Bumper Bars at Home (+ breakfast miscellany)


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Ian and I went to New Zealand for two weeks in February, and one of the most delicious discoveries was Bumper Bars, a quasi-granola bar/candy bar thing that we pretended was healthy because we were On Holiday.

The apricot-chocolate one was the best, and I’ve been wanting to recreate it since.  So I scoured the internet, found a Real Simple recipe, and made some improvements – i.e. added more chocolate and more apricots.

I made them with the idea that I would take them to work for breakfast, but Ian and I scarfed a third of the pan before they were even cool.  We’re calmed down, sliced them up and put the rest away, but its clear that my vision of a healthy granola breakfast bar hasn’t panned out – they are a victim of their own success.

I’ve been using Smitten Kitchen’s breakfast crumble recipe for a few months now – so much so that the guy at the Turkish International Supermerkert has commented on my plum consumption (he also asked me if I’d been swimming yesterday.  I hadn’t, I was just that sweaty after zumba class). I keep upping the size of the recipe and we keep eating it, and its a really easy way to prepare a week’s worth of breakfasts in one go.

Finally, I got into cacao nibs a few months ago, when I made cacao-banana-coffee muffins, which are delicious.  But the enduring success from the cacao experiment was refrigerator oatmeal, which I have been making several times a week since November – you soak oats overnight with milk, sugar, cacao and fruit.  Since I am less of a dirty hippie than I used to be, I use milk and processed sugar.  I eat it on the train while glaring at people doing their make-up (I mean seriously. I wish women would stop wearing makeup in general, but barring that, I wish they would stop putting it on while sitting next to me on the train).  I’m really sensitive to the smell of it, which makes me sneeze, and watching a woman with an eyelash curler in a public place just grosses me out).


Big Night in the Big City


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On Friday, I went to see Paper Tiger Poetry in Vauxhall, a neighbourhood of London I’d never been to before. It was an open mic night with two anchor poets, Donall Dempsey and Hollie McNish.  You may have heard of Hollie; I’ve written about her before on this blog and was even present at the genesis of her most recent hit, a commentary on Flo Rida’s ‘Blow My Whistle.’ I’m taking credit for having inspired the bit about zumba, as well as the last line that I don’t want to spoil.

Anyway. I invited My Friend Kamilla to Hollie’s gig.  The two anchor poets were great, and there were some notable successes who gave open mike presentations, and the whole night finished with a group singalong in honour of St. Patrick that I thought was absolutely fantastic. Also, the venue was the Tea House Theatre, which was a delightful spot.

However, there were some notable failures – enough that, when we adjourned to The Black Dog hipster pub down the road, Kamilla and Hollie and I kicked off a round of ‘which open mic poet would be your secret boyfriend?’ (it was almost all dudes) that lasted more or less until the bar closed.

Media Review: Josh Ritter, ‘the Beast in its Tracks’


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Josh Ritter is amazing.  I have thought so for years, so you can probably tell from that what sort of album review I’m about to write.

‘the beast in its tracks’ is a beautiful album, full of Ritter’s signature elegance and clever lyrics, though his amazing allegorical ballads are conspicuously absent from this release. He married fellow singer/songwriter Dawn Landes in 2009 and split with her….just before he started writing this album.

Instead of the storytelling songs like ‘the curse’ and ‘the temptation of adam’ (my personal favourite Ritter song, about a couple who live in a bunker safeguarding a nuclear weapon), these songs are straightforward.  This is A Breakup Album and Ritter is telling it pretty straight, including the pathetic and sad bits. Furthermore, the album is more or less chronological (or could be), starting sad, becoming in turn vindictive and pathetic, and finally finishing on a note of acceptance with ‘Joy to You Baby,’ an absolutely lovely song that people took far too long to post guitar chords for.

The raw honesty of the album is most clearly revealed on ‘New Lover,’ with the lyrics:

I hope you’ve got a lover now, hope you’ve got somebody who 
Can give you what you need like I couldn’t seem to do. 
But if you’re sad and you are lonesome and you’ve got nobody true, 
I’d be lying if I said that didn’t make me happy too.

In typical Josh Ritter fashion, these lyrics are delivered alongside a driving beat and a catchy melody, such that I didn’t notice until the third or fourth time just how…brutal…the lyrics were, and when I did, it was enough for me to say, out loud, ‘holy crap!’

