Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Food Review: Costa Coffee

Everybody knows Starbucks, but each country, and often times region, has its own coffee chains. In London, a popular coffee chain you see around constantly is Costa Coffee.  I have limited internet at my flat, so I went to costa coffee to use their Wi-Fi; my other flat mates have done this before.  The costa I went to was pretty small and so didn’t have too many seats. I ordered a medium cappuccino (they seem to have weird size names like starbucks but I couldn’t read them). Since I wanted to stay in they gave me a nice ceramic cup, saucer and a metal spoon. The coffee was 2 pounds 45 and was a good size. It also came with a cute design done on the top in cocoa powder and a lot of milk foam which I like. The taste was okay, but must have been very strong because it gave me a caffeine headache lasting over 3 hours (and I sipped by coffee; I did not gulp it) and made me a bit hyper.
It was a bit complicated to get online because I assumed like in the states, they would have a wifi named after them and you could just log on. Starbuck in the uk does this too.  This costa at least doesn’t do that. After trying to get online for over 20 minutes I worked up the courage to ask one of the guys wiping the tables if they had wifi. He then handed me a card he got near the cashier which has their password. I guess this is to keep people from using their wifi without paying. Once I got on the wifi it was very fast.  I didn’t feel pressured by the table cleaners either to get a move on; they just left me to my laptop.

Overall, my experience was okay. I wish there had been a sign or something to let me know what the wifi was called and that I needed to ask for the password. The coffee also wasn’t fantastic and I felt overpriced a bit. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Tea Review: Twinings Rose Garden

I am an official sucker for anything rose flavored/scented. While at tesco’s my eye was caught by twining’s rose garden tea; a rose and black tea mix. I was unable to resist and bought it; it was about 2 pounds 50 pence for 20 tea bags.
The scent of the tea is fantastic; it has that good, mellow rose scent that reminds one of Turkish delight or a light rose water. It is sweet, not perfume like.  I brewed it following the directions for about 3 and a half minutes. I then added a small amount of sugar and milk. This unfortunately made it an unsightly grey color. The flavor though was fantastic; a mellow black tea with a sweet rose taste and scent. The rose was in no way overwhelming.  I also attempted to make a second cup with the same bag, and was moderately successful; it was a bit too weak for my taste even after 5-7 minutes brew time.

Overall, I am very happy with this tea. The packaging is beautiful and the tea tastes wonderful. I only wish it was a bit less pricy, but it is comparable to other more mid-range tea brands. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Today I leave

Today is the day that I will leave London. By 1 pm I will be on a plane to the USA. I'm not quite sure how i feel at this point; I'm sure that there will be reflections later. Even though it had been over three months, it feels like just a few weeks. Doing school work made this fly by so fast and feel almost like a normal semester. There will be more blog posts about London to come, and if anyone had questions or comments please feel free to respond. I will try to keep regular posts throughout the summer, and try to talk about baking and crafts and gardening etc. but I do not know when I will pick up after this, so I will be scheduling a few posts so i can readjust before posting again. Thank you

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Food Review: Pret a Manger

If you spend any time in London; you will see many Pret a Manger. “Pret” as it is known is a popular food chain here in the UK. Their main foods are lunch related; they have many different sandwiches in addition to soups, salads, and even sushi!  I really like pret for lunch because there food is handmade daily, is made of high quality ingredients and tastes great.  None of their food has artificial preservatives or questionable chemicals. Many of their foods are also locally sourced, organic, free range etc.  
There sandwiches are my go to lunch. They are also on par cost wise to anything you would get at sainsbury’s or tesco for lunch; they are all round the 3 pound range. Most stuff from the grocery store is around 2-3 pounds and not very good.  The sandwiches at pret are great; I really like their baguette sandwiches; one of my go to meals is the ham and cheese. This is no American slice and ground ham lunch meat; it is a great aged cheese with ham that looks like it was just cut off the bone.
They also have “toasties” or hot sandwiches and many snacks to go with the food like kale chips and fruit cups. They also have good drinks, for 99 pence you can either get a food regular (fair trade) drip coffee or one of their pret canned drinks; my favorite is grape and elderflower.

To be honest, you can’t go wrong with Pret for lunch. There is something for everyone and every taste and is simple and well done without being pretentious. For an idea of the atmosphere; it’s like a more casual, quicker version on Panera Bread.  The food is also so reasonably priced that you are not going to break your budget if you have to eat lunch out. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Making Tea: The “squish” technique

When learning about tea, you are swamped with ideas about brew time, types of tea, temperature of the water etc., all of which have to be followed to make a “proper” cup of tea. But since I’ve been here whenever I’ve seen an actual British person drinking tea they use what I am calling the squish method and I have also remember hearing about this online.
The general idea of the squish method is to made a cup of tea quickly you stick a tea bag in boiled water and squish it around your cup for a bit until the tea has turned your desired color.
What comes from this is a quite nice cup of tea; since you are not spending a lot of time brewing it, it is hard to over brew and thus is not bitter, but it still has the taste of tea.  This is a good way to spend the least amount of time in the kitchen, but you still have to wait for the tea to cool down so you end up not being able to drink it quicker. You also have to know what color you like your tea instead of what time you like it to brew for.

