The video has been made, edited, and is now online. Special thanks go to Duncan and Sarah for being really jazzed about learning a dance one day before they had to do it in public all over town. It was very, very fun to film and it wouldn’t have been half so much as fun without them. YES.
Dad and Kel were kind enough to mail a box of mexican chilis to London a few months ago, because they are just unfindable here unless you’re willing to pay six pounds a bag. Using a recipe from Stephen’s facebook page (this was one of the internet friendos I met in person last week as detailed in the last bloggo post) I whipped up a batch of chili from scratch, and it was fabulous. I share his recipe with you now:
8 oz dried mixed chilis (poblano, guajilla, pasilla, new mexico, etc)
Twoish pounds of chuck beef, cubed
Maybe some ground porky pork
Two beastly onions or three less beastly onions diced
Couple a cloves a garlic, chunky minced
Big tablespoon cumin seed, mex oregano, salt, and cocoa powder and a cinnamon stick
1.Reconstitute chilis in SUPER HOT HOT BOILY WATER for ten minutes, strain out water (and save it), blenderize chilis, pour through a strainer to make seedless paste.
2.Brown meat cubes and porky grimbles in a HOT HOT dutch oven or gud big dam stewpot, remove after briwning
3.Lower heat, throw in a bit of oil and onions and garlic, saute til transparent
4. Readd meet and pour in chiliwater just below the top of the meets and onyuns, simmer for a bit, and Pour in chilipaste
5.Grind up spices in a mortar and pestle if you’ve got it, throw in
6.Stir and cover and simmer at wicked low heat until it’s thick and sexy, maybe add black beans if you feel like it (I did)
The stew comes out thick and red, and actually way less spicy than you’d imagine for blending up a half-pound of dried chilis. Though when blenderizing it, I did tear up.
I lasted how long, like two weeks? Posting every day is super hard. I even missed like four days (before yanno the last six days of total radio silence). I have a good reason though! I’m at work every day (because Ian the Scottish Manplant is in Morocco) and busy every night (because, no joke, we have had random friends call us up all at once to hang out.) We had dinner with Ruşen and Mengu, two Turkfriends we met through Asli. They had been meaning to invite us to their places for ages, ever since we met back in February when Asli was in London. We met their hilarious flatfaced cats:
And generally just had great conversation about living in London, Turkey, and performing. (Rusen is a comedian and Mengu is an actress.) All over a delightful homecooked meal of kofte, pilav, falan and filan. (Delicious. Been way too long since I’ve had Turkish home cooking.)
We also met up with Harriet’s friend Rachel who was at the Crete wedding, because she got stuck in London on a layover back to the States. Went aaaaall the way down to a weird suburban hotel neighborhood near the airport and ate in an 800 year old pub. She had just done a random trip to the mountains of Switzerland and was heading back to Colorado for SKI SEASON. She works as a ski instructor and it made me intensely homesick.
Then we also got to see our friend Federico from Istanbul, also on a brief weekend stopover in London. (He played Franz in the Producers and was in the improv group). His friend Yiğit, also in attendance, suggested we all meet at a gay bar in Soho because it had the greatest happy hour in town. Fede had an insane story about doing a play in Turkish after the Producers, and then almost going to acting school in Moscow despite never having really considered acting as a career, but then he got offered a way good job for the UN in Copenhagen. So.
And then, we met up with Meg and Stephen, two Seattle people whom I had only met through mutual friends on the internet, but we all share key interests — namely, Georgia, wacky travel adventures, writing, food. They’d just done a road trip in Albania and Montenegro — based on the trips I put in my book!!!! Fan club!!! I felt very special — and we all met at a Georgian restaurant called Minimo. We had to Instagram the food, and then Instagram ourselves instaframming each other.
We had an excited conversation about their trip, escaping the US of A, and then we drew the waiter into a fifteen-minute discursus of Georgian politics. It was so so great to meet them in person.
And then, we saw the Lion King on the West End.
SO it’s been a bit of a week. Very fun. I have also reported all these things out of order.
- Make a huge facebook/whatsapp messaging group with all your friends. Bandy about the idea for curry and beers. Send lots of happy or thumbs up or vomming emojis/gifs. Everyone suggests the soonest possible weekend, and the soonest possible weekend wil be inevitably shot down for a weekday or compromise weekend date.