Fortunately I was working from home so my coworkers didn’t have to share in this little revelation.  In the videoclip below, the giant smile on his face obscures the punch of the lyrics, too;


The album has been out in the US, UK and Canada for about ten days, so I’m a little slow on the uptake; if you want more info, I recommend checking out NPR’s concert link from World Cafe; if you’re on the fence about the album – just go buy it. It’s wonderful.


Django FanGirls


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Battersea High Street is a train, tube and bus ride away from my home. But its a place I’d been wanting to go for a while – not because the street is that great, but because if you turn off it, and walk down some nondescript residential streets for about five minutes, you will find yourself at Le QueCumBar, one of the most famous gypsy jazz venues in the world, decorated with portraits of Django Reinhardt, with tasseled lamps and surly-cute waiters with piano braces/suspenders (the poor bastards, I’d be surly too).

My friends Mary and Kamilla and I went to Le QueCumBar on a Tuesday in February, on a jam night (I have since learned that its called a Djam). the night we went, there were about ten people who rotated in and out all night – all ages and many instruments, but only one woman, who kicked off the night.  After the first few songs, Mary said ‘how do they just do that?’ And Kamilla, who is a professional musician, looked at Mary like she was nuts and said ‘practice.’

In addition to a night of amazing music in a very idiosyncratic venue, it was a night where everyone was nerdy in their own way: Kamilla talked about music; Mary talked about literature; I talked about birds (Kamilla got psyched about birds with me, which I appreciated more than she could have known.  We had a whole talk about the wingspan of albatrosses.  Seriously, these people are friends to hold onto.)

Too Much Fun for My Own Good


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As predicted, having a job and a social life and a long commute gets pretty time consuming, and I’ve had less time and interest in maintaining a blog than I had a year ago.  But I love being able to look back at my own little scrapbook of adventures, so even though these next few posts are all Old News, they’re also treasured memories.

rain room


The best things I’ve done in London in 2013 can be mostly attributed to the all-too-short sabbatical of my friend Mary, who did a 2-month research stint in London at the beginning of the year (and is now in Paris, the poor dear). Because she was only here for such a short time, we really mobilised and did All the Fun Stuff while she was here, including a trip to the Rain Room, which had been on my list since November.

The Rain Room is exactly what it sounds like – a room full of rain. There’s a plaftorm on which it appears to be raining, but as you walk through the water stops above you.  Its the world’s most high-tech sprinkler.

Unfortunately, the five month installation is now over (apparently there were 6 hour waits in the final days).  We waited two hours (I did a Supermarket Sweep of Waitrose and made a picnic, complete with single-serving wine bottles and chocolate-chip cookies, that we ate while waiting) and then had more or less unlimited time in the room itself (people were self-regulating because of guilt, and also because you do start to get wet and the novelty wears off a bit). The whole thing was, as my New Friend Kamilla pointed out, very First World, but also totally captivating.

Stuff! Adventures! Life in the Big City!


Image courtesy nytimes.com

I grew up in Wisconsin, and the hubs and I were able to fly back for a few days over the holidays.  We were there for four days, but one of those days was Christmas Eve and one of those days was Christmas and both those days had all-day family commitments (which was great, but not the same as just being at home).  So all told I spent two and a half days at home in 2012, which is not enough days.

That said, my hometown it is not a bustling metropolis. When we visit my in-laws in New York, I get a much better deal than my husband. I get to see my lovely in-laws and also explore New York City and catch up with college friends. Ian just gets laugh at my sister and me as we play the Zumba Experience on the Wii (its comedy gold).

One afternoon I met a friend at Grand Central. After careful deliberation, we decided to go to the bar inside the Whole Foods at Columbus Circle for lunch. We made our own salad and got soup from the prepared food section (sweet potato, apple and shallot? yes please), then went to the Skyscraper Museum in Battery Park City.

The museum had a lovely exhibit about the garment district and the way its existence shaped the built environment of Manhattan, but the layout of the exhibit was a little awkward. It looked like someone wrote a brochure that they blew up, framed, and hung on the wall. And the rest of the museum was more just pictures of skyscrapers than a museum.  But it was an experience. And they had a really nice little bookshop where we poked around for a while.

