Archive | June, 2011

If only we had air conditioning, like Mother Nature intended…

28 Jun

It’s the middle of the afternoon and I’m sitting in the dark like a vampire. I’ve drawn all the curtains in the flat in an attempt to block the sunlight. Estate agents advertise “sunny” flats like it’s a good thing. When it’s 90 degrees out I don’t want a sunny flat, I want to not feel like I’m pulling off a bandaid every time I stand up from my leather chair.

According to my Mac desktop weather app, yesterday it was 90 degrees in London. It says it’s only 66 out now, but I’m not taking any chances. The curtains remain closed. Just like it can’t do snow, London can’t do heat. Half the restaurants don’t have AC, most of the trains don’t, and almost none of the houses and flats have it. I was weary of this when we moved here. I don’t like when people say “But you don’t need AC.” People told me that in Chicago. I subleased an apartment for a summer internship and the girl promised me that the apartment never got that hot. The day after I moved in I found myself at Circuit City buying a portable AC unit that sucked up almost my entire first internship paycheck. I don’t do heat, and I certainly don’t buy “It never gets hot enough for air conditioning.” So this whole summer I kept waiting for London to heat up and that miserable “I am going to die in a puddle of my own sweat” feeling to set in. 60 degrees in June felt good, but it also felt wrong… like it was too good to be true. So sure enough, London decided to be like all the other cities in June and got extraordinarily hot during the past two days. It was both literally and figuratively not cool.

So naturally I decided to go grocery shopping yesterday, on the hottest day of the year so far. I knew it was a horrible idea the minute it crept into my head, but the forecast said rain on Tuesday, and I couldn’t wait until Wednesday to get food. So I had to choose — drag my shopping trolley through the heat or rain. By the time I arrived at Sainsbury’s my face was literally dripping in sweat — I may have been drier had I chose the rain option. I made a bee line for the frozen food section, then stood in front of the open freezer door “deciding on which frozen lollies to get” for longer than necessary. (I didn’t get any, because the ones I wanted weren’t on sale anymore, and I will not pay £2.39 (almost $4) for three mango smoothie frozen lollies. Rip off.) I took my time shopping around, enjoying the AC, and then that horrible thing happened, when you spend too much time in the AC, almost to the point of getting cold, and you forget how miserable it is outside, and you think you will get to experience that wonderful cold feeling forever. But you can’t. Before I knew it, I was back in the heat, this time dragging a heavy trolley behind me. I walked close to the storefronts, catching bursts of AC every time someone opened a door. I finally made it back, a full-on hot mess (not the drunk but attractive kind, the really sweaty kind). The porter looked at me and said, “Wow, it’s hot out, right?” And when he added, “You alright?” I think he honestly meant “Are you going to pass out?” instead of the usual “How are you?” it means. My flat wasn’t full-on uncomfortable yet, but it wasn’t good. The worst feeling is coming in from the heat and being greeted by room temperature air, instead of a nice blast of AC. OK, the worst feeling is probably hot air instead of room temperature. We’re not quite there yet, although last night it got close — close enough that we had to unplug the 1,500-watt transformer from one of the TVs and dig out the fan we brought from the US that we once deemed “useless” here and almost threw out. Thankfully we didn’t.

To top things off, they are currently doing some type of construction or remodeling in and around my building. So I’m sitting here in the dark, borderline-overheated, legs sticking to the leather chair, trying to get things done while I blast Yanni (don’t judge) to try to cover up the dental drills (or whatever they’re using up there that is ridiculously loud). It feels just like Chicago last summer when the building’s AC broke and they were forever remodeling. Ah, sweet memories…

American infestations, slimy noodles and the price of eggs in London

22 Jun

London is infested with Americans lately. I don’t know what it is — probably a combination of regular tourists, school groups, and study abroad students — but I can’t turn a corner without hearing an “Oh my god, dude, that’s awesome!” in a glorious American accent. I probably can’t complain, since I’m contributing to the “infestation,” but it’s weird. I walked by a cafe today and saw a guy hand over a New Jersey drivers license when ordering wine. When I took the Tube last night a group of American teenagers snickered when they announced “This train terminates at Cockfosters” (OK, I still laugh at that). This city is starting to feel like the nude beach in “EuroTrip,” except instead of a bunch of naked guys looking for nude girls, it’s a bunch of Americans looking for real live British people. You definitely won’t find them in Covent Garden this time of year.

But I’m getting sidetracked from what I sat down to write about way too many days ago — slimy noodles and the price of eggs in London. After my failed French pastry experiment, I couldn’t quite shake the cooking bug, but decided I should switch to dinner options. So while eating pad see ew at a Thai restaurant, I got a great idea — “I’m going to make pad see ew.” If you’re not familiar with the dish, it looks like this:

It’s basically wide rice noodles, meat, vegetables and an egg stir fried in a sweet soy sauce. It sounded much easier than beating egg whites. So I found an easy recipe and set out finding my ingredients. And, of course, immediately hit a road bump. No normal grocery store sells wide rice noodles. Just as I was about to give up, I googled “Thai supermarket London.” That’s what I love about living in a big city — things like Thai supermarkets exist. And, even better, there was one within walking distance. So one bright afternoon I set off to the Thai supermarket. It was a tiny store, but they had the noodles. I was the only person in the store and excitedly grabbed them… only to find they were slimy. That’s what you’d expect if you grabbed fresh noodles, but these were in a plastic package. I put the package back and grabbed another, but with the same result. I brought my slimy noodles to the cashier and kept rubbing my fingers together. I certainly didn’t want to wipe them on my shirt or bag because I’m pretty sure it was some kind of oil. Whatever it was, it got on my wallet when I pulled it out. The cashier saw me struggling and asked if I wanted a tissue. He then pushed a roll of toilet paper at me. It helped, but I still felt a residue as I continued my shopping along the high street. I needed eggs for my pad see ew. When I bought eggs for my macaroons I bought them at Tesco Express. It cost me £1.78 for half a dozen — six eggs. That’s almost $3. It’s been awhile since I’ve bought eggs in the US, but I’m pretty sure six don’t cost $3. I started using the eggs as an example to friends of the crazy cost of living in London. And then I stumbled upon Lidl (“Where quality is cheaper!”). I have no idea how to pronounce it (is it “liddle?”), but it was a small supermarket and they had eggs. Ten eggs for 85p (about $1.30). That seemed much more reasonable. They were even laid in Britain by British chickens, which is apparently important. I’m just happy that they were cheap. Unfortunately Lidl is over a mile away from my apartment, so I walked back carrying the carton like it was my child, for fear of breaking the eggs if I put them in my bag.

And in case you were wondering, my pad see ew turned out halfway decent. It wasn’t a disaster worthy of its own picture-post, but it wasn’t restaurant-quality. I’ve got one more package of noodles left to experiment with. Then I must decide if the noodles and cheap eggs are worth the walk again (which also depends on whether this rain ever stops! Seriously, I know it’s London, but it’s summer now, and summers in London are supposed to make up for the crappy rainy days the rest of the year).

Good Samaritan morning

16 Jun

It seems the universe wanted me to run my errands this morning in the cold and rain, instead of now when it’s bright and sunny. First on my walk to the post office a man in a car called out to me. “Can you tell me how to get to Camden?” he asked. I’m always flattered when people ask me for directions here, since it means they think I’m a local instead of a tourist. Normally, though, I have to blow my cover by saying “I’m sorry, I don’t know where that is” in my American accent. But today I was able to help the guy get to Camden, and he thanked me with “Cheers!,” which never gets old.

Then on my walk back from Tesco I encountered a woman on the side of the road. “Excuse me?” she called, and I immediately starting thinking up excuses for why I couldn’t give her money. I guess that’s the Chicagoan still in me. But instead she told me she was disabled and asked if I could help her up onto the sidewalk. I went over to her and she held onto my arm as she stepped up. She thanked me graciously and we were both on our way.

I feel like I need to do one more good deed today, since these things are supposed to come in threes, right? I just exercised, I think that counts as a good deed towards my body.

My failed foray into French macaron making

8 Jun

Today I decided to make French macarons.

“Wow, aren’t those really hard to make?” my friend mentioned when I told her of my plan. I told her the recipe looked easy. It did. I was using a UK recipe and bought UK ingredients — how could I go wrong? Well, let me count the ways. But first, this:



Read on for more about my affront to French pastries.
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My Wii Fit thinks I’m fat

5 Jun

I have a love-hate relationship with my Wii Fit. I love that it disguises exercise as fun and games, and keeps track of my weight. I hate that it calls me fat.

OK, it doesn’t come right out and say that. In fact, it tells me that my BMI is normal and I weigh less than the average for my height. But yesterday I did a body test and it told me I gained .4 lbs. You can eat hamburgers that weigh more than that. But Wi Fit reprimanded me for this, gave me a list of possible reasons why I may be gaining weight, and told me to pick one. Some of the reasons were eating too much, snacking too much, and eating poorly. I picked “I don’t know,” because it was probably a combo of all of those, then it gave me a lesson on calorie intake, but ended with “your weight can fluctuate 2 lbs over the course of the day, so try to take the test at the same time each day.” I had taken the previous day’s test at a different time — why was that not one of the listed reasons for my minuscule weight gain?

Wii Fit is a video game, and sometimes I treat it too much like that — like a game. Except instead of getting a high score, I’m trying to get a low weight. I know, I know, nobody likes a skinny girl who thinks she’s fat (I should put that on a T-shirt, like those “Everybody loves an Italian girl” shirts that were big for awhile). I know I’m not fat, but I’m not exactly fit. (I start huffing and puffing when I have to go up more than two flights of stairs). I never really knew how much I weighed or cared about it, until I started using Wii Fit over two years ago. Wii Fit is supposed to make me want to work out and feel good about myself, but instead it makes me feel like a fattie for gaining .4 pounds. I once took a body test while I had the stomach flu and it said I lost 5 lbs, and praised me. I then made the mistake of taking another test when I felt better and it said I gained 3 lbs, then gave me the “You’re a fatty, now tell me why!” spiel, but “I just had the stomach flu and can finally keep down food and water,” wasn’t an option.

In short, I still love my Wii Fit and I need to learn to take its advice and criticisms with a grain of salt. Still, I wonder if Wii Fit ever plays a part in eating disorders.

Telemarketing blarney

1 Jun

I just got my first telemarketing call on my home phone here. I guess I’ve had a few before, but they were wrong numbers. The only person who calls on that phone is Stephen, so when it’s not him I almost instinctively say “Sorry, you have the wrong number.” But this time the guy actually said my name and it caught me off guard, so I was polite and listened to his spiel. I “listened,” but I had absolutely no idea what the guy was saying. He had the strongest Irish accent. English accents I have learned to comprehend (the mild ones at least), but I’m out of my league with Irish and Scottish. All I got out of the conversation was “shop at Sainsburys,” “gas,” “electric” and “Nectar points.” I think at one point I agreed to have him call back. I think I’m going to start a new habit of answering the phone in Chinese. I’ve heard Stephen do it enough times I think I could do it well, and if it’s not him, I will likely confuse and scare away anyone else that is calling.