- Three people drop out of the whatsapp/facebook messaging group before curry day, or message to say that they can’t make it.
- Everyone comes from different directions on different trains/buses/bikes/super-jumps and meets somewhere in the middle of Brick Lane. It is raining, and nobody has brought an umbrella.
- Since you haven’t obtained a quorum yet, go to the Pride of Spitalfields for a pre-dinner drink. The Pride of Spitalfields is a tiny pub full of armchairs, framed black and white pictures of pancake-necked men, and wall-to-wall red carpets stained with centuries of dried alcohol. Stand outside in the rain and drink your beer with the three other people who are on time.
- Four other people arrive, and everyone decides they are hungry enough to deny any stragglers a vote in which restaurant we end up going to.
- Start shopping for a deal. Brick Lane, before becoming a gentrified street-art-covered hipster demilitarized zone, first was a Bangla community. Every family opened up their own curry restaurant along Brick Lane, and each restaurant offers a “set menu” deal — for in between nine and twenty pounds you can get an appetizer, curry, rice, naan, and some quantity of beer. Outside each restaurant, a buyruncu will try to talk you into coming in, and bargain with you to reach a good price. The trick is to get three courses and at least two big beers for less than 13 pounds. Bargain down until you feel your guts wrench with the absolute shamelessness of what kind of a deal you’re asking for. But if you go too low, you risk creating an adversarial relationship between you and the restaurant staff. Who’s ripping who off?
- Always refuse the first deal you get and look somewhere else.
- Unless you’re me, and starving, in which case vociferously recommend that everyone take the very first restaurant you can.
- Get seated in a large group, realize there aren’t enough seats available in the restaurant for your large party, and then negotiate with the other patrons/waiters to move everyone around in a logistical curry shuffle.
- Receive a text from the last person in your group, cancelling because something came up at the last minute.
- Order. Ask for really spicy, because remember that they had to tailor their food for English people, who did not natively eat spicy food. Do not, under any circumstances, order the Tikka Masala or Butter Chicken. Again, they were created for an english palate, and taste like chicken in fancy ketchup. Get the pilau rice and the garlic naan.
- Your starters and beer arrive. Everyone is in a great mood and talking loudly/yelling. The other patrons begin to eat faster in order to escape the drunken revelery they see coming from your end of the restaurant. Half of the starters are incredible homemade bhajis or samosas, and half are from a frozen packet bought down the street. There is no way to predict which starter will be which.
- The waiters come by and try to upsell you on pappadams. You decline.
- The mains arrive. Everyone either says this is the worst or the best dish they’ve ever gotten on Brick Lane. None of them are truly spicy. You flag down a waiter and remind him of your deal, and that it included a second big beer. You feast
- The bollywood music kicks up. It is awesome.
- You are all impossibly stuffed, due to several meals’ worth of curry and fried things, combined with dense starchy carbohydrates.
- Get up one by one to pay by card, or be a lazy fatass and wait for them to bring you the card reader.
- Everyone heads to the Pride of Spitalfields for a post-curry drink. Brendon buys everyone beers and tries to get the karaoke piano guy to sing Tutira Mai Nga Iwi, which he doesn’t know, so we all settle for Piano Man. It is great.
- The next morning, a sludgy hangover. Questionable bowel movements for a day or so.
One of the main reasons we moved to London, the most culture-y city in the English-speaking world, was to be able to participate in some fun cultural arty activities. Like…we can go see a musical any time we want, and it’s pretty cheap usually — something like 15 to 25 pounds for a West End show. We can go to the library. There’s any kind of music, every neighborhood, every night.*Harriet’s already signed up for a tap dance class in Herne Hill (just two neighborhoods north of us) and I have tried several things so far. In no particular order, here are the extracurricular things I have tried:
1. Improv theatre. I learned a few favorite games and techniques, including “scene study”, a game in which you present a made-up scene from a made-up play as if you’ve been rehearsing every line/gesture/meaningful glace for an entire week. “Now we’ll see the famous ‘Barn love scene’ from the Tenessee Williams classic ‘Palaver Wednesdays Down at the Ranch”. The class is over now, it ended back in June. We met on Wendesday nights and then went to the pub after class.
2. Choir. Recently I joined the Victoria Park Singers, and they’re even doing a few songs that my college choir actually did for their Christmas concert. It’s a fun bunch of people. One of the guys is 90 years old and was a spook for MI5 during the Cold War, listening in on Soviet agents, and now he sings tenor. He was talking about learning French by immersion, and going down to meet his son in Bordeaux. What a cool guy. The choir meets on Wednesday nights and then goes down to the pub after class.