After that, we went to Tacombi in Soho and got spiked horchata. I love the idea, but what should have been a deliciously cinnamon-sweet drink just ended up tasting like liquor.  But the restaurant! I loved it! the whole place was set up to look kind of…outdoorsy? There was a popsicle stand in the restaurant, a VW camper van parked along the wall where they made all the tacos, big advertising-style murals painted on the wall, and aluminum outdoor furniture. It was fantastic.  We didn’t eat the food, but next time you’re in Soho, you should.

Then we went jacket shopping at REI, where I bought mittens instead of a supercute $400 black wool coat, and walked to Chinatown to eat delicious and cheap pho (because its all Asia, I guess? Vietnam and China don’t even share a very long border). It was a really nice day, even though it was rainy and gross out, and I was so excited to see a friend I hadn’t seen in over a year.


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The Tate Modern has some dumb stuff.

Our return to the UK pretty much coincided with the arrival of another friend, who came into London and whom I met at the Tate Modern on Friday evening. I was only able to go to the 4th floor, which is half awesome and half AWFUL.  Tate visitors: You can go ahead and skip the “Energy and Process” section.  Also, I’m just going to go ahead and say this: I FRICKING HATE VIDEO INSTALLATIONS. That’s right. I went there. I like movies, I like paintings and sculpture and especially photography, but I hate video installations. A lot. They are stupid. Much of the 4th floor of the Tate is stupid.  But I really enjoyed the opportunity to walk across the Millennium Bridge eating candied almonds and the view of the Tower Bridge across the water, and some of the art didn’t suck – the Picassos were ok, for example. They can keep the Picassos.

I was really concerned that our friend get the authentic pub experience, because she’d eaten at a Wetherspoon’s (which is kind of like an Applebee’s). So we took her to the Old Spring, which is one of our faves. But then we also went to The Anchor in London and so it ended up being a very pub-filled few days.  But oh well. There are worse things.

Mill Road Winter Fair, y’all


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mill rd fair

Last weekend was the Mill Road Winter Fair, one of my neighbourhood’s social highlights.  It was already packed as I headed to my mid-morning zumba class (like I was going to miss out on Gangnam style! Honey, please); it was busier on my way home; and by the time Ian and I made it to the food fair, the whole street was bumping, despite the fact that it was the first day of a pretty serious cold snap.

Ian and I saw belly dancers, a Chinese dragon, and a ten-year-old playing a surprisingly good version of “Wild Thing.”  We sampled some mulled cider; bought some potato bread and rice pudding; and crammed our face full of pizza and sausages.

The sausages from the butcher on the corner were a highlight last year, so I was pretty psyched to see them again.

Literally everyone, up and down Mill Road and on many of the street branching off, was out in force.  It was a lovely afternoon.

More Things to Love about England


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I was running down Bond Street at full tilt on Tuesday night to try to catch my train back to Cambridge.  Bond Street is a famous shopping destination and its the holidays and so I was waving between pedestrians when I saw a guy up ahead, right in my path.  He saw me as well, and we both zigged and zagged until I smashed right into him.

He was taller than I realized; my head only made it to his chin.  And in this fantastic accent that I recognised but can’t place, he said “whoops, sorry, darlin!” and moved aside as I, flustered idiot, untangled myself from his jacket and took off.

It was the sweetest thing. I instantly regretted not at least, you know, making eye contact as I apologized.

This little incident came on the heels of an email from an acquaintance – 20something architect, kind of a goof, seems like a nice guy. He and I had a lovely chat about our favourite radio shows, and so he sent me a list at my request.  It was a totally normal, friendly email, and he added an “x” after his name.

The thing that I love about that is that its typical.  Last week I got an email from a different architect (30something, seems like a nice guy) about a social event – and he signed it with an “x” as well.  People sign all their texts with “x”s as well.  Its such a thing that a coworker has accidentally signed professional emails with an “x” and only realised too late.

I think its delightful.  I love it especially because England can be so formal in so many ways; people aren’t super effusive or touchy-feely.  But they call each other darlin’ and they sign emails with kisses, and I find that completely endearing.

Misc. Awesome


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I posted this yesterday on the train, with a nice little rumination about my new job (which is going well).  Apparently WordPress needs to work a few kinks out of their app, because it never actually showed up on the interwebs. So: second attempt.  Photos above from Amsterdam, Somerville and Cambridge, MA, Toronto, the Saatchi Gallery and my living room.

Your friend,