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New Blog Title

I’m still kind of bouncing around the thought in my head of starting a new blog devoted to afternoon tea, scones, treats, and fun facts about afternoon tea, scones, and treats. It sounds like a fun little side project particularly since I’ve stopped doing my book review blog (just not enough traffic to really make the time writing reviews worth it). But the hardest part is coming up with a name. I have some ideas…

The Crumpet Strumpet
The Clotted Creamery
Tea and Crumpets
The Cream Tea Dream

Any thoughts? Any more ideas?

Tea Room Review: Chado Tea Room in Hollywood, CA

I feel like my blog is having an identity crisis. It started out because I was going to England and needed a way to keep everyone back home updated easily and in a mass quantity. But I’ve been back from England for nearly a year, and sometimes I go for longish gaps without posting because, well, I’m not in England anymore. There are no new experiences every day, no traveling nearly every weekend, no crazy study abroad stories. There is just life.

Now life has some fun updates right now: engagement, new job, business, and birthday fun stuff coming in a later post (this one has a very specific purpose). But can these kinds of general life updates sustain a blog’s popularity? Am I too scattered to engage readers? Is it harmful that when you come to my blog you aren’t sure what kind of post you are going to get, or is that part of the charm? I’ve been wondering this a lot lately and since I don’t know a ton of bloggers–and the blogs I read myself are very specific topics like baking and cooking–I don’t know who to ask for their opinions. So if you have any feedback, I’d appreciate it. After all you are my reader and you are the best one to tell me whether or not you enjoy reading whatever I write. Let’s get interactive people!

In the meantime, I wanted to harken back to the England days with a cream tea review. I haven’t done one in a while because, again, not in the UK anymore and until recently I didn’t think there were a lot of tea rooms out here beyond where I work. It’s tough also when you have had the best cream teas ever in the UK and you make really good scones yourself to enjoy American style cream teas. Maybe that will be some of the fun of my new quest: the Quest for the Best Southern California Cream Tea…QBSCCT if you will.

First up: Chado Tea Room in Hollywood, CA

Opening statement: If it wasn’t for having a Groupon, I would have been more upset about my experience here. I have really high standards for afternoon teas, but I knew going in that Yelp reviews were mixed so I went in with automatically lower expectations, thank goodness.

Made a reservation easily for mid week, and when we arrived there was a table set for us, but we had to find the ONLY WAITER in the whole restaurant and ask if that was our table. This was their biggest problem I thought. The restaurant isn’t huge, but it’s enough tables and enough work per table to justify a minimum of two servers on the floor. A great server could handle the whole restaurant by himself/herself with only the two bussers but unfortunately today’s server couldn’t handle it. As a server, I felt bad for him so I didn’t deduct his tip because it isn’t his fault management understaffs.

The decor isn’t like a typical quaint tea house. It’s very minimalistic with a twinge of Asian (I’ll update with pictures soon). At least there were white tablecloths (funny story I saw one of the bussers “clean” a table by literally flipping over the tablecloth) and the place was very clean. Not overly girly either which can sometimes get to be too much.

Tea menu is overwhelming, but the overwhelmingness doesn’t come from it being extensive (because plenty of tea rooms have 100+ teas on their menus and are manageable) but from it being disorganized. Six different sections for Darjeelings, Assams, tisanes and the teas that most people are ordering were in the back, and the descriptions all said “a perfect breakfast tea” without much else to tell me. Plus, every tea was “tippy”…uh okay. The waiter gave me a weird look when I asked to smell the tea before choosing it, a pretty standard practice for those who know tea and I had told him upfront that I work at a tea room. I eventually chose the Raijin (Indian tea with lavender and roses) which was great plain, but my mom ordered Lavender Earl and it was too much lavender and it was overbrewed. Aisha got the Sencha Rose and she seemed to like it. Plus the teas were cold by the end of the service. And they were out of a lot of teas. Which was a problem when we went to order our loose leaf teas and they were out of our top three choices. We settled for the Raijin that I had and then Sencha Cherry that has a promising smell for an iced tea to break in my new iced tea maker (thank you Joseph!).

Groupon was for afternoon tea for 4 and $25 of loose leaf tea. As we only had two people eating afternoon tea, we wanted to know if there were any alternative options. The waiter was very courteous and after he stopped being confused as to why we had a coupon for four people but there were only two of us, offered to package up the rest to take away. Great idea. Great point for service.

Food
Finger sandwiches were the best part. I liked how the bread was slightly toasted and the smoked salmon sandwich was awesome. Chicken and cranberry also good. Cucumber was odd since it was made with butter and a cream cheese/onion garnish. But butter can be traditional British.

Scones were somehow simultaneously sweet and flavorless. I’m used to the only scone flavor being plain or currant from my time in England, but Yelp reviews say that they offered flavors like blueberry or ginger, but I guess not for us. They were average sized. Unfortunately after eating the finger sandwiches, the scones had cooled and were hard as stale biscuits. Previous reviewers said to just eat the scones first while they were still warm and fluffy, but you shouldn’t have to eat the scones before the sandwiches. To me that says the scones are either not fresh or not properly stored. “Cream” was whipped cream (no idea why people keep calling this stuff Devonshire cream since it isn’t) and apricot jam. Had to ask twice for strawberry jam.

Desserts were dense and not tasty (mini carrot cake cupcake, pineapple upside down cake, two plain cookies). We left them there.

I also think that since they are located in California and more Americans are choosing gluten-free diets, I think they should have offered some gluten free options. The place I work does. Of course I’m only aware of this today because Aisha is with us and she doesn’t eat gluten so she had to have a salad.

Overall, I won’t go back there on my own dime, but with a Groupon deal it was worth trying. They really need to properly staff the place so that the poor service can give better customer service and not look like he wants to cry. I felt guilty asking for anything beyond placing our order because he looked that overwhelmed (and the restaurant wasn’t even full).

Pictures coming soon.

Ode to the Stand Mixer

School has been taking up the majority of my time here over the last four weeks, so once again I am at a loss of what interesting stories to tell you. I could tell you about the time that I ran into a friend from Oxford wandering around Westwood, or catching a foul ball at the Dodger game on Monday, or my booking a skydiving trip for next month. I could tell you any of those stories, but then I’d be lying and lying isn’t really in my nature, despite all of those stories being more interesting than my life has been this month. I get bored sitting in my lectures (okay we do learn some really interesting stuff) and through my exams and reading my textbooks, so I won’t subject all of you to the same plight.

