Thursday, April 24, 2014

First Time in London!

Hey everyone!

I mentioned in my last post that I was on vacation with my mom in London...well, I'm back now, and I'm sad to say that I really wish I was still there! It was my first time ever in the city and from the minute I stepped off the plane I fell in love with it. It's such a gorgeous place, and I'm so jealous of all of you that get to live there! Not that I don't love Hong Kong, but it's a different experience, for sure.

Usually when I travel I like to do a few recap posts of my days for you guys, but for the most part we were just shopping and eating, and I didn't want to post anything too repetitive which is why I just wanted to share a collection of photos from my trip with you guys now. Be prepared for lots of food and plenty of tourist cheesin'.

Breakfast on our first morning: eggs benedict at Harrods!

After that breakfast we had a little mosey around the bakery section - look at how much bread they have for sale! It's amazing. We definitely picked up a few bits and they were really yummy.

A snap I took at Bray, a small village about an hour outside of London. This is where The Fat Duck - which I wrote about earlier and which you can see here - is located!

Gourmet burger lunch at Bar Boulud, right next to the Mandarin Oriental on Knightsbridge.

Lobster noodles at Mandarin Kitchen! We spoke Cantonese to the staff there and it was so strange, hearing that much Cantonese in a foreign country. The portion here was really really generous, and completely indulgent and delicious.  

What's a trip to London without some sightseeing? I didn't get pictures of everything that we saw, but here is the Tower Bridge. 

Westminster Abbey, of course!

It doesn't get any more London than this, either. The London Eye, Big Ben, and a red bus all in one photo!

Some gorgeous photos from dinner at The Ledbury, which is ranked 13th in the world, supposedly! One of London's four three Michelin star restaurants, and definitely one of the best I'd eaten at. Unfortunately I don't have a whole post up for you guys because I wasn't feeling really well at the dinner, so I didn't get photos of everything we ate. :(

But here's an OOTD with my cousin, because I never forgot about you! The dress is from Vivienne Tam, the bag is from Chanel, and the shoes are from Staccato. (Sorry for the quality, this was taken on my phone in a dimly lit room!) 

We finished our last night off with a bang - dinner at Gordon Ramsay's flagship restaurant, the self-named Gordon Ramsay. This was absolutely phenomenal! I'd heard sort of mixed things about Ramsay's restaurants, but having just started Masterchef I was really excited to try his restaurant and I have to say that it was completely deserving of all the hype. One of the best and most original meals I've had in a long time.

Well, that's all for now folks! Hope you enjoyed this little peek into my London trip. I have a lot more London-related posts coming up though...that's right, I picked up a ton of new makeup (mostly from the drugstore) in London and I'm so excited to try everything and share my thoughts on them with you all! Keep an eye out for those, but in the meantime have yourselves a lovely day, friends.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Fat Duck

You guys may or may not know this, but I'm currently in London with my mom on a little mother-daughter holiday! I'm really excited to be here as it's my first time in London - so look out for some recap photos soon! - and to commemorate the occasion, my mother got us a reservation at the world renowned restaurant, The Fat Duck

The restaurant belongs to Heston Blumenthal, who is very widely regarded for his unique culinary techniques and restaurant concepts. I do believe The Fat Duck is one of the highest rated restaurants in the world, so of course I was super pumped to get the chance to eat there!

We started off with just a little bit of champagne to get us started...

Before the food started arriving. The first thing we received was just a little amuse bouche to whet our appetites before the actual meal began - we were treated to a tiny aerated beetroot macaron-type starter with horseradish cream. 

It was oddly delicious, but very very light because of the aerated property. It was a really strange combination that somehow just worked, which I feel is a very appropriate introduction to Heston Blumenthal's food as that same description is precisely what his food is like. Regardless, it definitely intrigued us and left us wanting more. 

Luckily, we didn't have to wait long before the actual set started arriving. 

First up on the menu was "nitro poached aperitifs" in three flavors: vodka lime sour, campari soda with blood orange, and tequila and grapefruit. I know it sounds weird, but essentially what it is is a egg white-based cream-foam hybrid that's "poached" in liquid nitrogen in front of you, then infused with the flavor of the accompanying fruit. 

These are just some photos of the process. Here's what the actual thing looked like:

We had to pick it up immediately and pop it in the mouth. It felt sort of like eating ice cream and a meringue at the same time, and it was so surprisingly full of flavor, it was really cool. A very refreshing start to the meal.

Next we had red cabbage gazpacho with pommery grain mustard ice cream. 

Disconcerting to eat at first, because of the purple color, but also very very cool. It had a great flavor and I really liked how the mustard cut through the gazpacho very cleanly, without overwhelming it. One thing I could say about all the food so far, at this point, was that I'd never quite had anything like it. Which is definitely a good thing.

