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London, day one.

In the late fall, I decided I needed a vacation. Work had been crazy, friends were having rough times, and so on. At first, I thought I would just take a week off from work, but stay in town. With the help of an airfare voucher and an ad for good fares to London, though, my vacation plan got much more grand. I had been to London once before, my senior year of college, but the visit had been cut very short. It was 1997, and I was supposed to fly from Boston to England on April 1st for about four days in London and a long weekend in Chichester, where a friend was getting married. Alas, April fooled us big time with a blizzard that delayed my trip three days. So, I spent less than 48 hours in London that trip, which made me eager to go back.

St. Pancras exterior

So, 15 years later, I got to actually spend my four days in London, in early December, and it was awesome.  I packed a lot into the days, but left knowing there was so much more I could have done.  I arrived in the morning, a little bleary from the long, overnight flight, but eager to get exploring.  After leaving my luggage at the hostel, I headed to King’s Cross/St. Pancras.  This is a transportation hub and shopping area, with two stations right next to each other.  King’s Cross is sleek and modern, while St. Pancras is ornate and Victorian.  Both house rail platforms, restaurants and shops.  St. Pancras is, at least to me, more picturesque, so it bore the brunt of my shutterbugging.

St. Pancras Station

ornate

Everywhere I looked there were lovely decorative elements, inside and out. And on the upper level of the station I stumbled upon the Olympic rings and a huge sculpture that I found charming and perfectly suited to such a busy place of departure and arrival.

Olympic rings at St. Pancras

statue

Honestly, one of my main reasons for visiting King’s Cross/St. Pancras was to check out Eat St., which is a spot where a variety of food trucks and vendors gather at lunchtime a few days a week. There were so many delicious sounding items that it took me a while to decide on my lunch. I finally settled on a pork taco from Buen Provecho and a noodle soup from Yum Bun.

pork taco

soup

After lunch I headed around the corner to the British Library. I think this was the only attraction I visited on both my trips to London, which isn’t really surprising, since I am an avid reader and majored in English. The Library, though, is rather different from what I remembered since it’s current site (created to bring together the parts of the collection that had been scattered around London) opened in 1997, but after my visit. My romantic side kind of prefers the old look, with the glass cases of manuscripts surrounded by two stories of shelves, but I have to admit that the new galleries are better organized and more informative. I found it thrilling to see the original manuscripts of books and authors I love, Austen, Bronte, Shakespeare, along with letters to and from royalty and other historical figures. This time I also really enjoyed the impressive collection of religious texts, many gorgeously illustrated, from all sorts of faiths. One of the temporary exhibits was on Dickens and his historical context, from which I learned a lot. Well, truly I retained only a little, but I have notes. (Yes, I am such a nerd that I take notes on vacation.)

British Library passageway

My final tourist stop of the day, though I was nearly falling down tired, was the Wellcome Collection. This place is a quirky museum that began with the personal collection of Sir Henry Wellcome and has expanded to include art and other exhibits that relate to health and medicine. Seriously, quirky. The main collection ranges from chastity belts and fertility charms to amputation saws and prosthetic limbs. There are rotating exhibits, as well. I was particularly taken with the Mexican votives in the Miracles and Charms exhibit. The votives, or miracle paintings, are painted on tin roof tiles or other small plaques and created in gratitude to God for deliverance from illness, accident, or some other difficulty. There were dozens of these works, and they were somehow both uniform (standard size and some very common compositions and motifs) and diverse (folksy to sophisticated and all sorts of stories from bandits to electrocution.) Fascinating stuff.

By then it was evening and, not having gotten much sleep on the flight the night before, I was exhausted. So after heading back to the hostel, I had no trouble at all going to sleep, even though it was only afternoon back home.

Dinner and a show

Rather than make excuses about why this is my first post in months, I am just going to say hello and dive back in to tell you about the awesome night I had yesterday.

My friend, M, snagged us tickets to seeLe Vent du Nord, a Quebecois folk group, at the Somerville Theater. We decided to have dinner before the show at Posto. At a friend’s birthday dinner the week before, we’d been talking about the space Posto occupies and how businesses seem to come and go there, so maybe that’s why I was inclined to check it out, beyond the fact that I’ve heard good things about the food.

