drawstrings of his hoodie around his fingers, to the point of cutting off the circulation, made me feel anxious and faint. His chronic rationalization of every scenario veers between making perfect sense one minute and being completely frustrating the next. His strained relationship with his parents is tender and heart-rending; both sides feel desperately misunderstood. I literally squirmed in my seat while Christopher’s father changes him out of his tee-shirt after a major fit – the intimacy of it was almost unbearable! This play was exasperating, but it creatively depicted some of the challenges facing special needs families.

wedceiling

After the performance, a bite to eat was definitely in order. A nice little candlelit table at Ducksoup came to mind. Ducksoup is oldish-new by London standards. I was already living in London when it opened, around the time a plethora of other no-reservations countertop bar/kitchens sprouted up across Soho.

duckfront

duckwine

duckmenuThe handwritten seasonal menu is updated twice a day for lunch and dinner.

duckbar

duckbar2

duckface

duckartichokesBaby Artichokes, pecorino and mint

duckvenChopped venison on toast

Owner Rory McCoy explained to me how it is prepared – raw, with seasoning and lemon juice. It must be chopped to order and dressed as it’s served otherwise the acid will cook it and change the color too.

duckrecordNibbling on Jesus de Pays Basque salami and crusty sourdough bread, the record player whirring Nina Simone’s syrupy rendition of “Mr. Bojangles” – ahhh, I think I can make it til Friday.

A State Funeral

magsoldiers

Back when I was living in Washington, DC I used to be quite political. Working for a national museum, hosting visiting foreign dignitaries, attending embassy events with ambassadors and diplomats it was hard not to be. Though I suppose I was already political before that, raised by parents with totally differing political opinions. Before I ever formed by own world view or any kind of political awareness, I was keenly aware of politics being a frequent (and often emotionally-charged) topic of debate.

These days, I try to keep my head out of politics. I find it a complete bummer. Plus, I’m a guest in a foreign country and always cognizant of polarized international opinion about my country. When it comes to English politics, it’s really not my place to have an opinion. I can see firsthand the pros and cons, just like everyone else. Today was former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s funeral and it was blatantly obvious that she was a divisive figure in British history.

  magdandys

magyouth

magumbrella

magprotest

Here’s what I know about Margaret Thatcher: she was the first woman Prime Minister. Which indicates to me she was extremely ambitious, probably a bit stubborn, and exceptionally thick-skinned – a lot like me actually (except for the thick-skinned bit). I always saw her as Ronald Reagan’s droopy-eyed galpal during an era of austerity economics and neoliberal capitalism. I remember during the zenith of the MTV age her cameo in Genesis’ music video for ‘Land of Confusion’ – a sinister, grotesque puppet in a political nightmare.

When I moved to London, her speeches were played on a loop in the toilets at Maggie’s – an 80’s themed boutique nightclub in the heart of Chelsea; it was as if no one really listens to what she said, it was that voice, the way she said things. She’s on record as calling Nelson Mandela “a terrorist,” so she was obviously a bit impulsive… better make that unapologetically impulsive. But aren’t all politicians? And what’s any worse about her administration than the one Britain has now? Privatizations still continue under the current coalition government, and foreign policy remains very conservative and reactionary – so her legacy isn’t truly dead at all in terms of what is going on in Britain today.

Fortified by a strong cup of coffee, I nudged my way through the crowds at St. Paul’s to witness the state ceremony.

magcoffee

Media networks staked out their territory in the churchyard.

magscourtyard

On guard for the Queen’s arrival.

mag1

The Queen and Prince Phillip arriving.

magqueen

Queen Elizabeth ascending the stairs into St. Paul’s Cathedral.

magqueen1

Baroness Thatcher’s horse-drawn casket arriving.

magcof

The band leading the procession was playing the most sombre marching tune. I caught my breath a couple of times.

magcof2

magclock

At exactly 11:00 the church bells began to clang solemnly as the coffin was carried up the cathedral steps.

mag1100

magcarried

The atmosphere was so silent you could hear the wind moving, there was a palpable tension in the air.

magsteps

Inside, foreign leaders, royalty, and those close to Baroness Thatcher would witness the funeral ceremony. It was sure to be memorable as the procession and arrival had all the hallmarks of practiced and perfected pomp & circumstance – what the Brits do best.