Next up was jelly of quail and crayfish cream with chicken liver parfait, oak moss and truffle toast. 

The whole dish was meant to evoke the smell and taste of the forest, which is why they started off with a little strip that was meant to bring out those flavors, as well as a little presentation in the middle of the table that wafted off the scent of the forest. While I feel as though it was more for show than for the food, I did think it was an interesting addition to the meal and was quite memorable. The food itself was very good though - I really enjoyed the cream and parfait, it was really rich and delicious and paired amazingly with the truffle toast. I sopped up every last bit of it that I could.

This next one was a little worrisome at first - snail porridge. What? 

This is actually kind of exactly what it sounds like, but so much better. The "porridge" had, yes, snail, but also iberico ham and shaved fennel, which all together was actually very good. It was more mild than I thought it would be, which I actually appreciated because it wouldn't have been as enjoyable, I think, if all the flavors had been super strong and bold. I've heard a lot of people don't like this one, but I honestly did.


Roast foie gras with rhubarb, confit kombu, and crab biscuit. 

How decadent is this? The roast foie gras was done to perfection, and each individual item was really delicious and well executed on its own, although eaten altogether, I did feel that the flavor of the foie gras got a little bit lost, since there was just so much going on. 

Next was one of my favorites of the night, dubbed "The Mad Hatter's Tea Party". 

They gave us "mock turtle soup" to go with the story of Alice in Wonderland. The soup was really just made from beef stock, so don't worry - no turtles here! The teapot at the top originally came with just hot water, and they gave us a ticking pocket watch like the White Rabbit's to put into the water - that's the beef stock - and we were told to swirl the water around until the stock was completely mixed. We then poured it into a bowl at the bottom with some seasonal vegetables, a quail egg, and some other yummy things and ate it all together. 

This was one of my favorites because it was so fun and whimsy, and I'm a huge Alice in Wonderland fan - I mean seriously, give me anything Alice-themed and I'm happy - so this was a massively enjoyable course for me. The food, of course, was delicious, but the joy was all in the presentation.

The next course was something equally fun and whimsical, called "Sound of the Sea". Heston apparently has done a lot of experiments with how the other four senses affect taste, and supposedly sound is one of the senses that has a huge impact on how things taste. So for this dish, which is inspired, of course, by the sea, Heston has you put in earbuds and listen to the titular sounds of the sea while you're eating the "sand" and "sea foam" with king fish, mackerel, abalone, and seaweed. 

This dish was so strange but so cool at the same time because it literally felt exactly how I'd imagine eating the sea would be. I don't know if this was necessarily my favorite dish, because it had a lot of salt flavor to it - of course - but the ingredients were crazy fresh, and it was incredibly memorable. It's definitely one of those culinary experiences I'll remember for a very long time.  

After that we had salmon poached in liquorice gel, with artichokes, vanilla mayonnaise, and golden trout roe. Look how pretty this was!

Conceptually this was a really interesting dish, and everything was executed well - the salmon was cooked perfectly, the liquorice gel wrapped gorgeously - the only thing was that I felt that the dish was overall a bit too sweet. The artichokes added a hit of savoriness that was really needed, but I thought it still needed something to cut through. 

Next up was duck with bay, blood pudding, and umbles. At this point I was massively stuffed, but still enjoyed the dish overall. 

Sometimes I struggle with duck because I find that it can be a bit too chewy, but this was different. It was cooked perfectly to my tastes and I really enjoyed how everything else on the dish went with it. It was simple, for sure, but very well done. 

This came with a couple of side dishes as well: a duck spring roll-type canape and polenta. Again, simple, but very very good. 

The next thing we had was sort of strange, but also really cool! This is their hot & iced tea - when we first saw this on the menu we thought we'd have a choice, but no, it's just one glass that somehow includes both. 

This starts out hot when you take your first sip, but as you continue drinking, the tea becomes icy cold at the bottom of the glass. It was so strange and I'm not 100% sure how they did it, but it was such a wonder and we couldn't help but sit there ooh-ing and ahh-ing. That being said, I did find this a tiny bit too sweet - I would have enjoyed it more if it wasn't as strong. Still, this was one of my favorites because it was just so cool! 

After all that, we still had dessert. I don't even know how I made it to this point, honestly.

The first dessert we had was very cute and Easter-themed! This was the egg in verjus, verjus in egg. 

This was so yummy. My mom didn't love it as I did, but that's because it can be quite sour in parts and she doesn't like that, but I love sour things! The egg looks so real but it's actually chocolate, and the gold underneath is woven sugar, I think. This was so gorgeous and one of my favorite desserts, for sure.

Next dessert was called botrytis cinerea, which I do believe is something related to grapes and wine. Essentially these were assorted little round treats made with this particular type of grape. 