The space is still industrial and modern, but it manages to be somewhat cozy, too. The brick, concrete, glass, and high ceilings make the dining area a little loud, but not so much that you have to shout a conversation. A wall of wine shelves, the wood oven, and sleek, light wood chairs help offset the harder elements. But you should visit Posto for the food, not the decor.

With a nice number of starters, pastas, entrees, and pizzas on the menu, it took us a little while to decide what to order. For a large party, you can even order a whole pig! While M and I aren’t wine aficionados, by any stretch, we were both struck by the several types of wine we’d never heard of in their by the glass selection. M got a Sangiovese that didn’t impress, but I loved the Terre Primitivo I got; it was fruity and extremely smooth.

We shared the baby arugula salad to start. It was simple and tasty, just a nice mix of greens, endive, and creamy gorgonzola, perfectly dressed. Then we each ordered an appetizer sized pasta, carbonara for me and goat agnolotti for M. Both were excellent. The carbonara was made with pork belly and brussel sprouts, and was creamy and al dente. Even the appetizer portion was generous enough that I took some home. The agnolotti were filled with polenta, surprising but delicious, and topped with rustic, flavorful goat ragut. Overall, it looks like Posto does excellent Italian food with slight twists. I’ll happily return to try the wood-fired pizza.

The evening continued to be delightful. I was not terribly familiar with Le Vent du Nord, but M’s taste in music seems nearly identical to mine, and I liked the few songs I had heard. Without much in the way of expectations, these guys blew me away. There are four men in the band, and they are clearly all excellent musicians, and also a little quirky. The instruments involved in the show included a hurdy gurdy, fiddle, guitar, three different accordions, piano, jaw harp, and bouzouki. The fiddler provides percussion by stomping and tapping his feet (on an amplified surface, I believe), and in one song the bassist bowed his bass like a cello. And they have lovely voices, especially Nicolas and Simon, that they put to use in rich harmonies.

I adore it when musicians really get into their performances, and these guys are one of those groups that make you wonder how they keep that engagement and enthusiasm night after night, song after song. They clearly love what they do, and they are not only fantastic to listen to, but fun to watch. I was grinning through pretty much the whole show. It didn’t even matter that I couldn’t understand the lyrics – since they are from Quebec and play traditional Quebecois music, everything is in French, and my high school French only helped me pick out a word here and there. It was a fantastic concert, and now I just have to figure out what to download on iTunes.

It was such a lovely night, and now I think that leftover carbonara is calling me.

pupusas with refried black beans and curtido (spicy slaw)

My brother and I made pupusas from this Saveur recipe last summer with our CSA veggies.  Pupusas are El Salvadoran stuffed masa cakes, typically served with a vinegary slaw and tomato sauce.  The Saveur recipe was my first encounter with pupusas, and I really liked the cheesy masa cakes paired with the tangy slaw, called curtido.  I wanted to make them again this summer, but was not eating dairy at the time, so I decided to try a black bean version that is vegan.  It turns out that beans are a traditional filling for pupusas, along with cheese and meat.  Alas, I failed at stuffing the black beans into the masa cakes, but, undaunted, I just decided to spread them on top of plain masa cakes and top with the curtido.  They turned out quite tasty, though since they weren’t stuffed with anything they probably aren’t technically pupusas. They are pretty simple to make, so you should give them a try if you want to add a Latin American dish to your arsenal.

I doubled the amounts of the slaw ingredients, because we can all use more veggies in our diet, and I had a lot of vegetables that needed to be used from the CSA.

veggies for slaw

I used half of a medium head of cabbage, two carrots, one daikon radish (not in the original recipe), one onion, a scallion (another addition, mostly because I wanted some green in the slaw), and a dried guajillo chile (a substitution for the chiles de arbol.) These all got thinly sliced or shredded and tossed in a big bowl with vinegar, sugar, salt, and oregano.

curtido

You may notice I used the seeds from the chile – guajillos are a pretty mild chile, so keeping the seeds added just a touch of heat. While the slaw marinated in the fridge, I made the masa dough, which is ridiculously easy, just masa and water.