This is the way I make my tea now, and I saves me time in the end.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Edinburgh, Scotland part 2

On the second day of our tour we woke up early to check out (you have to be out by 10) and then stored our luggage with the hostel for just a pound. We then headed out to breakfast at a little café and then to Arthur’s seat. This is a large mountain on the end of Edinburgh that is supposed to be the place of Camelot and is popular to climb. We had a long and hard climb up and down (we went to the very top of the highest peak) and then stopped by another pub for lunch. For lunch I had haggis which was very nice (it tastes almost like roast beef but has the creaminess associated with liver). We then headed over to the Surgeon’s museum which I may warn is not for the squeamish or faint hearted. The museum is full of medical artifacts and specimens including Burke’s skin pocket book and skulls from the battle of waterloo. The more disturbing pieces involved feet preserved with gangrene, fetus skeletons, and a man’s face floating on a jar.

We were going to go to the castle, but due to time (and being a bit tired and low on money) we decided instead just to pick up our bags and head to the train station. Our train left at 5 pm and took us back to London at 11 pm from there we took the tube home and I was in bed going to sleep by midnight. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Edinburgh, Scotland part 1

This past weekend I took a short two day weekend trip to Edinburgh, Scotland with two friends. I am splitting this into two parts for the different days. We left at about 11 pm Thursday night and took a national express coach to Edinburgh. The coach was decent, but not very easy to sleep in. For me I felt it was a good option though because I do not sleep well on trains or planes or coaches and the coach was the cheapest and got us to Scotland at a good time.
When we arrived we ate a quick breakfast in the train station (which we accidentally walked through trying to find our hostel) and then went to our hostel. We stayed at “budget backpackers”; it was 18 pounds per person for a four person room. I found the hostel very nice; all the staff was kind, and international, and the set up for the hostel was very hip and modern in addition to being very clean. They also had a café with cheap food, everything under 5 pounds, and cheap drinks, several beers were less than 2 pounds and they had 1 pound shots. The hostel also offered free walking tours of the city while we waited to check in at 1pm.  After the walking tour we went for lunch at a nearby pub and then went to the National gallery of art. The gallery was very nice, and free, with many famous Titian’s, Gaugin’s and a few Rembrandt’s.
After the gallery we went on a Whiskey Tour at the whiskey experience near the castle which was about 11 pounds. We went on a little ride that explained the making of scotch whiskey and then went into a room where they explained the different types of whiskey and the scent associated with then and then were given a small bit to try. The amount was only 2 sips, but we were able to keep the nice glass. The whiskey was also of extraordinarily good quality. We then were shown to room with a great many old and rare bottles of whiskey. The tour was definitely a fun thing to do in the city.

We next went to dinner in another pub where I tried a really good Scottish lager called “Tennant’s” that all the locals were drinking. We then went on a “double dead” ghost tour. This was also like 10 pounds which took us to some underground vaults were murders and various crimes took place and into an area of greyfriar’s cemetery that is locked to the public and were the first known concentration camp (where Scots were imprisoned and killed after refusing to accept King Charles’s religious doctrine).  My tour guide was very good and knowledgeable and kept things just spooky enough to be fun without being outrageous. After this, we stopped by a pub and then went back to the hostel to sleep.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Review and swatch: NYX nude matte shadow in nms11 betrayal

I like to fill in my eyebrows with eyeshadow or “brow powder”. I think it gives a natural but defined look. To do this I used to use a dark brown eyeshadow that was part of my large nyx smokey eyes palette, but I was not taking that to London so I needed smaller alternative.
I bought this eyeshadow which is a matte medium to dark brown with a very slight ashy tone. When swatched, it doesn’t appear very dark, but when used damp on my eyebrows it does its job.
The texture of this product is very nice. The packaging is simple and cute, but the inner portion of the capsule tends to pop out easily. I don’t know if this is a defect on mine, or if all of them are like that for ease of depoting.