Kitchen Table at The Mall Tavern

One of the hardest parts of assimilating into my new London life has been embracing English pub culture. It’s taken me over two years and I still don’t quite get it. Let’s face it, I like the finer things in life:  monogrammed cotton stationery, scented candles, gauzy linen tee shirts, the intoxicating scent of warm leather in a new car. Pubs are drab, clammy dens where you can taste the sweet tang of stale beer and deep fat fryer haze in the air. It’s impossible to get served in one, so you clamour for the barman’s attention and order a pint of ale, only to take a sip and discover it’s warm. People in pubs do not cast so much a glance your way, let alone approach you. If you attempt to engage new faces in conversation, you get the most mystified silence before they turn their greasy fingertips back to their crinkly mylar bag of crisps. You sit there and shift despondently in your pew-like seat amongst the uninterested crowd, and think to yourself how you just don’t quite get the pub scene.

Then I was tipped off by one of my most glamorous friends about The Chef’s Table at The Mall Tavern. It combines the comfort and informality of a pub atmosphere with a private dining experience that teases all of your senses because it is located inside the kitchen, where you are served a 3-course blind tasting menu by the chef himself, Jesse Dunford Wood.

Tucked away discreetly only moments from Notting Hill Gate, our party arrived to the pub on a drizzly Friday night and ascended the creaky stairs through the intense heat of the kitchen to our table. We squeezed comfortably into our seats between the walk-in freezer and the dishwasher, huge windows cracked open to let in the cool, misty air as patrons drank pints and chatted in hushed tones on the lamp-lit curb below.

mall2 mall1

As steel utensils clank inside pots, and plates clatter across the countertop, wine gushes into my glass and I become a part of the symphony of a working pub kitchen.

The starters came out first, with the chef serving and describing each dish.

mallab‘Oysters & Champagne’ amuse bouche

mallsaladHeirloom tomato and Lincolnshire Poacher salad

mallchestnutChestnut hummus with rosemary pita bread

mallchix‘McTucky’s popcorn chicken nuggets’

mallbrieA pub favorite, fried brie with cranberry sauce

mallsalad2Ricotta with roasted butternut squash and sprouts

malleggWarm egg yolk in a halibut consommé – served in an eggshell

mallegg2You have to stir the yolk and broth together to create a creamy fish chowder.

mallchefChef Jesse Dunford Wood

Before our entrées even hit the table us girls were already so full we lamented not wearing leggings to dinner, or better yet a tent dress!

mallkievChicken Kyiv

mallporkPulled pork and roasted tomato

Finally, the plates were cleared and we all breathed a sigh of relief. That is, until the chef returned to roll a wide strip of parchment paper right down the middle of the table.

malldes1

mallcuteWhat have we gotten ourselves into?

For dessert, the lights dimmed, a fog machine whispered little puffs overhead, and the music came on to Willy Wonka singing “Pure Imagination.” And with that, the chef began to paint the table with a palette of chocolate mousse, caramel sauce and deconstructed raspberry cheesecake.

malldes2 malldes3 malldes4 malldes5Lemon jelly, Arctic Roll (piña colada ice cream wrapped in puffy sponge cake), toasted marshmallow, deep-fried custard bites & banana purée

An impressive composition of a pudding! Spoonful after spoonful of sinful versions of sweet. After a few bites, I felt like Violet from ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ – I needed to be rolled out!

Though at long last, I am finally beginning to get the English pub tradition.

Easter Weekend

One thing the Brits get right is the bank holiday weekend. This year Good Friday and Easter Monday were bank holidays, so nothing was getting in the way of me making the best of this 4-day weekend.

Friday night I met friends for some pre-theatre snacks at Dean Street Townhouse in Soho. A corner table by the window was a cozy spot for some candlelit nibbles.  The girolle & leek tart and the potted shrimps were just the trick for tiding us over until our late dinner reservation.

morm1

After tipping back a couple flutes of Dean Street’s finest bubbles, we made a quick dash to the Prince Of Wales Theatre and took our seats for…

The Book of Mormon!

morm2

By the end I had permanent dimples from all the laughing.

This show has received a gazillion rave reviews already, and I must concur –

pure hilarity!

Next on the Easter circuit was a little bit of a boogie. The next time you want to go “south of the border” without going south of the Thames, I recommend Tonteria. Located conveniently on the Sloane Square, we nestled into one of their dingy booths and sipped the very aptly-named Tonteritas.

tont

tont2

Easter Sunday finally arrived, providing a much needed escape to the Cotwolds to refuel and relax by the fire.

east1

east2

And eat!

Creamy smoked haddock pots

easterfood2

Rosemary-buttered roast pouisson & Comte gratin

easterfood1

And the jewel in the crown of any self-respecting English feast… Pavlova!

easterfood3

After coffee, Poppy and I were raring to get out in the country air and stretch our legs.

easterfoodlast

I have to say, the little kid in me missed my American Easter basket with Peeps just a smidge, but..

Happy Easter everyone!