masa + water = masa cake dough

I was talking to someone at work the other day who is way more experienced in making pupusas than I. She told me that you need to use hot water (not boiling, just hot from the tap) and work the dough a bit, so that it becomes soft. Not having these directions may have been the reason I wasn’t able to stuff the beans into the pupusas. The dough wasn’t elastic enough to encase such a soft filling. Anyway, after giving up on the stuffing attempts, I just took balls of masa dough and patted them into discs.

formed masa cakes

Then I browned them on each side in a skillet. Another tip the woman at work gave me was to put a little oil on your hands when you are forming the masa cakes, so there is just a touch of oil on them for cooking.

masa cakes getting golden

Then all I had to do was slather some black beans on the cakes and top them with curtido. Yum! To be honest, I tend to be pretty skeptical of vegan food. I love dairy, and cooking without it or eggs just sounds like deprivation to me. But these were really tasty. The refried black beans were rich and salty enough to add flavor to the masa cakes, and played off the crunch, tangy flavor, and slight heat of the slaw. I think they were as good as the original cheese version. That said, I think the next time I make them I will use beans and cheese. 🙂

Vegan Pupusas with Refried Black Beans and Curtido adapted from Saveur

1⁄2 cup cider vinegar
3 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. oregano
1 guajillo chile (or other chile you like), chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and grated
1 medium-large daikon radish (or several small radishes), peeled and shredded
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1⁄2 head green cabbage, shredded
Kosher salt, to taste
1 can refried black beans
2 cups masa harina
1 3/4 cups hot water
vegetable oil

Combine vinegar, sugar, oregano, vegetables, and chile in a large bowl and add salt to taste. Refrigerate while you prepare the masa cakes.

Stir together masa harina and water until a dough forms. Knead dough a bit. If dough is dry and cracks when you handle it, add a bit more water. Put a little vegetable oil on your hands and form golfball sized balls of dough. Pat each ball into a disc shape. Cook the cakes in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until lightly browned on each side, approximately 10-12 minutes. Depending on the size of your skillet, you may need to do this in several batches. Keep finished cakes warm in a low oven until the others are ready. To serve, spread each cake with a generous layer of black beans (you can warm the beans if you like, but I didn’t bother) and top with plenty of curtido.

I finally have a free Thursday evening and can watch Project Runway when it actually airs. Woo hoo! I’ve had rehearsals on Thursday for several weeks running (and several more ahead), so this is a rare treat. Why not take full advantage and liveblog this week’s episode? I’ve never liveblogged before, so we’ll see how this goes.

An athletic challenge?  I confess to not having high expectations for this challenge.

Interesting suit, Heidi.

I want to shoot Bert and Cecilia.  At least Cecilia has figured out this competition is not for her.  And Tim trots out his we can’t want you to succeed more than you do line.

It’s kind of dumb to have a race for team leader, but I loved Heidi running with Bert in her heels.  And I never expected to hear Danielle utter the phrase “hauling ass”.

Argh!  Our cable just went out.  Really?  Curse you, Murphy, and your stupid Law.

And we’re back!  And I am a bit confused because of what I missed.  It appears that maybe they are designing for Heidi’s activewear line, since she’s in the workroom?  And bald Josh is back – presumably because Cecilia left.

It looks like at least some of the fabrics were determined for the designers.  I like the prints.

The comments about whether the looks will work with sneakers highlight the difficulties of this sort of challenge.  How creative can you be with workout clothes?   I definitely prefer challenges that allow the competitors more range.

Laura and Anthony Ryan are basically telling Bert that they’ll lay the blame on him if the judges hate their stuff.  That sounds awful, but I actually think it is the right thing to do if your teammate is digging in his heels and not listening to reason.

Becky’s falling apart a bit and Joshua actually apologizes.  It wasn’t really his problem, as far as I can tell, that she didn’t have a voice in the design, but he was totally being a jerk to her.

Runway time!

Team Viktor: Colors aren’t bad.  That first look doesn’t make sense with sneakers, and the third doesn’t either.  Maxi dress with sneakers?  Overall, their team didn’t seem to want to make activewear.  Could be a good thing.  Could be a bad thing.