But I also don’t want anyone to feel abandoned, because no one like to be abandoned. It’s not fun either. In fact, my Hollywood Myth of the Romans class would definitely be more fun than being abandoned. At least in class there are some really over keen classmates to silently giggle at and interesting factoids about Rome to absorb for later random knowledge uses. There is none of that in being abandoned. Being abandoned is just…awkward. And awkwardness is even less fun than being abandoned! So the moral of the story is that sitting in my classes is better than being abandoned which is better than being stuck in an awkward situation like the one I probably just made you all stuck in.

So I’ll make it up to you with some baking. Everybody loves baking, right? I mean baking is better than sitting in class which is better than being abandoned which is better than being in an awkward situation! Best of all four worlds! And there has been a lot of baking going on in the house between this weekend and then today.

Despite having a paper and a midterm early in this week, I forced myself to find time to de-stress by baking. (Took a lot of forcing 😉 ) Let’s see, it all began with Friday afternoon tea with almond scones, or as they are adorably being called almond bliss scones, since everything needs an adorable name. The recipe is posted at the bottom of this post. They may have been some of the best scones that I have ever had! And Mommy loved them too, which is always important for a sous baker to approve of the goods being baked as well. These scones were surprisingly sweet and moister than the others–probably a result of my undertaking them a tad–with a slightly crunchy and slight chewy texture from the chopped almonds permeating the dough. Yup, no almond extract in these delights, just pure all natural almonds. Served with some unsweetened freshly whipped cream, the scones made a special treat out of our normal cream tea in the afternoons.

Saturday’s baking was a new one for me: a cake. This cake was actually my mom’s brilliant idea, and it utilized plenty of math skills, proving the age old adage to stay in school. That might relate more to staying away from drugs, but since this cake might be a little bit like a chocolate drug, I’d say that it’s an apt expression. Think about it…four layers, each getting progressively more chocolatey, light with a moist crumb, glued together by more chocolatey buttercream frosting, and decorated with a rich brown chocolate buttercream with my first ever white piping decorations. Drooling yet? Yeah, thank my mom for that one! It took forever to bake the cakes, freeze them, assemble them, and frost them, but it allowed me to get a lot of studying done in the resting time so that the weekend wasn’t an entire wash other than the dishes.

Now you’d think that between the incredible almond scones and the Everybody’s Happy cake (see? cutesy name is a must) I’d be acknowledging that I needed to spend some time studying or else I’d fail my midterm. Right? WRONG. Baking is an addiction, I swear. And with my parents off doing their own things around the house on Sunday, I had no one to distract me from my homework except for Peyton and Byrne, the authors of my British baking book that I ordered as soon as I came home to the States. Hence the second attempt of the Lemon Curd Swiss Roll.

Second attempt, you say? Why weren’t you made aware of the first attempt? Well that answer is easy: it failed. And not in an “Oh I used salt instead of sugar in my apple pie filling but luckily I haven’t baked it yet so I can just rinse off the apples and redo the filling and crisis is averted” fail. It wasn’t even a “Darn my macarons came out wrong, guess I’ll just throw together some Eton Mess and pretend this didn’t happen” fail (that hasn’t occurred yet but I know it will when I finally get around to trying to make macarons). This was a used the wrong size pan, forgot I had a stand mixer, didn’t grease the inappropriately sized pan properly, baked the cake in this said wrong pan for too long, and ended up being able to hold the cake up in front of me like it was a piece of cardboard. Absolutely nothing salvageable, but absolutely embarrassing to behold. It was quickly thrown away and I vowed never to speak of it again. But apparently that part of the event failed as well since I just spilled my guts.

However, I REDEEMED MYSELF! I made the same cake on Sunday but this time with a stand mixer and a properly sized and properly greased pan. And while it may have been a very challenging and time consuming cake to make, it came out perfectly. No mistakes. Some filling gushed out the side when I rolled it out, but according to people who have made similar cakes before such a thing is typical. And the reviews…they warmed my heart on the dreary Monday. According to my mom the entirety of my dad’s office raved about it, a few even went so far as to talk about hiding it so that other office mates wouldn’t finish it off before they had seconds, and I have two requests for the recipe lined up already. That is really the best compliment a baker can get, and I am super lucky to have willing taste testers so accessible.

Riding high on that success, I was placated in my baking for a whole two days, until today. For some reason, I thought today was a good day to not only make blueberry scones, but also Mommy’s Chocolate Chip Cookies AND a new banana cinnamon chip oatmeal cookie recipe. Why? Because I had spare time before my dad was ready to watch Gladiator with me for my film class and I’m hanging out with some friends tomorrow night and nothing says party like freshly baked cookies. Looks like the Office Ladies are going to be subjected to more sugar tomorrow, so I hope they all went for a run today!

Oh and I guess I never did explain why I would want to write an ode to a stand mixer. That little appliance is the hardest working appliance I have ever seen besides an air conditioner in Las Vegas. Seriously, it was invaluable in making TWO batches of cookie dough today, as well as THREE cakes this weekend! When I think back to the days of this last year at Oxford, creaming butter by hand and attempting to fold chocolate chips into a gigantic blob of cookie dough, I am even more in love with my mixer and wonder how I ever lived without it last year. The cookies came out so much better since they didn’t have to rely on my lack of elbow greasing ability to properly blend!

Almond Bliss Scones

 

Almond Bliss Scones

200 g plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
50 g soft brown sugar
70 g ground almonds
200 mL double cream (heavy whipping cream)
teeny bit of water
Preheat the oven to 220°C (450°F). Sift together into a medium mixing bowl the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Add the ground almonds. Rub in the cream. Add only enough water to bring all the mix together (barely a teaspoon!). Knead until almost smooth, about 5-6 times.
Place on a heavily floured surface and press down to desired thickness (1 cm). Cut out into desired scone size (5 cm). HINT: dip the scone cutter into some flour before cutting dough for easier removal.  Place scones on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
Bake about 8 minutes until lightly browned or until you lack self control anymore.
Serve with plain, unsweetened whipping cream.
* additional ideas: add in chopped dried cherries when add in almonds.

Apologies Hopefully Accepted?

The blogs have not been posting as regularly here as they were in England, I know, and for that I apologize, though I promise that I am mostly thinking of your sanity and enjoyment when I choose not to post every day or so. You see, the majority of my time is spent either in a lecture room, or reading books and articles, or filling out worksheets, or ignoring the 2 billion emails from my research group, or watching Roman films, or writing papers, or…well, you get the idea. Basically it’s back to the not all that exciting life of a UCLA student, and I’m aware that such a repetitive account week after week of nothing  but school work would probably bore you all to tears as much as I am in lectures and would probably lose me some readers, a compromise I am not willing to make! So the posts may not be as frequent in the next four weeks, but I promise that there are some fun things around the corner.

