Friday, 28 February 2014

Finding France

I hate to whine, but the food here just isn't as fantastic as it was in France.

I'm talking mostly about fresh fruits and vegetables.  True, it's February, the most dismal month for good fresh food.  If you aren't sick of root vegetables already, you will be in the next couple weeks.  I'm hoping with the looming springtime, things will improve.  The grocery store produce is just icky and sad, and the Saturday street markets that pop up in every neighborhood is only slightly better.

No need for Kale Ladies here, they have already embraced Hipster Lettuce as their own!

The curries are fantastic though.  I've had several that were amazingly good, and some craveable Thai and Japanese as well.  It's much easier to find good ethnic food here than it is in Paris.  I guess that's the effect that happens when your local cuisine isn't always the most appetizing?  Boiled meat, anyone?

Everyone kept telling me, "Borough Market is overpriced; it's for tourist".  I'll agree that it is a bit more expensive to shop there and mobbed on Saturdays, but the quality is miles better than anyplace else.  So stop saying "it's for tourist" because you are basically saying, "only tourist have good taste, we all traditionally eat rubbish".  Not only do they have really great produce, they have some French cheese importers that make it all better, and some prepared foods that are worth the trip to huddle around in a forlorn corner to balance in hand, including some of the best cornish pasties I've ever had.

The adorable pastie lady in Borough Market.  Putting to shame anyone who ever thought Sweeney Todd was #1.

A word about cheese:  Cheddar is great, and I'm quite in love with the crumbly mild tang of Wensleydale, but everything else I've tried so far has been inferior to their counterparts over the channel.  The cheese-mongers, ever so helpful, will doll out samples, saying, "this one is like Camembert, this one is like Beaufort...are you looking for a blue?  because this Stilton is similar to Roquefort".   I've tried some really excellent small producers that are making interesting cheese, and I'll keep you posted when I find something special.  I will keep trying anyway.  Neal's Yard has some excellent cheese- they provide Cheese for one of my favorite restaurants in Paris, Frenchie, including my absolute favorite Isle of Mull Cheddar, which I will subsist on solely if allowed.

Grocery shopping here is kind of an adventure in a bad way.  They just have so much weird, processed, odd foods and sauces, mostly in tins or frozen, totally unappetizing.  I'm going to have to document this next time I go, as some of it is just mystifying.

Mostly, I miss the daily street markets in Paris.  The rapport you have with the sellers and farmers is priceless, and being able to run out and get really fresh lovely produce is something I'll never tire of.  In the past few weeks, I've had more mushy, mealy apples than I care to.  Boo.  You aren't really going to encourage people to eat healthy if you aren't offering them appetizing things.

I never got his real name as he was always "Monsieur Pêche" to me.  He knew how to pick the best peaches, nectarines, clementines and berries for me, and it didn't seemed odd at all that I would seek him out four times a week to get my fix.  He humored my French, and I'd like to think that he misses me.  
Still, they seem to be closeted francophiles here, and I found a French cafe in the Brixton Village Market selling all sorts of goodies, including Sel de Mer butter and a good variety of saucison sec (including donkey!).  I have quickly become a loyal client.

Bottom line:  I will not be starving any time soon.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

FO: Saroyan

Oh, Cashmere!

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It's generally just way too precious for me to justify the cost, but it doesn't hurt to try every now and then.

The market is flooded with so much cheap cashmere.  Instead of being an ultra-luxury good, the Chinese figured out how to mass produce it and now you can get a sweater of low-quality, but a label that says 100% cashmere, for less than $50.  Ten or so years ago, you would be paying many hundreds of dollars.  It's astounding.  Still, when you come across the real, high-quality stuff, it's worlds different.  It feels like heaven.

So, back when I lived in New York, at one point I inadvertently signed up for Groupon.  Ugh, Groupon.  Your idealist sales pitches make me feel inadequate for not getting my hair straightened and my face microdemabraided and my cellulite lasered daily.  I would pop one into my shopping cart every now and then when it was something I would actually use: usually restaurants I was already known to frequent, or a good deal on a yoga studio package that was somewhere between work and home.  Occasionally, a fancy yarn store would offer up one, and being no fool, I would grab it.

