Monday, August 31, 2009

Mission Cupcake

Recently, I accepted the mission of researching the cupcake bakeries within walking distance of my London house. I knew it would be a delicious assignment, so I carefully devised a strategy and made my plan of attack.

Cupcake shops are popping up everywhere in the city, as is evidenced in this little shop that appeared on Kings Road last spring. Can you imagine the excitement I felt to discover that the drab storefront that I often passed by while walking through the neighborhood could be transformed into such a cute shop while I was home on a two week visit to the US? LOVE is just a tiny hole in the wall, but inside there are great surprises.

I imagine that passengers on the double-decker buses passing by must hurriedly search for paper and pen to jot down the address so they can make a return visit.

Inside you'll find some of the prettiest cupcakes I've seen since starting my search

And flavors galore to choose from. Don't come too late, as I did once, because if they sell "out," then you're "out" of luck.

My "cupcake du jour" was a red velvet. Yum!

Moving further down Kings Road, you'll find the newest of the cupcake cafes I reviewed--the Chelsea Teapot. Wouldn't you love to pull up a chair here on the sidewalk with a pot of tea and a cupcake, or "fairy" cake as they are sometimes called?

The patron here has a collection of teapots and a varied menu including lunch from which to make your selection.

Don't fill up too much on lunch though, because you must save room for one of their chocolate cupcakes.

Closest to the South Kensington tube station that I use, is the ever popular Hummingbird cupcake cafe. With tables inside and out, many enjoy eating their cupcakes on the spot.

So many to choose from, it makes selecting difficult.

So when some Chicago friends were in town for a visit, we bought a lime-poppyseed, a vanilla, a red velvet and a chocolate cupcake to sample. Cutting each one into fourths, we had a cupcake smorgasbord that night with each of us getting a bite of each. All in the name of research. The lime-poppyseed was a big hit.

When our daughters-in-law were in town, Hummingbird got our vote for dessert that night.

Finally, I made the trek one day to the Buttercup bakery near High Street Kensington.

It was fun seeing their selection of flavors: mocha, Oreo cookie (hey, where did they find Oreos in London?) banana, banoffee (popular banana and toffee), coconut, vanilla with strawberry sprinkles

As well as carrot, white-n-black, vanilla, chocolate, red velvet, peanut butter

and for their American fans, the Limited Edition Elvis Presley cupcake: banana cake with peanut butter icing, just like he used to like it! Don't expect to see my cupcake purchase from here--it was such a long walk that I ate it on the spot, and then hopefully walked off the calories on the journey home.

Of course, the best cupcakes are those shared with friends

and family. So, what would be your choice if I delivered one to your door?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Summer at Trafalgar Square

If you've ever visited London, you've surely visited Trafalgar Square, a hub of activity in central London and a mecca for tourists. It is bordered on the north by the National Gallery and on the east by the church St. Martin-in-the-Fields. In the center, you'll find Nelson's Column, topped by a statue of Admiral Horatio Nelson who died in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. It is surrounded by four lions and beautiful fountains. Around the perimeter of the square are four plinths. Now, if you are learning this word for the first time, as I did recently, a plinth is a heavy base that supports a statue or vase. Oddly enough, three of the plinths have statues on them, but due to lack of funds many years ago, one of them has remained empty. Through the years, it has served to showcase various works of arts that have rotated through. A permanent use is still up for debate. Interestingly enough, a 100 day live artwork project by Antony Gormley called One and Other was proposed for this summer. From July 4- October 14, individuals have been carried to the top of the plinth by a crane, where for one hour they were given the opportunity to be the center of attention--living statues, so to speak. Up to this point, over 33,000 applicants have tried for 2400 places.

I've happened by Trafalgar Square a few times this summer, and caught a few of the participants in the act. A menagerie of UK citizens have taken this chance to have their day in the sun, or the stars, for that matter since this goes on day and night, 24/7. They've used that opportunity to recite poetry, play a game, sing, preach, rant, inspire, paint, dance, and chat. The country has been amazed by some of the things they've seen.

This fellow spent half of his alloted hour setting up to promote a specific cause: safety for bicyclists in London. Eventually he got on his bike and cycled in place with his remaining time. Many have taken this opportunity to draw attention to their cause or charity. Many have worn costumes. One even wore his birthday suit last week, until a policeman told him to put on some clothes.