However there has been some play mixed in with all that work. I’d go crazy if I didn’t have some breaks to see the light of day. Monday I met up with my Sophomore year roommate, Michelle, whom I haven’t seen in nearly a year, for dinner and a massive catch up session. We sat around CPK for about two hours just updating each other on school, new roommates, Oxford, diving, and the traditional most ridiculous story of the last six months. Those, of course, do not get passed on to anyone else, for the sake of our clean criminal records! Kidding 😉 But anyway, catching up with old friends is probably the second best thing about being home, second to Brinkley. I mean, no one can really compete with my love muffin of a dog.

Tuesday also had a dear friend pop into it, but this one was a complete surprise! My mom and I were out walking Brinkley and my friend Amy texted me asking if I was in town. Luckily I don’t drive out of town simply to walk my dog, so we were able to meet up for an extremely late night coffee at Starbucks for the second in a row multi hour catch up. She gave me some great advice on clubbing in Vegas and LA, and told me some amazing news regarding her work. I am so happy for her and everywhere her life has been taking her. Amy is probably one of my oldest friends. We danced together when we were younger and it’s all ancient history from there. We used to dance a lot in Hollywood together as well, but with her currently living in a different city and me being in summer school, that has been put on hold for a bit.

Wednesday was the country’s 236th birthday, which just made me laugh because of how old all the things I saw in Europe were compared to my entire country. I mean, I’m pretty sure in Brussels we saw an iron that was twice the age of the US on sale for 15 euro. The school schedule and pet sitting my uncle’s dog really put a damper on any potential shenanigans, so it was a low key holiday of appointments in Westwood and homework. Everything revolves around homework at the moment. Next year, I’ll do something cool…maybe…probably not since I seem to neglect to make plans for holidays. Oops. I think that means that some of my friends should just make it a policy to have me tag along with all of them. Especially if it involves traveling 😉 I fit in a suitcase I promise!

Oh, I nearly forgot, there was something significant that happened on Wednesday. Mommy and I made a semi-traditional cream tea! Obviously we couldn’t import scones and clotted cream from the UK, so we made do with what we could adapt. But I did make my first batch of scones out of a baking book I bought in the UK and my mom put on a pot of Earl Grey, and we sat down on the anniversary of the day our country declared independence to a tradition from the country we separated from.

Sweet Cream Scones with Strawberry Jam

I believe they call that irony? Regardless of the wrong cultural custom being observed, the scones were fantastically light and sweet, almost just like what one would get at a British teahouse, with some of the best strawberry jam around (McClarens in case anyone wants to replicate our cream tea. Find them at the Farmer’s Market at COC Sunday morning!). Definitely evoked some nostalgia for the last year on my part. (recipe at end of post)

Sweet Cream Scones with Strawberry Jam

Since then, the weekend went by pretty fast and uneventful. I saw Spiderman with some friends–and surprisingly LOVED it!–did all the above homework that I already ranted about, made another batch of “Crunchy Butter Scones”

Crunchy Butter Scone with Lemon Curd

to compare to the “Sweet Cream Scones”, had dinner with some family friends last night, and then have been working on yet another paper today. It’s just about tea time, so I may bust out some leftover scones from yesterday (never as good as fresh out of the oven, but I’d feel bad making more scones when these ones haven’t been finished off yet) and curl up with yet another book on Roman films. Talk to you all soon!

 

Sweet Cream Scone Recipe

200 g self rising flour

1/4 teaspoon salt
50 g caster sugar (plain white sugar)
200 mL double cream (heavy whipping cream in the US)
—>if the dough is too dry, add up to another 50 mL cream, but our dough has always been super wet and sticky with only the 200 mL
Preheat oven to 220°C (450°F). Place rack as high as possible in oven. Sift flour and salt together in a medium sized mixing bowl. Add the sugar and 200 mL cream then work in by hand by rubbing in the cream trying to incorporate as much air as possible until fully mixed. DO NOT OVERMIX. If the mix is too dry, now add the extra cream until the dough is wet enough to hold together.
Place dough on a heavily floured surface and knead a couple of times until relatively smooth. Dust top with more flour and pat down to desired height (we did 1 cm). Cut out 5 cm circles with a crimped circle cutter and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. HINT: dip the cutter in flour before cutting out each scone. Knead the extras back together and repeat until most of the dough is used up.
Bake for 6-8 minutes (we did 8) until they have risen and are slightly browned around the edges and on top. Serve with clotted cream if you are lucky enough to be in England, but with red fruit jam no matter where you are.

The Big 100th Post

Isn’t it amazingly fitting (and completely coincidental) that my 100th post is my leaving Oxford to return home to the States? This was never my intention; I didn’t plan out all of my blog posts for my entire year to make sure that I ended on the 100th post. I can’t even really believe that I’ve had 100 posts!

In fact, this post is truly the last part of me in England at the moment. In case no one noticed, the time stamp on this one is 4:15 pm, GMT, which means that as this is being blasted into cyberspace, my plane towards Los Angeles has just taken off and I am now in the air, eleven and a half hours of a plane ride ahead of me. Let’s hope there are no screaming children!

So as this is my 100th milestone, in typical blogosphere fashion, I thought I would do a little fun listing, an almost sum-up of my incredible time abroad. Nothing is in any particular order. Enjoy!

25 Great/Funny Experiences

  1. Meeting my amazing dance partner, Dan, is probably the best thing that happened to me here!
  2. Being pelted with snowballs outside the Sheffield competition. First time in the snow!
  3. Disneyland Paris
  4. Harry Potter Studio Tours in Leavesden
  5. Seeing Les Mis on the West End…twice
  6. Dan running into a bollard at Blackpool. This was mostly funny because of the email his dad sent him afterwards, but it’s a favorite inside joke with the two of us now.
  7. Blackpool IVDA!
  8. Thinking that Iguanadons were the same thing as Iguanas (you’ll understand this one later)
  9. Baking parties in the Acland kitchen
  10. Dan’s birthday BBQ
  11. Days spent at the Missing Bean
  12. Keble Ball
  13. Meeting up with Dale in Paris
  14. The Port Meadow Photo Challenge
  15. My family visiting!
  16. Driving in Ireland
  17. Finding Charles Brandon’s grave in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle
  18. Becoming friends with all the people on the dance team
  19. Dancing on a table in Wahoo with Ania 😉 and nearly getting kicked out
  20. Flying off to Zurich alone, completely random! Sidenote: Awesome zoo
  21. Seeing the town that  my family has lived in for hundreds of years (Harlech, Wales)
  22. Walking through horse pastures in the Cotswolds
  23. Varsity Match for OUDC
  24. Going to tutorials in a room that is older than any of the original 13 colonies
  25. Stonehenge in the pouring rain with my brother

