London is a ever fascinating town. There is always something to see or something going on. No time is this more true than in the spring. They refer to May and June as "the season". Royal events, galas, Royal Ascot, Henley, Wimbledon and regal garden parties. Of course the dress, protocol and the invites to attend are strict and are hard to come by. But I am going to let you in on how this Canadian girl came to London and got invited to these royal events... became the Queen's biggest stalker ...AND more importantly how you can too.
When you talk about a bucket list adventure for me riding the Orient Express was right on top of that list. I mean what other trip has been at the centre of a murder mystery best selling novel and several movies. The Orient Express is everything that you would think it would be. Glamorous, romantic and a very special adventure. Come onboard as I take you inside the world's most famous luxury train ride, The Orient Express. I even found a mysterious man with a moustache to rival Poirot.
Set aside the coffee, this is a job for alcohol. What happened to me??
I mean my dad did warn me, one day you are going to go to bed and when you wake you'll be 50. Maybe I am freaking out as I have a birthday looming. I’m in my 50’s... but I still feel like I’m in my 20’s…until I hang out with 20 years olds…then it is like nope…I am in my 50’s. I mean who the hell is this person staring me down in the mirror…wait is that a chin hair? Shit really???
I can try and see that silver lining and feel grateful that wrinkles don’t hurt (physically) but in the end I am not 20 anymore and not all of that is bad. Just recently I was having that conversation with a friend…the one that asks,
"If you could go back in time what advice would you give your 20 year old self?
The list was interesting. Aside from invest in Apple and buy real estate the conversation was a cathartic one ripe with the wisdom that can only come from a having some mud on the tires. It has been said, life’s tragedy is we get old too soon and wise too late. How very true.
Like most little girls I had a very strong imagination growing up. I played with dolls, I dressed up like a princess and I imagined (pretty much solely thanks to Disney) that someday my prince would come, riding his white horse and whisk me away from my little split-level bungalow in North Toronto to his fabulous castle with a Michelin Star chef and a full time masseuse... and of course live happily ever after. But what every Disney Princess did not know was that behind the castle gates, after that sun had set there lurked the in-laws...ohhhh the Royal in-laws. With their pending pre-nup, royal wedding planner and most importantly the countless rules and regal protocol for marrying into their family.
LONDON'S MOST FAMOUS ALBUM COVER LOCATIONS ~ RE-VISITED
It was Mick Jagger who said anything worth doing is worth over-doing. I would like to add that it is also worth redoing and revisiting. So with my strong love of music and exploring London I went out to re-visit the locations of some of the most famous album covers in music history and see just how they look today. Some were not that easy to find... but others you could not miss.
I have enough clothes and shoes...said no woman EVER!
They call it "retail therapy" for a reason and that's because shopping releases endorphins, reduces stress and is cheaper than a psychiatrist. Shopping may even help you live longer (like you need another reason). So in the name public health I have incorporated shopping into my daily healthy lifestyle and started exploring London's markets.
I love the feel of the markets, they have textures, grit, smells, and personalities that you are not going to find strolling down Oxford or Regents Street. Don’t get me wrong, I love that shopping experience too but it you really want to get to know London you cannot do that without experiencing her fabulous markets. You noticed I referred to London in the feminine…that’s because anyone who has so many shoes has to be a girl.
BRACE YOURSELF... MY "HAPPY AS SHIT" PLAYLIST WILL CHANGE YOUR DAY
I am going to share with you something that only one other person on the planet knows about me, and because of it he thinks I am a little crazy. Every morning I when I wake up I hear music in my head. No, not voices but actual songs. Actually they are never the whole song but rather a continuous repeat of the chorus generally. Sometimes the song in my head makes sense as I may have heard it somewhere the day before but other times, most times it a random song that comes out of nowhere and will haunt me all day until some other song replaces it. This morning's song was Hell's Bells by ACDC, no idea where that came from...... I think they call that an earworm or brainworm where some involuntary piece of music (usually the same 8 bars) continually repeats in my brain until I go insane....but for me it starts the moment I open my eyes.
As a North American living in London you have a certain vantage point, you're able to see what is uniquely British AND what is not. While the Americans or Canadian's tend to look for the newest, biggest and shiniest next thing the British celebrate the oldest, dustiest and longest standing. It is proudly written in gold glided letters outside store fronts "established in" or on a historical plaque telling you who was "nearly done in" at this place hundreds of years before you were even born.