Overall, this is a good product for my eyebrows, and at 0.56 oz, is going to last me a while. I think these are a little pricy though at $4.99 for a single eyeshadow. Per eyeshadow, it’s more expensive than the urban decay naked palettes! Luckily I bought this with a few other items and used the $3.50 off $10 coupon, so there was some discount. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

OOTD: Primark purple

The first outfit of the day for a while! I got a very cute dress at primark for only three pounds! It's not a style I normally wear, but it was perfect for the dinner i was going to!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Candy bar review: Yorkie, Double Decker and Munchies

I picked up a few candy bars I hadn’t had yet at tesco. These were single bars and were 63 pence each, but I got them 3 for 1 pound 20 on offer.
The first bar I chose was the yorkie bar which was a slight disappointment. My goal had been to grab some unique british candy bars but this was just plain chocolate. It was decent, nestle chocolate but was not the sort of interesting filling or what have you that I was looking for.
The double decker is a thick candy bar with two layers: chocolate with rice and nougat wrapped in chocolate. The bottom layer is like a nestle crunch bar and the top layer nougat is more like a 3 musketeers texture than snickers. It was the nougat that eventually got to me. It was so fluffy like marshmallow but also stretchy and slightly oily. There was also a lot of it so after a while I got sick of it. Overall, it was a decent candy bar but nit something I’d run to grab again.

The munchies were the star of this group. Instead of an actual bar it is many small square chocolates wrapped in one paper. You can eat this like mentos and just unwrap the paper and pop one out. The chocolates themselves were actually a biscuit (cookie) center surrounded by caramel and then wrapped in chocolate. It is pretty similar to a twix, but the caramel was the star like as in a Rolo. This was a very nice choice and I would buy it again. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

London visit: Twining’s Tea

Twining’s is a very old brand of tea which has its original store from the 18th century on the strand in London. Since I love both tea and the twining’s brand especially I went to go see it. The store is located at 219 the strand; I got off the tube at temple and then you have to go to the right (away from King’s college; if you pass a large church and then the college you are in the wrong direction) down the strand and you will hit a small storefront with a hanging sign designating it as twining’s. The store is tiny; but not as small as you might think. It is both narrow and long. The store was decently busy when I was there on a Friday at about 4 so I’d imagine it’ll be busier on the weekend and get really cramped. The prices at this location are decent; about the same as you’d get at Tesco and cheaper than sold at posh retailers like Harrods.  The selection is better than grocery stores; they have so many tea varieties in loose leaf, bag, and limited edition.  They also have coffee, hot chocolate, and some tea accessories. The tins were especially tempting and not bad at 5 pounds; the regular boxes of 20 were like 2.50.  I couldn’t decide on a variety and I didn’t really need more tea so I settled on getting a few loose tea bags (15 for 2.25; I was with two friends so we each got 5) and a little tea pot shaped plate that you lay your tea bag on that was a good deal at a mere 3 pounds.
The place is not very relaxing though because of the sheer amount of people shoving in and the cramped shelves holding the tea. They did have little bottles of tea you could smell though. The employees were okay; they were visible enough that they could answer questions, but didn’t bother you if you were browsing.  My only problem was that they had some pots of tea sitting out for samples, but didn’t offer them to that many people. The lady at the counter only offered it twice to old people that were standing right up at the table.  My friend and I were standing in that section of the store because it was less busy as we waited for our other friend to make a decision, but we were never offered tea. She really should have been offering the tea to everyone that came near her station.

Overall, It was a good place to go to get a wide variety of teas for a decent price and being n such an old being was cool. Unfortunately, this old building also means that it was cramped and not very relaxing, and I feel that they need to offer more people tea samples to drink. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Candy Bars Review: Fry’s Turkish Delight, Cadbury Twirl, and Kit Kat chunky peanut butter

I’ve been trying out all of the uniquely british candy bars I can find at my local tesco. Each bar is about 63 pence, but I got them on offer 3 for 1.20 pounds.
The first bar I tried was the Turkish Delight. I have already tried another version of this candy; the Cadbury version.  Both sweets are rose flavored jelly covered in chocolate. The Cadbury is as much chocolate is not more than the actual Turkish delight. Fry’s is much more jelly than chocolate. There is a good centimeter worth of jelly with just a very thin coating of chocolate.  This is an extremely rich sweet, as anyone who has eaten traditional Turkish delight knows, so I was not able to eat the entire bar even though it isn’t that large (it actually looks really small, but is heavy at 51 grams). It is good though, and since I have not been able to find the Cadbury version in snack bar size it is a good option if you feel like rose over fruit or chocolate.

The last bar was the Peanut Butter kit kat. I had the regular chunky kit kat and was underwhelmed; just a large kit kat with a bit too much chocolate in comparison to wafer.  The peanut butter definitely improved the flavor; it gave a more interesting richness than just wafer and chocolate. It essential is a reeses peanut butter cup stuck on top of a kit kat; so quite nice. Overall, it is a very nice candy bar that I would eat again.