Ack, I can’t keep up!  Guess I will give my thoughts on the designs as they are judged.

Team Anthony Ryan:   Anthony Ryan’s design is a disaster – a messy patchwork of shapes and fabrics with no direction. I hate to say it, but Bert’s look isn’t bad, but it would have been better with shorts or pants instead of a skirt.  Isn’t that exactly what his team members said to him?  Laura’s look was nice, except that the vest fabric didn’t make sense with the rest of the outfit.

And despite their warnings, Bert claims he had no idea they disagreed with his look.  Oh god, stop showing closeups of Anthony Ryan’s shorts!  Ew!  I don’t think Laura’s look is as bad as the judges think, but they are right that the three outfits don’t make sense together.

Team Joshua: Becky’s look gave her a voice, but it is clearly last minute.  Joshua’s design is sloppy looking and has been done.  I kind of like the dress Anya made – the stripe of red was a great addition – but it looks messy.  And again, a maxi dress with sneakers?

And we get another catfight.  Sheesh!

Team Viktor again:  Viktor’s dress looks like it was crumpled in a suitcase for three weeks.  Why do they love it so much?  Olivier’s dress is just weird.  I agree with the judges that the t-shirt was kind of cool – was that bald Josh’s?

Team Bryce:  Thank you Heidi for pointing out that Danielle’s blouse is yet another predictably Danielle blouse.  Kimberly’s (or was it Danielle’s) jacket is, as they said, great but not with those shorts.  Bryce’s design was cool, if you didn’t know what the challenge was – not a look for sneakers.  And this team also had the problem of their set of designs not looking coherent.

I am happy to see Bryce getting some love, but did they really just say that these are the kind of clothes you wear with sneakers???

I have no idea who will be out.  Sadly I think Bert is safe.  Danielle is clearly in danger.

I think I like Bryce’s design best, but I bet the judges will pick Viktor’s team for the win.  They clearly had different expetcations for the challenge than I.  In fact, I expect Viktor to be the winning designer.

I was right about Viktor!   Oh, and that’s the twist – two winners!  Joshua wins, too?  Not so keen on that.

Bert lives.  Gah!

Yeah, that’s the right bottom two.  Ooh, and they kept Anthony Ryan in.  Based on all the work so far, that would be my call.  But if you just look at this challenge, his was the worst by far.

Tim is exceptionally supportive this season.  Is he getting all warm and fuzzy as he ages, or is there something about this group of designers that he just loves?  And, oh, the subtext of his comments about being honest on the runway.  Hee!

Next week, it’s a challenge having to do with kids.  I think I spotted some artwork in the workroom.  Please, tell me they have to base their designs on kids artwork!  That would be cool.

Wow, I think I would have pooped my pants if I were one of the designers this week.  PR has had many design-for-a-celebrity challenges.  Contestants have even had to design for Heidi.  But designing for Nina Garcia just strikes me as rather intimidating.  She’s stylish and almost always looks impeccable, but her style is pretty narrowly defined, and you know she’s gonna tell you what she thinks.  Between the silhouettes Nina tends to wear – sleek and short, usually, with little or no sleeve – and her wariness of color and pattern, the designers didn’t have much room for creativity.  Unfortunately, that means the runway wasn’t all that interesting – nothing breathtaking or atrocious.  And the brief to make the look work for day and evening just didn’t add anything to the challenge.  Ah well, let’s take a look at the individual entries.

Anthony Ryan That fabric that he and Becky both chose was an odd choice. I can kind of see how the spotty ombre effect would be appealing, but in white and charcoal, it didn’t look polished. Not good for Nina. I also feel like his pieces, which were okay on their own, didn’t make sense together.

Anya The judges really liked this, and I don’t really get it. The fit was funky, and the color was odd, albeit better than the original mustard color. Perhaps the judges thought the jumpsuit was on trend (aren’t we done with jumpsuits, yet?), and I do think this look toed the day/night line better than many. But I can’t really picture Nina in this, and it just wasn’t interesting. Can you tell that I am not a big Anya fan?