25 Things I’ve Learned

  1. The Rose has the best cream tea in Oxford
  2. Custard, cream, and mayo might as well be their own food groups here
  3. Pants=underwear, not trousers
  4. Pimms is awesome. There is always an excuse to drink Pimms.
  5. The instant the sun comes out, expect the streets to get very, very crowded.
  6. Blackwells is the most deadly store in the world.
  7. Sometimes it is cheaper to take a train to a foreign country than to Cornwall.
  8. You can get to Brussels or Paris from Oxford faster than you can get from Oxford to Cambridge (they must have planned it like that!).
  9. Awesome words like keen, overkeen, and knackered should be incorporated into our everyday vocabulary.
  10. British people think that all Americans are gun-toting, obese rednecks.
  11. Cobblestones do not mix well with high heels.
  12. Punting is not just a type of kick in football.
  13. At a BBQ, Brits bring their own meat. Americans bring desserts and sides. Plan accordingly.
  14. Stand mixers are necessary to avoid baking catastrophes.
  15. 14lbs=1 stone. This is how they measure weight. But then they use kg? Wth?
  16. Fancy dress means costumes, not cocktail attire.
  17. Stealing ties and bow ties makes night clubs into a game.
  18. You never wait for a cross walk to cross the street.
  19. Buses will run you over and they get really close to the curbs.
  20. Salad means assorted vegetables that you can have put on your baguette at lunch or lettuce with delicious toppings. However, salads are rarely meals.
  21. You need a television license just to stream a show online.
  22. Everyone, and I mean everyone, watches and loves Downton Abbey.
  23. I know more British history than a lot of British people.
  24. Waffles are dessert, not breakfast. And for that matter, pancakes are basically crepes, not the fluffy goodness we get in the States.
  25. If you forget an umbrella, you’ve guaranteed that it will rain. If you brought an umbrella, it will still probably rain but at least you will be dry.

25 Things I’ll Miss

  1. Nightly tea parties with my dance partner
  2. My friends on the dance team
  3. Olives (the sandwich shop not the food item)
  4. Cream teas
  5. Being able to walk everywhere
  6. Saying Cheers instead of Thanks
  7. Spur of the moment day trips into London
  8. West End shows for cheap!
  9. Being surrounded by history everywhere I go
  10. My bay window
  11. How happy everyone is when its sunny
  12. Oxfordshire Public Library
  13. Free entry to museums and galleries
  14. Everyone in the Keble MCR/Acland
  15. The collective understanding when someone mentions Jamals or Park End
  16. My scouts (aka the women who clean my room every week and empty my bins. They were the nicest people!)
  17. The accents
  18. Ease of travel, unless you want to go horizontally across the country. Good luck with that.
  19. Baking for Dan’s friends and Keble events. Love easy taste testers
  20. Laughing as Dan and I attempt to Quickstep/Waltz/Jive/Cha/Foxtrot/Viennese Waltz
  21. Hearing everyone’s opinions on LA
  22. Dirty Chais
  23. All the literature and film links in the city
  24. Feeling like I’m constantly at Hogwarts
  25. My coworkers

25 Places that I Didn’t Get a Chance to Visit, But That I Definitely Will Someday

  1. York
  2. Cornwall
  3. Dover
  4. Calais
  5. Norfolk
  6. Budapest
  7. Prague
  8. Vienna
  9. Pompeii/Rome/Venice/Naples/Italy
  10. Warsaw/Other Places in Poland
  11. Berlin/all over Germany
  12. Geneva
  13. Istanbul
  14. Marrakech
  15. North Carolina
  16. Athens, basically all of Greece
  17. Slovenia
  18. The Netherlands
  19. Northern Ireland
  20. Brighton
  21. Denmark
  22. Russia
  23. Bruges/Antwerp
  24. The Caribbean
  25. Portugal

Yeah, it’s a long list, but hopefully I’ll have a long life in which to fulfill it, with wonderful friends and family by my side. Now don’t think that because I’m back in the US that this blog is ending. I’m still going to be traveling and I’m working on finding my way back to England for a bit longer of a term. So stay tuned!

And thank you to everyone and everything in England that made this the most amazing year of my life.

A Week of Lasts

Warning, it’s a long one. My advice: Grab some tea and scones before settling down to read this novella. Trust me, tea and scones makes everything better 😉

It has been a week for lasts. Which is completely fitting as this was 8th week, meaning my final week here in Oxford. Pardon me for waxing nostalgic for a blog post, but what a year it has been. Right now Dan and I are exchanging stories of our favorite memories from the past nine months via Facebook chat, and it blows my mind just how much has happened since I stepped off that plane back in September. But a full reminiscing might wait until a milestone blog post, so I’ll refrain for the time being. Not only is it my final week, but it has also been a crazy busy one! So let’s begin with the list of Lasts. Head’s up, it’s a long one!

Last Shift at Work

Sunday afternoon I ended my time waitressing. Ironically it was one of my toughest shifts; I was far from focused and we filled up the entire restaurant for about 90 minutes. With only two waitresses, two bartenders, and one chef, a full restaurant can get overwhelming really quickly. And although I can normally handle a busy shift, for some reason my brain was just not turned on enough to manage it. I choose to blame it on having three long and busy shifts in a row (Friday-Saturday night-Sunday morning) and being once again plagued with insomnia, two things which would make any waitress a little bit off her game. The breakfast/brunch crowd is also a bit more difficult when everyone orders omelettes and you end up confused about which table ordered which omelette because there are two waitresses managing the same tables. So if I didn’t take a table’s order, I didn’t necessarily know that they had ordered food–the specific table in question had told me they were waiting for one more person to join them, who never showed up–and Table 15’s omelette and yogurt and granola ends up at Table 16, and Jenna gets a lecture from the other waitress. All in all though, it was a fun shift and I am surprised at how much I’m going to miss waitressing. Though the tips have a lot to do with that! 😉

Last Essay for Tutorials

It also happened to be my longest essay of the term. My major tutorial is an Independent Research Project, and because we didn’t have time to actually run the study during term (I’m supposed to figure out a way to run it over the summer from the opposite side of the world?), we decided that I could at least make progress on the eventual final write up by writing the Method section and the Introduction of the paper before we even made the stimulus. The Method section was turned in a few weeks ago, so the Intro needed to be written by Thursday’s tutorial. When I set my mind to finishing an essay early, I rarely rest until I do, hence why this week’s essay was researched, outlined, and written between Saturday and Monday afternoon. Granted, three paragraphs were copy-pasted from a previous essay that was a foundation essay for the Intro (so it wasn’t cheating to reuse it), but the majority of the research was new articles and the paper ended at a concise 2200 words. Not really sure how I was able to churn it out that fast, but I certainly wasn’t complaining as it allowed me more time to experience and appreciate the remaining Lasts as there wasn’t an essay hanging over my head.