LONDON'S OLDEST DRINKING ESTABLISHMENTS
I have heard it said that London's history can be measured by two things, churches and pubs. Since I am pretty much an atheist (unless of course if I am flying through turbulence) I thought why not visit the oldest places in London where one can throw one back, get sozzled and wet your whistle...
LONDON'S OLDEST PUBS
So here is where things get a little cloudy like a pint of Hoegaarden. London's oldest pub? It depends on how you define "oldest"? Is it the oldest name...building...location... license...? Trying to find the definitive answer could lead oneself to drink so I have decided on a collection of the oldest noteworthy pubs of "ye olde" distinction. Just so you know the term "ye olde" is just marketing.
A Day With London Fashion Designer Charli Cohen and Suki, Her Instagram Famous Pomeranian
London and Fashion. Two words that go together like ….er...London and Fashion. I love fashion and its crazy scene, its colourful people and its ever changing landscape. I was raised by a mother who was a fashion model turned photographer, my father a fashion editor/writer and I started my early days as a model in Italy followed by short career as a wardrobe stylist in the film industry in Canada. I was surrounded, raised breathed and weaned in fashion's colourful flamboyant fabric.
So when a opportunity came up to bid on a “Day With A London Fashion Designer” for UNICEF, well it was in my mind sold before the auction had even finished. I wanted this. I thought this would be a fun experience. You know, get a few insider tips, a brief fashion update…and a little bit of a fresh perspective on the world of London fashion as told from the inside. What I didn't expect was to be impressed with this new generation of the conscientious designer, and how through this ethically moral compass fashion and its people are being redefined.
FEAR. That is what I feel every time I ride that first chair lift of a ski trip.
I only learned to ski in my forties so never possessed that fearless, “throw yourself down the hill” childlike freestyle. Skiing was outside my comfort zone and it did not come naturally due my total lack of any inherited athletic ability (or so I tell myself).
Pushing through my fear I learned to ski. It allowed me to experience some incredible parts of the world I would have otherwise missed. All the while creating and redefining my own personal bests. I felt highs that can only come from overcoming fear and emerging out the other side victorious. But fear is multi-purposed. Push through OR beware? As I get older those lines are getting blurred, not nearly as obvious as they used to be. Fear is there to stop you from doing stupid dumbass shit, right?
So How Do You Know What Fear Is Trying To Tell You?
Girlfriends are your life source.
They have gotten you through messy breakups, given you honest fashion advise (sometimes even unsolicited) been there to let you vent..and vent...and vent, hold your hair back when the Tequila shots are making their way back up, got you home safely, cried when you cried and made you laughed when all you wanted to do is curl up with your other best friends Ben & Jerry and drown your sorrows in a tub of Chuncky Monkey. Girlfriends are your life source.. you could show up at their door at 3:00 in the morning with a dead body and they say nothing as they go and grab their shovel.
So now here you are, in a new city and a zillion miles from anyone you knows you shouldn't drink tequila. So you my friend need to get out there and find yourself some new local girlfriends...start dating for friends.
Of course like most things in life I do expect that a little rain must fall but no one warned me I would have benefited greatly from building an ark. I lost both my parents in 2017. My dad on the 2nd day in January and my mother in May on my birthday. They had been married 56 years, 4 months, 26 days. As with any loss the "firsts' of birthdays, holidays or special occasions are particular hard but when it comes to Christmas... well that was my mother's favourite time of the year and her absence is resoundingly deafening.
So how do you do it? How do you find the joy in the holiday season after losing someone you have loved so very much?
I LOVE to cook and bake. In fact, I think I am one serious chocolate ganache away from joining The Great British Bake Off. Of all the things I have baked over the years there is one that stands out as the most requested recipe EVER, my Almond Cookies. Without a word of an exaggeration everyone who has one of these bite size pieces of heaven tells me it is the "BEST COOKIE THEY HAVE EVER HAD". Their words, not mine, but I do tend to agree. These were my mom's favourite too so you should have seen my suitcase last Christmas as I baked these in London, wrapped them and flew them to Toronto. Thank God I avoided any sniffer dogs at the airport or 8 dozen lovingly baked cookies could have been snatched away at customs. So I thought the time has come to officially share the "almond joy" of the cookie/biscuit world... drum roll please....