I felt a lot of compassion for this fair lady who was beautifully decked out, and stood faithfully in place smiling in the pouring down rain. Here's one fun thing you can do to not miss out on the action. Until October 14, you can click on One and Other and see a live feed of who is on the plinth and what they're up to. I must add a disclaimer as the website does. None of the views or opinions expressed by the participants are endorsed by me, and I hope that when you tune in what you see will be in good taste! Check back often, there's always a show going on.
Now here's my question for you. If you had an hour and the world was your stage, just what would you do?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Up on the Roof

Living in a townhouse in London has its ups and downs--literally. Our home there is on five levels, and if you count the terrace on the rooftop, it is actually 6 levels. Homes in London are often, built up, rather than out like our home in Houston. So, on any given day, we are up and down the stairs constantly. Imagine two flights of stairs to get a drink of water when tucked in your bed at night. That's when drinking out of the bathtub faucet crosses your mind. Or if one of us is in the computer room and the other is in the TV room, it's 2 and a half flights of stairs to ask a simple question. Our guests are often caught unawares that it's an aerobic workout to their room. Both guest rooms are on the top level, so I try to train them to bring everything down they need in the morning, to save having to go back up. It's that trip up three flights to retrieve a forgotten umbrella that tends to get to them.

Once you get to the top level, there is a surprise awaiting you. A magic door electrically drops down from the ceiling at the touch of a switch. It always reminds me of something from the ET movie the way it slithers open and down. Once down you can begin your ascent to the sky.

At the top of the stairs, you'll find yourself on a rooftop terrace. The top has opened to reveal a whole new world above the busy streets. There is a warning though: if it begins to rain, the top shuts down automatically to prevent rain entering the house. My husband and I have often wondered how much time we'd have to scurry down should that scenario present itself. We really don't have a back-up plan in case the door shuts on us and leaves us stranded on the rooftop.

So we just enjoy the rooftop when the sun is shining....

From the southwest corner of the terrace you get a view of the neighborhood. The buildings in this area were built in the late 19th century. These buildings are even taller than ours, and are often divided up into "flats" or apartments on a single level.

From the southeast corner of the rooftop, you can see Christ Church, the Anglican church just across the little square at our doorway

and the primary school run by the church. The children gather there on school days just before nine o'clock and then leave about 3 o'clock. It's quite an entertaining show to watch.

From the northwest corner, you can lean out and see the length of the street all the way to Kings Road at the end, a major shopping high street.

Standing at the northeast corner, you look out over a sea of chimneys.

And I'm always reminded of the song Chim, Chim Cheree from Mary Poppins.

I choose me bristles with pride, yes, I do
A broom for the shaft and a brush for the flute
Up where the smoke is all billered and curled
'Tween pavement and stars is the chimney sweep world
When there's 'ardly no day nor 'ardly no night
There's things 'alf in shadow and 'alfway in light
On the rooftops of London coo, what a sight!

And if you'd care to sing along....

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Let the Music Transport You

It's summer and there's music in the air. You'll find music everywhere you turn in London. Bands performing in the parks

Musicians in the street,

on the sidewalks,

and even in the tube stations. There are over 300 singers and musicians who are authorized and licensed buskers who can entertain commuters on the underground. For two hours at a time, they give their best song while standing on designated "pitches." The program is called Let the Music Transport You, and I happen to be one of those commuters who enjoy the music while I'm rushing from Point A to Point B.

This summer, a competition for young musicians from ages 16-25 has been sponsored with the grand prize being a year-long license as a busker on the underground. Each selected participant had a 2o minute time slot to make their impression. Now it's up to voters to decide on their favorites. You can hear one of them when you click the photo above, but if you care to hear more, all the performances can be found at the Rhythm of London website.

One of the most entertaining options London had to offer this summer was their "Play Me I'm Yours" campaign. For three weeks, 30 pianos were placed around town outdoors in public spaces, and they were available for spontaneous music by passers-by. I spotted my first piano on the walk leading up to St. Paul's Cathedral. A young girl was plunking the keys much to the delight of pedestrians walking by. You can hear some of her performance by clicking the arrow. After serving on the streets, the pianos were donated to local school and community groups. Do-re-mi never sounded so good and certainly put a song in the heart of summer in London.

Trinny and Susannah Invade America

Pardon this interruption, but I think you might be interested in knowing that Trinny and Susannah are invading America. Starting Friday night, August 21 at 10 PM ET/PT, their new show, Making Over America with Trinny and Susannah comes to TLC for a 6 series run. A repeat of that show will run on Saturday at 3 PM ET. Wildly popular in the UK ever since they began with their show What Not To Wear in 2001, they have been running around Britain ambushing women who are fashion challenged and helping them find clothing that more appropriately flatters their body shape.

Daily London UK

Currently they are starring in Trinny and Susannah Undress the Nation in the UK, where they diagnose women's fashion flaws and write them a prescription for a new look. Here in the US, you perhaps know them for their popular appearances on Oprah and for several books they have authored. The first US episode, they make over a Virginia cheer leading coach who has a few things to learn. All in fun, they are known to be quite cheeky and worth setting the video recorders to catch the first show. I'll be watching--let me know what you think of their British humor and advice on style.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Musical Summer

London is considered by many to be the theater capital of the world, with an incredible offering of entertaining shows available to choose from. One of my favorite things to do is to take advantage of the wealth of musicals that are staged there. This summer, with a lot of guests passing through, we've gone to several shows that we've enjoyed. In May, we saw the smash hit of Billy Elliot, the musical based on the hit film of the same name. The story is set in North East England during the historic 1984-5 miners strike. Billy, the son of a miner, dreams of becoming a dancer, much to the disapproval of his family. The show is full of energy, passion and some incredible dancing by the young boys who share the role. It opened in NYC this past year and recently took home 10 Tony Awards. Next spring, it will open in Chicago, so catch it where you can. It's a great feel-good story.