Last Ballroom Practice

Only ten people showed up! So disappointing as I was planning on using this last Tuesday at Wychwood to say goodbye to everyone. The rest of the week was shaping up to be a crazy busy one, so I wasn’t sure how much time I would have to make the rounds among my friends (as it turned out, I was right in thinking not much) and really wanted to see as many of them as possible at rehearsal. Unfortunately exams are going on for a lot of people and as such the crowd was small. Sadness. Guess I’ll be leaving without notice for many people. I guess this is the advantage of Facebook; at least I can stay in touch as much as possible.

The actually dancing was exactly what Dan and I wanted. Bruce started with our new favorite dance: Foxtrot. I bet my ballroom coach back home will laugh when he hears that I love International Foxtrot, since he practically had to bribe me into practicing it back home! But Dan and I love the smoothness of the music and the technique seems to come very naturally to us, always a bonus. After 90 minutes of Foxtrot, Bruce switched it up to teach us Viennese Waltz. I’ve done Viennese Waltz before, and after spending an entire academic year watching the main team couples dance it, Dan was able to pick it up really quickly. The steps themselves aren’t difficult, it’s all about the speed and stamina. We found it easier to dance when the tempo was quicker, rather than the slowest Viennese that Bruce had, possibly because the slowest Viennese switched timing so often through the song that it was difficult to keep in time. Our last Viennese was the perfect ending to an incredible year dancing with my best friend: it was the theme to Harry Potter!!!! Couldn’t have chosen better myself 😀

Last Baking Experiment

I insisted last week that my making a gigantic batch of sugar cookies to distribute was going to be my last baking day of the term. It just goes to show you that sometimes people eat their words, literally in this case. I blame my mom’s telling me that our peach tree back home is bearing an insane amount of peaches and asking me for some peach dessert recipes to try. She blames Dan for suggesting that we try out one of the recipes ourselves. He blames my telling him about her plans to make peach pie and other assorted peach desserts and sending him the recipes to tempt him. Basically, it’s a blame circle that worked out for everyone in Acland on Tuesday night after our rehearsal. We started off making Strawberries and Cream Pie (recipe below), and it would appear that I still haven’t learned my lesson to read a recipe all the way through before I attempt it, because I neglected to notice that the pie not only took 1 hour 10 minutes minimum to bake, but also needed to chill in the refrigerator for 4 hours before serving. Darn it! I really wanted to try something we baked, but I was not about to stay up until 3 am for a slice of pie. I am definitely not that crazy! Luckily for the little petulant child in me, we also had had the foresight to bake a Honey Almond Cake (also below) that did not need chilling for eternity and was delicious right out of the oven. Our friend Pippa came over after her law dinner and was greeted with huge hugs and a slice of cake. Yeah, she likes us. Plus both desserts ended up great successes, though I found the cake too simple of a recipe too eliminate my baking craving. Guess I’ll just have to make a really challenging recipe next week at home! In my own, fully stocked, clean kitchen!

Oh and did I mention that since neither of us had a pie pan, we made the pie in a 8×8 square pan? Do you know what that means? That Pie R Squared! Sorry, math joke. Dan came up with it.

But really, making a pie in an 8-in square actually was super convenient and came out just as tasty, if a tad unconventional. It was a lot easier to cut it into even slices as well.

Last Spontaneous Weekend Trip Booking

While I won’t reveal where we booked a vacation to, just know that Dan and I booked a last minute trip to somewhere and leave tomorrow morning at 5:30 am!!! So excited though. And I realized that now all three of my terms ended with me spontaneously leaving Oxford on a vacation. Michaelmas I went to Paris to visit my junior high school friend, Dale. Hilary term I flew off to Zurich alone. And tomorrow we head to…like I was really about to reveal it! I will give you a hint though. We are not flying 😦

Last Day Trip into London

With all my work for the term completed, I had a few free days to lounge around Oxford if I so chose. Of course, the weather not being the greatest lately, that would literally entail lounging around my room while all my friends were either in their respective labs or exams. Not exactly the way I wanted to spend my final Wednesday in England. Traveling around the UK, while easier than in the US, can actually be quite difficult and time consuming for simple day trips by yourself, so I just copied what I did a few weeks ago and caught a bus into London with the intention of snatching some discount tickets to some West End productions. I really wanted to spend the evening with Dan, so I chose to only do a matinee and not a double feature (plus I wasn’t really keen on walking around London alone at night again or getting back at 2 am). After buying a ticket at Leicester Square–I tried to get a ticket to War Horse, which would have been the only show I’d have stuck around for a double performance to see, but unsurprisingly it was sold out–and resisting the urge to make it Les Mis for the third time, I walked to the National Portrait gallery to kill some time. Free museum entry is definitely something I am going to miss when I go back to California. I love how England has made it accessible to visit a museum or gallery multiple times because entry is free. I rarely feel rushed through a collection, frantic to see every single piece, because I know that I can return for only the cost of transportation into the city. Unlike in the US where we have to pay an arm and a leg just to visit a pretty garden (not that it has ever stopped me…). After the Portrait Gallery I ate lunch in the National Gallery’s cafe, sat in yet another bookstore adding to my list of books to look up when I get back in the States, and then made my way to the Adelphi Theatre for the matinee of…

Last West End Show

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet…Street! I never saw the movie with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, but I really wanted to, and now I want to even more after seeing the stage show. My ticket was great (middle of second row orchestra!) though I ended up with a slight crick in my neck from having to crane it up a tad to see the whole stage. It was a great show, truly. It was different from anything else I have seen in that there wasn’t a big fanfare before the show began. No overture, no entr’acte after intermission, not even a curtain rising. In the ten minutes before the actual start of each act (five for the second act) the chorus actors just meandered on stage as if they were going about their daily lives, chatting to one another, doing laundry, writing a letter, fixing a door. Really a unique way of beginning a show. The music was great and some of the songs were absolutely hilarious. I actually laughed out loud multiple times, which was unexpected as I had been under the impression that Sweeney Todd was a really dark musical. And it was, even the colors were mostly darker neutrals, but it was darkly humorous as well. And bonus! Imelda Staunton was playing Mrs. Lovett. Recognize the name? Yep, Professor Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One can actually sing and be comedic. I’ve had such good luck with my spur-of-the-moment musical selections yielding the opportunity to see some famous talents. I mean, Raza Jaffrey in Chicago (as much as I hated that show) and Imelda Staunton now, not to mention a few years ago seeing Daniel Dae Kim in The King and I at the Royal Albert Hall. It was a great and very satisfying last show to experience in London.