Becky Despite my reservations about the fabric, this was one of my favorites. It’s impressive that this early in the game I could tell this was a Becky design, and I can just about picture Nina wearing it, maybe without the splatter print. I love the pop of color in the piping.

Bert Just go home. A little black dress for this kind of challenge was a total copout. Is he even trying?

Bryce The idea was cute, but a little too young and almost sporty for Nina. It would be more fitting on Blake Lively. Plus the execution was very problematic.

Cecilia Cecilia’s dress was messy, boring, and totally not for Nina. She had the same problem Fallene had last week: she just couldn’t recover from a setback. Honestly, she would’ve been my pick for aufing.

Danielle Next time she better make something other than pants and a sheer blouse. It’s funny that she’s already seeming like a one trick pony, even though the structure of her outfits from last week and this challenge were quite different. She seems to be one of those designers who has a hard time adapting her point of view to the varied challenges – how do you make remotely similar outfits for Nina and a stilt walker? I think she has survived thus far because she can sew and has a point of view. That’s not going to last her very long, though.

Joshua This was another look that was cute but not quite Nina’s style. I wonder if he was consciously using the color Nina was wearing during the consultations.

Julie I can see why Julie got sent home – her look was not appropriate for a day to night transition and it sure as heck wasn’t suited for Nina – but she at least made something interesting. While Becky and Anthony Ryan shared a fabric, Julie and Joshua shared a color palette.

Kimberly I think this deserved the win, and Kimberly is really growing on me. She made something that wasn’t predictably Nina (like a sheath dress with some sort of large scale, angular detail) but looked like something Nina would wear. The shimmery gold top and more casual pants fit the day to night stipulation very well. And there was just the right amount of interest in the top to stand out in the sea of simple silhouettes.

Laura She was so close to having something good. It was the fabric that threw off the design. The shape of the outfit was a bit of an 80s homage, but that could have worked if not for being a mass of shiny green. There were probably too many details, as well, but overall it made sense to me that this landed in the middle.

Olivier Yeah, Nina would totally wear a drab, rumpled, ugly costume for a Star Trek extra! There were worse designs, but to me this was definitely on the low end of the middle designs.

Viktor The more I look at this, the more I disagree with the judges praise of it. It at least showed some mild creativity, but it was awfully unflattering. I don’t like the weird T-shaped seaming. And the proportions were weird, especially in the shoulders and neckline, which made the model look virtually neckless.

So that’s what I thought of the designs. Which did you like? Which ones did you hate?

Folks in the blogosphere seem to have been almost universally disappointed in this episode. Design outfits for stilt-walkers, huh? That, in and of itself, didn’t seem like a bad idea. Adding stilts obviously changes a woman’s proportions, and proportion is a huge part of successful clothing design. And when you are thinking of stilts, you generally think circus or carnival, so there seemed to be potential for some fun, creativity, and drama. Problem was the challenge was awfully vague and the judging (also lambasted online) was bizarre. Tim, at one point, urged the designers to think couture, but that didn’t seem to happen. Ah well, I guess 9 seasons into a show like this it’s too much to expect that every challenge will be fabulous.

Anthony Ryan and Laura Hmm. This outfit, and the fact that it won the challenge, illustrates the problems with this episode. If you chopped off the extra length, you could put this on a model and there is absolutely nothing to indicate there was anything unusual about the challenge. It’s a pretty outfit, and it is well made, but the style elements aren’t even original. I liked the subtly different shades of red, and I am a sucker for flirty, feminine elements like the feathery shoulder treatment. Laura and Anthony Ryan worked well together and made a pretty garment, but it certainly wasn’t anything special, so I cannot understand why it won.

Anya and Olivier I kind of expected them to be the dream team, and they clearly had some interesting ideas, but the final product was a mess. I liked the fabric choices – the print was interesting without being overly dramatic. Olivier’s top showed some creativity but ended up looking like it was slapped together from scraps. And their design shows what I mean about proportions: that small, fussy top just gets lost compared to the huge expanse of skirt. And their model’s hair! The hair stylists were clearly feeling the hair spray fumes that week!