Christina's Almond Cookies - Likely The Best Cookie You'll Ever Eat
2 lbs (910 grams) butter room temperature. Cubed
6 Cups All Purpose Flour (750 grams)
1 1/2 Cup Granulated (Castor) Sugar (340 grams)
1 1/2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract (10ml)
1 1/2 teaspoons Almond Extract (10ml)
1 1/3 lbs of Crushed Unsalted Almonds (605 grams)
1 lb Fruit Sugar (450 grams). You will likely have sugar left over. You can also substitute with Vanilla Sugar or Icing Sugar but this recipe works best with Fruit Sugar
READY, SET, BAKE
1. Crush your almonds in a food processor until chopped well.
2. With your mixmaster and paddle attachment cream together on medium speed butter and granulated sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla and almond extract. Beat well. On low speed add 5 cups of flour and crushed almonds. Alternating one cup at a time between the flour and the almonds. Mix well stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl. You have now just made my favourite raw cookie dough. Taste it. It is fabulous. I love it as much raw as baked.
Dough will be soft, sticky and delicious.
3. Working with small batches of your dough on a floured surface knead some of the remaining flour into the dough. Just enough for the dough not to be sticky and roll out into long "snakes". Don't add too much flour. Cut into equal lengths and bend into a crescent shape.
The diameter of the roll and the length of the cut will be up to you. Just make them all uniform so they will bake evenly.
4. Place on greased and floured cookie sheet several inches apart. You can also use non-stick silicon sheets instead of greasing the cookie sheets. Bake at 325°F (165°C) for 20 to 27 minutes depending on size until golden.
5. Remove from oven. Wait about five minutes or until slightly cooled before using a spatula and moving them onto a cooling rack. They are very delicate when hot.
6. Once completely cooled roll in fruit sugar. Fruit sugar, also known as fructose is finer and sweeter than granulated sugar and as the cookies themselves are not too sweet the fruit sugar really works well. It is sometimes harder to find depending where you live. Some better grocery stores carry it. You can also find it at some health food stores or there is always Amazon.com. where you can find... just about anything.
ALL READY FOR TEA
This recipe yields a lot of cookies, so two things. You can half the recipe and not compromise the cookies by doing so. Also know that these cookies freeze very well and can be kept for months in the freezer after baked...that is if no one knows where they are hiding.
Over the years many a school teacher, family member or friend have received these cookies in various ways. Inside colourful hand painted boxes to holiday cookie tins. But I think my favourite way to gift them is in a mason jar. It travels well (not in a plane way too heavy), protects the cookies which are delicate and it looks special. Tied with some ribbon and a handwritten tag and they will deem you the next Martha Stewart or for you Brit's a much, much younger Mary Berry.
Warning: Can be Addictive. Please Enjoy Responsibly
If you have any incredible cookie recipes you would like to share please send them along to me. I love to bake, love to eat and love finding new ways to do both together. I guess I might need to reboot my gym membership too now that I'm baking. Worth it!
Merry Christina... I mean Christmas. Ho Ho Ho
SEVEN SISTERS CLIFFS, EAST SUSSEX ROAD TRIP
If you are anything like me the lack of sunlight as you approach the dead of winter is so unbelievably depressing. Living in London it actually starts getting dark at 3:30 in November AND we haven't even got through the worst of it. So what is that saying, make hay when the sun shines? So in order to survive the long, dark winters you have to make the most of the short sunny days and a road trip is exactly the way to do it.
London has always been an exciting, creative city. Its history, art, culture and subculture has shaped the world scene today and I am not just taking about The Beatles or that Grandad Boy-Band, The Rolling Stones. I was very interested in learning that some of my favourite things (insert Julie andrews singing here) were born out of London.
A-BROAD OBSERVATION - TOILETS OF ASIA
I have always consider myself a student of the world, you know... open to celebrate the vast colourful differences between one world, culture and traditions and my own. I have been fortunate enough to travel different parts of the globe and I willingly drink in those cultural differences between countries, ....until now.
You think you have learned all there is to know about London history? Been to every museum, taken every tour, listened to every audio guide about the Tudors "this" and the Stuarts "that". Well until you start digging in the London mud, turning over a few rocks your education on London is totally incomplete
Ever bored with London? Ok, that is a trick question. But sometimes you need a get away. Turn down the volume, unplug, breathe fresh air and exhale. New Forest is just the wonderful escape to do just that. Just a two hour drive south of the hustle and bustle of London where the only traffic you are likely to hit are a herd of wild horses taking their own sweet time crossing the street.
An estimated 2 million people descended for two days for The Notting Hill Carnival, one of the largest Caribbean festivals in Europe. With thousands of dancers, performers and some of the biggest and (loudest) sound systems you can carry on the back of a truck, I had to go and let my inner "island girl" out.