3. The London Bridge Writers’ group. I found this one on Meetup, and everyone takes a turn reading out loud whatever they’ve brought for ten minutes (~2000 words) and then everyone gives constructive criticism for about ten minutes. It’s a really supportive group with some really skilled writers. A few short stories, a YA novel in verse, fantasy, poetry, literary fiction…it’s really helpful for me, since this is my first foray into longform fiction. I’ve only read once there (both because I don’t want to crowd everyone out, and because I am a coward) but I have gotten some fabulous commentary from them and I am happy to give it in return. The writing group meets Monday nights in a room above a pub, which is convenient, because we don’t have to go anywhere else after the meeting.
As you have now surmised, English social life revolves around pubs. It’s pretty ok.
*One memorable nights out was Miranda’s birthday at a live-band piano request bar called Pianoman. They actually had a line to get in the door — maybe the first time I’ve ever had to wait in line and get accepted by a bouncer, which I thought basically only happened in LA, New York, and TV — and inside it was RAMMED. We could barely move through the throng. The band was on an elevated platform in the middle of the room, the bar was at the far end, and the rest of the place was a maze of smaller rooms and private booths and screaming humans. There were tiny pads of paper at each table for requesting songs, and then you had to submit the songs to a huge vat overflowing with slips of paper, and then the slips of paper would get transferred to the music stands of the players. I naturally came up with a way to avoid all that and picked a song that I knew would be fun for the players — “Because I Got High” by Afroman — and then gave it directly to the drummer, the most underappreciated player in any live band (next to perhaps the bassist.) They played it about five minutes later. Brendon, as usual, bought everyone too many beers and tried to get them to sing the Kiwi classic, Tutira mai Nga Iwi. This is a common pattern with him: buy beers for everyone, sing Tutira mai Nga Iwi. It is a great pattern. I always sing along.
A few weeks ago, Nina mentioned that she’d seen someone use the Ritz Theatre’s board to propose. I snapped a picture of it on the way to work:
“It’s a shit proposal,” she said.
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“You see it for two seconds on the way to work. You think: welp, that’s it.”
“That’s my proposal, I guess.”
“That’s my proposal. Moment’s done. I suppose I’m engaged now. Better start thinking about who to invite.”
“I see your point, it’s pretty unceremonious.”
“I’d want a flash mob. At least. In front of a huge crowd, lots of photographers, get to be the center of attention.”
“What if you drove by and didn’t see it? Mike would have to keep on paying for the next day until you did.”
“Or maybe we’ve just been assuming that it’s about Lynsey. Look, there’s no comma. Maybe it’s about asking Mike to marry whoever’s put up the sign.”
“Lynsey was just a red herring, you mean.”
“Exactly. Still a shit proposal, though.”
A few months ago Matt Smith visited and we went up the tallest mountain in Wales with the Kiwis. Were you aware that Britain as an island even had mountains? I was not. As I had grown up in a place where mountains are both 1) large, and 2) everywhere, it just hadn’t occured to me that the flat glacier-scraped plains of England would or could taper to a point.
We took the train up to Llandudno on the north coast of Wales. I was so nature-starved after months in the big city that even the dinky green hills and froppy surf of the Llandudno landscape got me excited.
Here is where I would post a photograph of the moutain, but it was so foggy that it took away all the majesty. We had no idea what we were climbing up half the time. We could see below us into the valleys — and the view was wonderful — but above it was just damp cloud.
The other extremely strange thing (to the visiting Alaskans and Kiwis) was how crowded it was. There were people everywhere. It felt far more like a pilgrimage up a sacred mountain than a hike in the wilderness. There was a dozen charity walking organizations, tens of schools groups, packs of people on guided tours, a race complete with trailside medics, cheerleaders and snack captains. We were on the most recommended and direct path up the mountain, I suppose, but none of us had anticipated it.
When we got to the top, we saw the trolley line that connects the summit to the base, a cafe/bar, and most bizarre of all, a stone staircase up to an artificial summit where you could take a selfie. There was at least fifty people in line.
Upon getting down the mountain we went to Sir Edmund Hilary’s favorite pub. He had apparently trained here before going up Everest.