Last Tutorial

I don’t really have much to say about this other than yesterday (Thursday) was my last tutorial here in Oxford. While I was definitely far from happy about being left in the rain as the tutorial before mine went 20 minutes over, it was a productive meeting. I really like the tutorial system of education and have no idea how I’m going to readjust into massive lectures and multiple choice exams this summer at UCLA! Here’s hoping my GPA doesn’t take a sudden plunge because I’m used to creating my own research topics.

Last Performance at the New Theatre

This might actually be my last performance in the UK, unless some unforeseen tickets come mine and Dan’s way this weekend. The show was a really unique one, titled Against Time, and it was a joint venture with the England National Ballet (my second time seeing them) and Flawless, a UK hiphop/breaking troupe. The story of the production was kind of meh, but I really couldn’t have cared less what the story or the message of it was because the dancing was so incredible and the music was amazingly fun to listen to. The choreography blended hiphop and ballet, with the two styles mirroring and complementing each other and the music was almost all contemporary music. “Moves Like Jagger”, “Party Rock”, “Sexy Ladies” by Justin Timberlake, as well as a bit of Swan Lake and some other classical stuff thrown in. There was also the requisite hiphop/electronic/house/whateverpeoplebreakdanceto music. Absolutely loved it! And now I can’t wait even more to get back into a dance studio.

Last Tea Night with Dan

After the play, Dan came over to Isis for possibly the last time, well at least for a tea night (and pie. He brought me a slice of our pie. Good Partner). The guy really is a godsend; I’ve been freaking out a little bit because repacking up my life to return to LA is stressful, especially when you only have two duffel bags and a carry-on in which to do it. Dan was great about keeping me company while I made the tough decisions about what stays in Oxford for trash, what gets donated to bookstores/libraries/Oxfam, what goes to Dan for either consumption or safe keeping (he was excited about that part), and what gets packed up for this weekend or going home. I had to harken back to the day of the amazing Ziploc bag and “vacuum seal” everything in them once again to make it fit, but Dan seems to share my dad’s incredible packing skills and fit everything I needed in, without me having to through away my unused toiletries! Quite an accomplishment! Dad would be so proud of us. After I was completely packed up, we had some tea and talked about our weekend plans, trying not to think about my leaving in five days. It was 1:30 am before he finally left with two of his four bags of new stuff and a plan of what to do with every item in my room set out. The guy is such a blessing to have around when you are stressed.

Last Full Day in Oxford

It finally came. It still hasn’t hit me that it has, that today was my last consecutive 24 hours in Oxford for this time around. And I definitely spent it all around the city. There were errands to run, banks to visit, people to say goodbye to. To give just an overview of my day: wakeup at the ungodly hour of 6:30 am yet again (curse insomnia!), grab items to donate, go to Teddy Hall to donate items, go to Missing Bean, go to NatWest, go to Barclays, go to Covered Market, go to Library, go back to Isis, meet Dan there, move refrigerator that had melted all over my carpet from Isis to the taxi downstairs, move refrigerator from the taxi downstairs to Dan’s room in Acland, go to a High Street shop to finally buy a new iPhone case that I’ve been eyeing for weeks, go back to Isis, grab more items to donate, go to Sobells and Oxfam to donate items, go back to NatWest, go to The Rose, go to IT office at Teddy, go to Collections at Teddy, go to Sainsbury, go back to Isis. Lots of running around! There is so much to do today since I obviously won’t have the weekend because I’ll be in…gotcha, not giving it away!

Last Dirty Chai

So sad that I had my last Dirty Chai at the Missing Bean. I met a friend from the dance team there for breakfast and coffee and a two hour catch up session before I go to the US and she studies in Paris and Brussels for the summer. But it was such a great 2 hours. And a great Dirty Chai.

Last Cream Tea

All that cream tea tasting and reviewing practically necessitated me going to tea for the last time this year at the place that I consider to have the best cream tea in Oxford: The Rose on High Street. It is the entire package of delicious and warm scones, real fruit in the jam, smooth clotted cream, and a delicious loose leaf vanilla tea in a minimalist but warm atmosphere. And all for a great price in my opinion. Had to end with the best.

Last Time at St Edmund Hall

It’s a little bittersweet ending my time at this college. Granted, I really didn’t spend a ton of time on the site since I lived out for the year, but I still felt like I belonged to St. Edmund and loved that the place had such character. But I left it completely satisfied and with some beautiful pictures in my head from all the seasons. Bye Teddy! Thanks for welcoming me into your quaint world for a great year.

Now all that’s left is a super awesome trip with my dance partner and a twelve hour flight.

Strawberries and Cream Pie (aka the Pie R Squared pie)

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Yield: 1 pie

 Ingredients
  • 1 refrigerated pie crust (I highly recommend making your own pie crust as I find the pre made ones really bland. You only need a bottom crust, so make a single crust or else the crust will be too thick in my opinion.)
For the Filling
  • 2 pints strawberries, stems removed and halved
    • Other fruit options to try: Strawberry-Banana, Peach, Blueberry with Lemon Cream, Cherry (though not having tried them myself I can’t vouch for them, they are just ideas I had)
  • 1 cup sugar (I used just over 2/3 cup)
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
For the Crumb Topping
  • 2 1/2 tbs. brown sugar
  • 2 tbs. sugar (I used 1 tbs.)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • pinch ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 1/2 tbs. all purpose flour

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Roll out the raw pie crust and press into a pie dish. Shape the edges in to desired shape. Set aside.
For the Filling
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour and sugar together.
  2. Add in the eggs, sour cream, and vanilla extract. Mix for about 3 minutes. (Not having a stand mixer, I whisked it by hand for 5 minutes)
  3. Place the strawberries into the pie crust. Pour the filling evenly over the strawberries.
For the Crumb Topping
  1. In a bowl, combine the brown sugar, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir in the melted butter.
  2. Add in the flour and use your hands or a spatula to combine until the mixture has a crumbly texture.
  3. Distribute the crumb topping evenly over the top of the pie.
  4. Bake the pie for approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes.
  5. Let pie cool for at least 4 hours before serving.

Honey Almond Loaf Cake

4 eggs

2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream (38% fat) *Note: This is whipping cream in the UK. Single and Double Cream have too high of a fat content*

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

½ teaspoon salt

2 cups (280 grams) self-rise flour

For the topping

200 grams slivered almonds

3 teaspoons honey

Turn the oven on to 170°C/350F. Combine all the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ones in another (eggs, vanilla, cream). Mix the contents of each bowl, separately. Pour the cream mixture into the flour and mix well with a whisk (no stand mixer needed). Pour the batter evenly into one large loaf pan and one small one, or pretty much whatever type of pan you want to bake it in (just adjust cooking times accordingly). Scatter a handful of almonds over the top and drizzle a spoonful of honey. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until toothpick/knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cover top of cake with aluminum foil if top is browning too much before the cake is finished baking.