Becky and Kimberly This! This is what I was hoping for with this challenge! Why didn’t it win?? I am going to harp on proportions again. The puffy sleeve, big collar, wide sleeve cuff, flared pants, pant trim, and the extra length on the sleeveless side of the jacket all helped balance the proportions of this look. It wasn’t overly flashy, so it didn’t scream circus, but it was dramatic and eye-catching. And it highlighted their model’s tattoo, which was genius.

Bert and Viktor Good grief, I think I made better outfits for my Barbies when I was 7 than this monstrosity. Maybe they were envisioning their stilt walker as part of the cast of an avant garde, high-rise production of Gone with the Wind and their design was for the scene where Scarlet makes a dress out of curtains. It was painful to look at their design, but not quite as painful as watching their interactions. Bert is looking more and more like a jerk with each episode.

Bryce and Fallene This was one outfit about which I agree with the judges. It was a hot mess. Fallene was clearly in over her head with that bodice, but I don’t think Bryce should be let off the hook. If one member of the team is relatively untrained, why is that designer working on a technically demanding bustier, while the more experienced sewer is working on an overgrown tutu? Even if their original vision had been perfectly executed, I think it still would’ve been a mess. A small, fitted top with a huge tulle skirt over loose stilt pants? It sounds awful. And I think it was the right decision to send Fallene home. Not only was she struggling with the execution, but she let that totally get to her.

Cecilia and Danielle The judges adored this, and I don’t get it. Like Laura and Anthony Ryan’s design, you could have hemmed the pants and sent it down the runway on a regular model. There was a little added volume in the sleeves and pants, but nothing really dramatic. The bedazzled collar looked like something out of Dynasty, and we got more hideous hair on their poor stilt-walker. The outfit was at least well made – I love the back of the blouse – but that’s faint praise.

Joshua and Julie I actually kind of liked their design. Bear with me here. They played with the proportions, using that vertical pattern on the pants and making the look high-waisted. They used a bold fabric that wouldn’t work in a normally scaled design. They were creative. And that’s where they ran into trouble. There was just way too much going on up top, and it didn’t make sense. I don’t think their design should have been in the bottom three, though.

Obviously I am a bit behind with Project Runway posts. Hopefully I can have post up on this week’s episode tomorrow or Tuesday. And if we’re really lucky, the next episode will be inspiring enough that I can’t wait to post about it.

Paddling away

Last weekend, a friend of mine invited me to go canoeing on a nearby river.  I have only gone canoeing a couple times, and not in years and years, but I associate canoeing with frustration.  I think it is a combination of not being very good at paddling a canoe and the communication and coordination required with another person to propel and steer a canoe.  I am generally cooperative and personable, but something about canoeing just hasn’t worked for me.  Perhaps I should have been a big girl and given it another try, but I decided to go with kayaking instead.  I love kayaking, so that seemed like a much more pleasant way to explore the river.

kicking back on  the kayak

My friends, A, J, and M, piled into a canoe, and we headed off down the river.

canoers

I should note that the canoers didn’t seem to have any trouble or conflict the whole trip, so if you may have been inclined to try out canoeing, don’t let my aversion sway you!

We were in the Concord area and started on the Sudbury River, which flows into the Concord River. The Concord River is spanned by the Old North Bridge, site of one of the first battles of the Revolutionary War.

Old North Bridge

Unfortunately, I may also now remember it as the site where I accidentally dunked myself in the river. We had stopped briefly at the historic park that surrounds the bridge, and when we returned to our boats, I lost my footing while trying to get back in the kayak. Oops! Luckily, it was a warm day, so I wasn’t too uncomfortable while we made our way back to the boathouse.

Despite the dunking, our afternoon on the river was lovely. The banks were lush and green, with patches of brilliantly red salvia.

woods

layers of color

We saw a grey heron, a deep yellow, fuzzy caterpillar that wanted to join our picnic lunch, and so many turtles.

basking turtles

It was a lovely, relaxing way to spend a Saturday with friends. And we topped it off by going out for ice cream after.

As a parting gift, I will share a blurry photo that I actually like!

doubled