So I had a Groupon for Knitty City- a place on the Upper West Side that was just a little too far out of my daily grind to be of any real use to me.  I think you pay $25 and got $50 worth of product, or something like that.  It's a nice way to try new yarns anyway.  I showed up, looked around, and instantly noticed that they had Jade Sapphire 6-ply cashmere bundled up as a scarf kit- 4 skeins for $100, when the yarn is normally about $50 a skein.  So, for $75 total, I ended up buying $200 worth of the nicest cashmere yarn money could possibly buy.  It was still ridiculously expensive, the color selection made me a little depressed, but it came home with me and sat in my stash, occasionally being gently petted and dreamed of the day when I might actually have the balls to make something with this wonder of the textile world.

Finally, right before I moved from France: much travel time, the need to use bamboo needles on the plane, and the need for a fairly mindless pattern resulted in this:


A lovely, wearable Saroyan scarf.  It worked out perfectly- the yarn is so soft and drapey and cushy, a simple pattern was best; something unfussy.  I still am a bit ashamed of the ungodly amount of money it cost me for the yarn, but it's so snuggly and amazing and warm, $75 seems totally reasonable now.


The lace-leaf edging gives it a nice touch.  I've worn it pretty much constantly since I finished it and it's my go-to scarf this winter.  As it should be!



Despite the fact that I finished it while in Costa Rica, I managed to weave in the ends with my stubby fingers and trim them off with my pocket knife (gasp!) and started wearing it instantly, regardless of it being quite tropical in climate.


But it's fantastic, and my favorite thing ever (at the moment anyway) and I might even take this time to admit that I have worn this to bed on more than one occasion.  It's that comforting.  When I do reluctantly take it off, it feels like I've sawed off a limb and I totally feel a sense of loss.  The bottom line is:  I refuse to have a bad day when I am wearing this scarf.

Totally worth it.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Camden Town

One of the things I'm loving about London is how there are all these parts of it that operate and feel like small villages rather than a sprawling metropolis.  While the city is enormous, it feels less overwhelming than New York to me because of all these bite-sized pieces you can break off and explore.

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I spent a recent sunny day exploring Camden.  It's an eclectic, odd place with tons of markets selling all sorts of good junk.  The canal-side Lock Market and the formerly equestrian Stable Markets sprawl across town, with an odd assortment of storefronts on high street connecting the two markets.

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Predictably, it's a mob scene, and it offers great people watching.  The vendors in the stable markets were kind of blah, but if you wind your way further back into the stalls there are some great vintage clothing shops, including a woman who had an amazing selection of vintage furs that, even though I would never wear, wow'ed me.

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You can really get lost in here, in the best possible way.

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While it had a lot of ho-hum junk- the same hippie clothing and crude-phrased t-shirts could be bought at every other booth, it was a worthwhile exploration.

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Most of it was just so tacky, you couldn't help but stop and stare.

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This was the place to go if you want to get that tattoo that everyone else has, and dubious-looking pot brownies while being offered dimebags of limp, sad little buds.

I did spy this amusing vintage pet store awning that is now re-purposed as a bakery:

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When the thumping bass and incessant consumption of top 40 music got too much, it was off to Regent's Park, a sprawling green space.

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The odd thing about Parks here are that they are generally huge, and mostly vast lawns with a pin-straight walkway with tall trees cutting through the center.

It's almost disorientating to be  in the middle of such a vast lawn.  You really can't judge distances well at all, and even in February, the grass is so green it hurts your eyes.