There was a huge variety of things here - meringues, ice cream, chocolate, ice, spun sugar, vanilla was super decadent but light at the same time, if that's even possible, and I really enjoyed how they made everything distinct and yet tied together. 

Next we had whisk(e)y wine gums - this is essentially what it sounds like as well, wine gums made from whiskey. It came stuck to a glass map that showed where each type of whiskey was from.

I'm not a huge fan of whiskey in general, but I still was able to enjoy this. Some of the whiskey tasted quite strong, but for the most part I didn't find it too overpowering, so while this wasn't my favorite I still enjoyed the experience. 

The last thing we had was called "Like a Kid in a Sweet Shop". We got a little candy shop-themed paper bag with a few goodies inside. 

I was so incredibly impressed with these little treats! Look at the detail in the wax stamp on the small envelope, and the queen of hearts treat itself. It was so amazing and I was just completely wowed by the sheer amount of effort that must have been put into these things. It was an incredible ending to a really fantastic meal, and if any of you ever have the opportunity to eat at The Fat Duck, I highly recommend you take it.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Four Eyes

I can't be the only one out there who hated - hated - wearing glasses growing up.

I actually first started wearing glasses regularly when I was about ten or so. Back then, of course I was awkward and small and struggling with the beginning of my acne phase (more on that another time) and I didn't appreciate the way my glasses would sit on my nose, attracting attention for all the wrong reasons. Or so I thought, anyway. Now I realize that my self-consciousness was mostly self-inflicted, because everyone was small and awkward and beginning to struggle with acne and it's more likely that no one really cared whether or not I had glasses.

In middle school I started wearing contacts because I was so eager to toss my embarrassment of my glasses over my shoulder and start looking more normal. Don't get me wrong, I don't regret my decision to switch over to contact lenses at all - they're just so much less troublesome - but after a while I found that for whatever reason I actually sort of missed my glasses.

One day, I ran out of contacts and realized I had two options: 1) go to school blind, or 2) just put on my glasses and deal with it. I am what you'd likely call an overachiever, so option 1 was quickly overruled and I grabbed my glasses on my way out of the house as the world came back into focus. When I got in the car I pulled out a mirror to check my reflection and found, to my extreme surprise, that I actually kind of liked how I looked.

I guess the thing that really changed in those crucial years is my self-perception. Growing up I never had the best image of myself, so anything that I perceived to be less than perfect, I disliked and wanted so badly to change. My glasses were sort of the focal point of those physical insecurities. But in the years since, I've come to realize that the only person that can make me feel bad about the way I look is, well, me. I don't think people actually care as much about your appearance as you think they do, but that's what leads to self consciousness, something I became incredibly well-versed in during middle school. But the thing is that your appearance is a huge part of who I am, and you know what I realized? I like me.

So now I feel as though I can wear my glasses with pride, because even though I like the way I look without them, I don't think I look different with them. I'm still me. If anything I might actually be more me because my bad eyesight is plain for everyone to notice. But the point is that, liking the way you look starts with liking who you are. When you do, something as trivial as a pair of glasses can't detract from your confidence.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lifetrons Switzerland Pro Travel Photo Lens System

If you know me at all, you know that I love to take photos of everything on my phone. It's easier than carrying a full on camera around, after all. I instagram quite a lot as well, so I'm always looking for ways to jazz up my photos and make them more interesting and unique. Knowing this, when my mom went to Korea a couple weeks ago, she picked up the Lifetrons Switzerland Pro Travel Photo Lens System for me on duty free (thanks Mama!) and I've been loving it ever since.

This is essentially an extremely portable lens system - the case comes with macro, wide angle, and fisheye lenses that twist on to this little gadget that you can just slide onto your phone and set over your camera (see picture #1 for a better idea). It's actually really easy to use, more so than other portable lens systems that I've tried in the past, and I really like the fact that the shape of the gadget means you can use it on pretty much any type of phone - I had one in the past that only worked with iPhones, so when I switched over to the Samsung Galaxy S4 soon after buying it, it felt like a waste.

The lenses themselves are very small but incredibly effective. I was actually really impressed with the quality of the photos I was able to take with these lenses. They're really clear, so attaching the lens to the phone doesn't affect the quality of your pictures at all, which I have also historically found to be a problem with other portable lens systems. The lenses all work incredibly well - I was really surprised by how unbelievably zoomed in the macro lens allows you to go, and the wide angle I've found to be really effective when I want to take group shots. The fisheye is my favorite, just because I love the effect of fisheye lenses, though it is the bulkiest of the three options.

That being said, the entire case is still really tiny and easy to carry around. The whole case is probably the size of my palm, which makes it so easy to just stick in my purse and bring around with me. I'm headed to London tomorrow afternoon, and I'm so excited to bring this with me and use it when I snap some photos around me!

Have you ever tried this type of portable lens system? What do you think?