Serving suggestions: As is! Drizzled with a bit more honey. Any way you would serve Angel Food Cake (cherries instead of strawberries would be really good). With bananas. 

Spontaneous London Reviews from A Day Trip

I couldn’t stomach the thought of sitting around Oxford doing nothing but wait for an email that I no longer think is going to come for the third day in a row, so I decided to leave. Originally I was hoping to go to Lanhydrock in Cornwall despite the 4 hour train rides it would have taken to get there, but the price was a bit, shall we say, prohibitive? In fact it seemed like every place I thought I might travel to was crazy expensive. Now I am definitely not one to scrimp on travel expenses (remember me traipsing off to Zurich with no warning?) but if I’m going to spend the money to go to Cornwall or York, I should probably do it as a weekend trip and make it really worth my while. Which is how, at 2 am, I came to the decision to go into London for the day.

Yet it would not just be any old day in London, not one spent wandering the streets and museum aisles with headphones from either my iPad or an audio guide. No if I was going to do London alone, I was going to boldly go where this Jenna has gone before: to the theatre!!!

Apparently I picked the perfect day as well. It was indeed the third day in a row of gorgeous sun (could I perhaps get some color to my skin?!) and, since it was a Wednesday, many of the popular shows were doing their matinees, meaning that I could see not one but TWO productions all in the same day! Talk about indulging my theatre junkie 😉 As soon as I hopped off the X90 bus I headed over to a tkts booth in the theatre district of Leicester Square, crossing my fingers that I could score a seat to both of my planned shows. I know that all the guidebooks and Dan tell you to go to the “only official discount theatre ticket” place in the middle of the square, but the line was really long and after my experience of missing out on War Horse tickets by literally three minutes, I wasn’t really in the mood to take any chances, so I went to one of the imitation discount booths down a side street. Official or not, I did score some amazing seats for what I consider cheap for the theatre. Next time maybe I’ll get into London a bit earlier and use the official one to compare deals, but I wasn’t going to compromise on this sunshine day that had the makings of being one to remember.

Sunshine!

And which shows did I score those coveted tickets to, you ask? None other than Les Miserables and Chicago! Success!

Yes, I’ve seen Les Mis before, but I’m also the girl who saw Wicked six times and Billy Elliot twice, not to mention the number of times I saw each Harry Potter movie in cinemas, so obviously I don’t care about repeating. In fact Les Mis was even more incredible the second time, but I’ll get to that later.

The matinee doors weren’t even going to open until 2 pm, and it was only 10:30, so I decided to wander the surrounding neighborhoods of London, taking advantage of the weather while it lasts (it’s already cloudy outside as I’m writing this, though that could just be the morning haze). I found myself first in Chinatown and then in SoHo, without nearly getting hit by a car once, so I guess everyone else decided that walking and fresh air was the better option than sitting in a potentially stifling cab. At least Londoners appreciate the sun when they get it! Back home we almost get sick of the heat, granted ours is about fifty degrees hotter than yesterday, and eventually start seeking cover in shopping malls and restaurants. But once again I digress into talking about the weather, an apparently way too easy of a distracting topic. So I’ll move onto cupcakes.

No, I’m serious. Among the stores I came across on my traversing the sidewalks of SoHo was the London version of LA’s Sprinkles or Manhattan’s Magnolia Bakery: Hummingbird Bakery. Surprisingly they don’t make hummingbird flavor cupcakes, but I guess that is more of a Southern American thing. I’ve heard of Hummingbird mostly through that addicting website known as FoodGawker, and since I obviously make a lot of cupcakes myself, I decided to go ahead and try one of theirs. I was hoping that they would sell their cupcake mini’s in store like my favorite New York cupcakery Baked by Melissa (you have to go if you are in New York!), the perfect way to try multiple flavors and give a truly accurate review, but alas those are apparently only available online and I was forced to get a full sized in one flavor. Of course I had to go for red velvet, that ultimate benchmark for the quality of a bakery!

Mmmmmmm…red velvet

I’m no where near creative enough to write cupcake reviews like Dan (see comments section of this post for the latest one), but I can give you my highly detailed notes on the cupcake experience in case anyone makes their way to Hummingbird Bakery anytime soon. The first thing I noticed about the cupcake was that it was well proportioned, a frosting to cake ratio of 1:2, and a wonderfully moderate size, not the super-sized monstrosities guaranteed to give you diabetes in one bite that so often come out of US bakeries. The cake itself was a rich, red color with a pleasant medium chocolate flavor that complemented the frosting without either overpowering the other. A little too dense in my opinion–I prefer a fluffier cupcake, because all things are better when they are fluffy–yet still moist. I wonder how it would be later in the day once it is no longer as freshly baked as this one seemed to be. Now the true mark of proper red velvet cake in any form is the frosting. Hummingbird Bakery went the correct route with a cream cheese frosting and not that buttercream disgustingness that people use instead (it’s not red velvet without cream cheese frosting people!) and it was a good, fluffy (told you) frosting, though with too much icing sugar added in for my taste as I’m not a fan of overly sweet frostings. Overall: a solid effort that I would definitely try again if I ever find myself in SoHo with a cupcake craving, but the dense cupcake and slightly too sugary and subsequently grainy frosting led me to toss the last third of the cake part into the bin and head for a corner cafe to down a bitter coffee.

While enjoying that blissfully bitter cup of caffeine, I whipped out my sketchbook and just started drawing. I just recently started to get into drawing, encouraged heartily by my mom, and I knew that by nature of being alone in London I would have tons of free time, so I somehow managed to pack my sketching pencils and book into my already so full that half the time it wouldn’t close purse. I felt so artsy at first, sitting in the middle of Leicester Square, drinking barely sweetened coffee, waiting for a West End production, sketching the cafe patio across the way, until I became so absorbed in the drawing that I lost all that pretension and forgot everything except which direction a line had to go so that I could achieve the right depth of field. I ended up taking up that corner table for over an hour while I finished my sketch, so I left a more generous tip than one cup of coffee called for to compensate. Thanks random cafe for the extremely pleasant diversion 🙂

Leicester Square decking out for the Jubilee

With still more than an hour to kill before doors to Les Mis opened, I took to the streets of Piccadilly and Regents Street, leisurely strolling past the storefronts and stopping into a Boots to buy a pack of tissues (not going to make that mistake again!). Londoners really came out in droves at lunchtime, so it was fortunate for me that I had enough time to spare so that I didn’t have to rush through a crowd; I just let the swarms slip by me and took side streets whenever I could. After a giddy find of a brand new Whole Foods (they have my peanut butter but not Luna bars, almost success?) more crowded than the streets outside and a quick spot of lunch, I headed into the Queens Theatre and back in time to the French underworld of the 1800s.