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I can't wait for it to dry out enough for a picnic.  I foresee a glorious summer of  picnic-only diets ahead.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Some short videos

Busy today, but I had to share:

I just came across this video on the NY Times home page about East London street fashion.  Check it out, they seem to have taken the same market route as I did per yesterday's post:

Also, this:

Those are some crazy Chèvres, non?  Goats are totally unappreciated for their athletic ability.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Fo: Live Oak Shawlette

Hey, would ya look at this:

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Wow.  There was a whole grove of these trees blossoming in Regent's Park.  It was lovely.  It's February, I'm still in my winter coat, but it's warm enough here for some confused trees to flash some obscene shade of pink.

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For serious, guys.  It's pretty much springtime if you squint.

I'm getting my life together here and meeting some fab people.  Meanwhile, I've finally got a new-ish laptop to work with and I'm getting caught up on the backlog of pictures I've taken over the past six months or so.  So, I present to you this lacy little number that I made last fall, took pictures of on the banks of the Seine one sunny day, gifted and forgot all about.



It's the Live Oak Shawlette by Romi Hill.  It's a gorgeous half-circle shawl.

My only real regret was not to be able to block it out properly.  You'd need about 740 pins, but it would make it oh-so lovely.  I only had about 8 pins and some scrap yarn, so the edge isn't as lovely as it possibly could be.


I did get a bit cocky with my yardage and did another lace repeat, and had to find a contrasting color to finish it off.  I actually kind of like it with the contrasting stripe.  The yarn is Madelinetosh Merino Light in "Thoreau" and the contrast is "Rosewood".


It's totally wearable and sweet, and I gifted it to a chic newly-minted Parisian friend.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014


Hello!  I am still here in London, learning and getting to know the city.  Somehow, miraculously, the internet will not be installed until sometime next month (!) but I've been keeping busy.  The flat now looks cozy and clean, with everything neatly put away, and a real bed is in the bedroom, and I love my new home.  

Rather predictably, I did get a whopper of a cold as soon as we got moved in.  This happens every time I move- the combination of much stress and brand-new germs always gets me.  Not that this has been a particularly stressful move.  I think it went quite swimmingly.  Still, it sucks to be sick, and I feel as though I've managed to slick snot on every possible surface without even trying, and every time I encounter another person I know that yes, they are probably amused at the fact that I probably have something hanging out of my nose.  Also, no one has been murdered within eyesight recently, I love it when that happens!  

It's been raining a brutal amount lately.  Whole towns are underwater south of here, and to keep the Thames from flooding London, all the excess water gets spilled out to the 'burbs, and those are under water as well.  All those storms burying the East Coast of the US with mountains of snow have been blowing across the Atlantic and battering the UK

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On the occasional sunny day, I choose a neighborhood and get out to explore.  Recently, it was to Shoreditch and Spitafields in East London, which have an insane amount of markets on the weekend.

London is shopping mad.  There are open-air markets going on every day.  It's hit or miss- there are a handful of unique vendors always, but they you have to really wallow through a lot of tacky t-shirt vendors and hippie clothing sellers to get to them.  Spitafields had some unique clothing vendors and designers, and the area around Spitafields market had tons of upscale vintage stores.  

Further in, near Brick Lane, there is a car park that turns into a food market on Sundays, and there are tons of other markets popping up in the area as well.

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Londoners are like Parisians where it doesn't matter how cold it is out, as long as it's not raining, they will sit outside.  

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It was pretty awesome to see so many different ethnicity represented in the food market.  Caribbean, African, Mideastern, Southeast Asian, Mexican and lots of American BBQ.  In fact, that seems to be the trendiest food in London right now- Fried chicken and slow-cooked pulled pork and ribs and brisket.  I have yet to give it a try as I've been on a vegetarian kick as of late, but I'm curious about it.  

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On Brick Lane, next to the dozens of curry houses, there's a remnent of the older jewish neighborhood before that, and you can get bagels and "salt beef", which I determined to be corned beef.  The bagel places had long lines snaking out onto the street, so I gave one a try.  It was...disappointing.  Not a New York bagel.  I have to stop this habit of comparing everything to New York; it's ruining things for me.  

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Finally, a walk through the Columbia Road Flower Market.  

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Everyone is dreaming so hard of springtime here.

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