In June, we saw the revival of A Little Night Music which first opened in New York in 1973. The musical is based on Ingmar Bergman's film Smiles of a Summer Night. The play is set in 19th century Sweden and tells the story of several romances, primarily centered around the romance between an actress, Desiree Armfeldt and her lover, Frederik, who has recently married an 18 year old "trophy wife."

We found the play to be witty and charming, and enjoyed hearing performed one of its featured songs Send in the Clowns. That song sure brings back a lot of memories. The musical closed in London at the end of July, and it is reported to be opening in New York in December. If you can't catch it there, how about when it opens in Paris in February 2010 at the Theatre du Chatelet with two of my favorites, Kristin Scott Thomas and Leslie Caron?

One of the highlights of our summer was attending the hit War Horse, which is drawing in capacity crowds. The story is set during World War I and revolves around a young soldier and the horse he loves. The story is based on a children's novel of the same name. It is such a touching story and an amazing spectacle at the same time. The horses are actually 7 foot tall puppets manipulated by 3 puppeteers. Even though we had seats on the second row, we were mesmerized by how lifelike the horses were. You can read more about it on the War Horse website.

Here's a short clip for you to see. Good news for those of you who might get to New York before London, rumor has it that it is coming to New York. See this article for more information about that possibility.

When our kids were in London, we all saw Jersey Boys, the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. We loved it and couldn't stop singing the songs for days. A new generation of fans!

The girls and I saw Phantom of the Opera on their last afternoon in town. The big news there is that Andrew Lloyd Webber has written a sequel to the story called Phantom:Love Never Dies. A lot of buzz about this one. It is set 10 years later at the fairgrounds on Coney Island where the Phantom and Christine are "reunited." Just what that means, I guess we'll have to wait and see. The latest word is that it will open in London next year, and then in New York in 2011. That has changed several times, so stay tuned and I'll keep you posted on the London end. In the meantime, keep a song in your heart, and stay tuned for the next post when I'll share more about music in London.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Do you speak English?

Speaking English ought to be a fairly easy task, but sometimes it can be a bit baffling. I knew I was in trouble when using Facebook on my computer in England, when it kept asking me if I wanted to translate into English, and when my spell check kept telling me to spell "color" as "colour."
I've found there are a host of words which are not the same as they cross the Atlantic. Of course, the pronunciation of the words is another topic completely, but there is no way I can share those with you with only text. I can share with you some words that differ from one continent to the other, and let you learn along with me some of the differences. For example: a car trunk in England is the boot. And Boot sales would be comparable to our garage sales in the South. Participants will pull up their cars in a planned area such as a school yard, grassy park or community area. Of course, these would be outside of London, since there are so few places to even park a car in London, much less enough area for a boot sale. At the sale, sellers will sell their unwanted household goods for a little bit of spending money.
When my friend from Texas spotted gentlemen lined up outside a shop window peering through the glass at a TV, she merely commented that they were there watching soccer, but she was quickly reminded that they were there for football, madam, not soccer. The list goes on and on, so I've decided to add a section on the right sidebar of my blog, where from time to time, I will give you more samples of words that confuse. Check it out and you can be enlightened along with me!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

British Issue of Victoria Magazine

Hot off the presses, so get your copy now, Victoria magazine has just issued its British issue for the fall here in the United States. If you are familiar with Victoria magazine, you know you're in for a treat thumbing through its newest issue with a focus on Britain.

Here's your chance to escape for the afternoon as the magazine takes you on a tour of unique seaside villages

up and down the coastline from Sussex to Kent.

You'll tour Leeds Castle and be introduced to a few more abbeys, cathedrals and castles.

Even more information is found online at their website about one of my favorite shopping areas, Marylebone Village. There you'll find pictures of shop called The Button Queen, where you'd be hard pressed to not find the button you needed

and VV Rouleaux, an incredible ribbon and trim shop

as well as Daunt Books, an original Edwardian travel bookshop where you can immerse yourself in the country of your dreams.

Featured in the magazine and online is La Fromagerie, one of the best cheese shops in England with a small cafe for light meals. I love the animation on their website. Hmmmm... I think another visit to Marylebone village is now on my list and I'll be sure and show you more photos, and tease you with more of the fun shopping and dining you can find there. Until then, grab an issue of Victoria magazine on the newsstands and be transported away.

Photos from Victoria magazine, Wikimedia and