Whole Foods! Feels like a slice of home

I don’t think I need to gush on and on about how incredible Les Mis was, though it completely would deserve another helping of exuberant adjectives. I was surprised that for a matinee it was basically the same cast as the evening show I saw back in March with my mom, with the exception of a different Cosette and Marius (funnily enough, the Marius I saw last time was in the chorus this time looking exceedingly bored). I’ve always associated matinees with the understudies or second string of performers, but I guess the West End is fortunately different. And I don’t know if it is the music or the beautiful singing or just the emotions of the story, but I seemed to tear up for almost the entire performance regardless of what was going on at the time. Has that ever happened to you? When you just become so overwhelmed by the beauty of something that you feel unworthy to experience it and just start crying? No? Okay so maybe I’m the odd girl out, but it is definitely how I felt for the majority of Les Mis. Thank goodness for foresight in buying tissues and not wearing mascara (oh no! Did I just admit to that?).

All too soon the final curtain fell, eliciting the fastest and most exuberant standing ovation I have ever seen from a London audience. The cast even came out for an additional bow because the audience wouldn’t stop clapping, myself included. But all great things come to an end, and I was shuffled out of the theatre against my will. I would have stayed and foregone Chicago for the evening performance of Les Mis, but I thought I would be making a better use of my time to see a new production as well. But Les Mis, I’ll be back!

I found myself once again on the streets of Piccadilly with two and a half hours to spare before curtain up at a theatre four blocks away. The great thing about May in England is that the sun doesn’t set until 9 pm-ish, affording me ample daylight to retake up my wanderings armed with a book of London architecture. I find architecture really interesting, probably because of its very close links with history, but I know very little about it and have picked up a few books with the intention of learning more. That is how my London architecture book ended up squeezed into my too small purse alongside my sketchbook. The poor purse’s zipper. London really is a highly navigable city by even just walking, provided you have a decent map, which I did, and therefore walking from Piccadilly Circus down to Westminster Abbey and back up through Trafalgar’s Square via Whitehall to Leicester Square is an entirely feasible plan of action. And a great, educational way to pass 90 minutes in the fresh air. Only made sense to do so, taking my time to read about every building I could find, discovering the Scotland Yard building for my brother, and really looking at the buildings to understand the elements that the book discussed. Random things like the way Portcullis House was designed in 2001 to evoke a symmetry with the Scotland Yard building despite one being made of brick and stone and the other glass and steel. I never would have even thought of something like that, though once it was pointed out to me I can completely appreciate the architect’s intent.

Scotland Yard

Portcullis House evoking Scotland Yard, can you see it?

On my walk, standing outside the Admiralty Building reading about the architect’s decision to forego the use of columns unlike his contemporaries, a random Londoner stopped by me and commented on how I picked the best possible day to be a tourist in London. I thought that it was a random statement, until I soon found out that such a conversation was really just his opening line to ask me for a shandy. With no idea what a shandy was, but knowing that in any situation going somewhere with a stranger is not the smartest decision, I politely declined with a “no, thank you”. Normally that would be the end of the conversation, but this businessman then proceeded to engage me in a cultural comparison of the polite way to refuse an invitation. He commented that it must be an American custom to simple say “No” to such a question while a Brit would say “Sorry”. I replied that in fact I was being very polite by saying “No, thank you” rather than just a flat out refusal. I then thanked him for the compliment of his attention and turned back to my book. And apparently a shandy is a very delicious drink of a blend of alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages. Sorry, but that doesn’t change my mind. And there was his sorry, just for him! Weird interaction.

I promise you that you are reaching the end of my saga; only three more things to go: a city, a surprise, and a fox.

I love the movie of Chicago, even if I’m not the biggest fan of Renee Zellweger, so I made the mistake of going into the stage show with high hopes of a similar sultry and well choreographed package. Lesson shatteringly relearned: No expectations are good expectations. I truly almost walked out and asked for a refund, before realizing that the theatre wouldn’t give me one since I hadn’t bought my tickets directly from them. First problem, the accents. Now I know that a Chicago accent is difficult for an American, much less a British actor, but if you aren’t going to do a proper Chicago accent at least do a Standard American English one, not a Southern accent and not a valley girl. And make it consistent, none of this switching in and out of poorly performed dialects. Second problem, the choreography and stage design. Apart from the utterly boring minimalist stage that could be the way the musical was originally intended, Chicago is based on the Vaudeville and Cabaret movements, so yes the movement should be subtle and sexy, but you can still be subtle and sexy and actually move across a stage at all much less without prancing. For example, remember Queen Latifa in “When You’re Good to Mama”? Yeah, copy her, walk around, actually swing your curves a little, don’t just stand there and occasionally raise your hand to shoulder level. And Velma Kelly? You are not a giraffe though you may be taller and skinnier than one, so don’t dance like it. Third problem, Roxie Hart. The best way I can describe her was a cross between Kristen Chenoweth in Wicked and Yzma, the villianess from the Disney pic The Emperor’s New Groove. I think that gives the most accurate depiction. Fourth and in my opinion biggest problem, where was all that jazz? Where was the sensuality and the ooze? Yes I said ooze not booze, if you are a dancer you’ll understand what I mean. It felt so little kiddish and perky. The story is about murder, manipulation, and illicit activities, not PopRocks and cartoons. To sum it all up in a quote from Derek Wills from SMASH! “Where’s the sex?!”

Which leads me to the one redeeming quality of the night, the surprise…

I had no idea who was playing any of the roles and was running a bit behind when I was approaching the theatre so I completely ignored the posters of the actors, or else I would have been more keen to sit through the show, based on who was playing Billy Flynn. But I didn’t have any prior knowledge and London theaters don’t hand out playbills so as I sat through the overly rushed performance refusing to clap at the end of any number, I had no idea what was in store for “All I Care About Is Love.” And by what I mean whom and by whom I mean RAZA JAFFERY!!!!!

Raza Jaffery and me 🙂

Yes, Dev from SMASH! was playing Billy Flynn!!!!!!!!!!!! He was by far the best (and most attractive, wink wink) actor in the show and made me believe that he has been underused in SMASH since he can actually sing and dance really well. He also kept up his accent through the entire musical thank goodness His being there was the only reason that I am glad I picked this show, and the picture with him afterwards by the stage door was definitely worth it.

And that brings me to the end of my spontaneous day in London, and to the fox. As I walked towards Victoria Coach Station desperately trying to hail a taxi, a fox ran in front of me on the Pall Mall. Like an actual fox. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a real fox before, and I certainly haven’t seen any wildlife besides those blasted pigeons in London. But there it was…a small fox. Random much? 🙂