A Brisk January Walk

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It is definitely January in London: Christmas trees with dried out needles heaped in the middle of the pavement waiting to be collected, shiny pavements from incessant rain, dark walks home in the evening, sales in all the shop windows and everyone on diets. I returned from the Canary Islands quite refreshed though. It’s amazing what a bit of sunshine can do.

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But back to the dark rainy days in this city, it’s been preferable to spend my free time curled up with a travel magazine and a cup of tea than go out exploring much with my camera, hence the lack of London posts!

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I did head out over the weekend though to meet an old friend who was here from the States.

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We started at Liverpool street and wandered for a while.

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We walked up Brick Lane, past the guy selling pineapples with little pink umbrellas as if this were the Caribbean, past the mixed aromas of cuisines of so many different countries wafting out of the Sunday UpMarket, past the murals and love locks around Shoreditch station.

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And a few bits of street art I hadn’t seen yet.

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Then we walked through the City where everything is eerily closed on the weekend and along the north of the river, all the way to the bright lights of Piccadilly Circus.

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But it was more talking and catching up then exploring.

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I didn’t take very many but couldn’t resist a few pictures along the way.

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I’ve been focusing on different things since this year began: my new blog Little Observationist, where I’ve been posting much more often than here. I’d love it if you’d follow me there. It will start to include London stories soon.

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I’m also working on some freelance writing, learning more Spanish since it’s always going to be a part of my life now, planning our wedding for June, baking once in a while and updating my Etsy shop.

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So tell me, how was your transition from 2013 to 2014? Any good New Year’s stories? Resolutions? What are you most looking forward to this year? Update me…!

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December in Duke of York Square Market

When I was interviewed about my photography exhibition by Stuart from Inspiring City last month, we met near Duke of York Square on a Saturday – the only day of the week that the market springs to life.

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The first thing he said to me was, “You know you’re in Chelsea when there’s people sipping oysters in the local market.”

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Yes, there are buckets and crates of oysters, served front and centre when you pass by along the King’s Road. I haven’t tried them, but people seem to enjoy them.

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One of favourite vendors in the market so far is the duck confit people who make “the best duck sandwich in Chelsea”. It’s the only one I’ve come across anyway, so I’d vouch for that.

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Another good one is the dumpling stall. They are always fresh and tasty and the vendors are quite cheerful.

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The pie and quiche stall offerings look pretty delicious too but I haven’t given them a try yet.

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If you’re after a quick snack, stop by the Brazilian table for a Coxinha De Galinha.

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Plenty of samples are waiting to be snitched as well.

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There’s other goodies to take home like buckets filled up with many flavours of olives.

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You can choose a nice bit of fish to wrap up for dinner.

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Then there’s sweets. Mountains of sweets.

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And tasty loaves of bread in different flavours.

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And cakes.

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And more cakes.

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And more cakes.

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And more cakes.

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And piles of meringue.

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And rows of sweets.

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Finding desert won’t be a problem then (or if none of those appeal, there’s occasionally a donut stall too).

I also found something else that made me very happy to see: Colombian fruit – a whole table full of it – lulos, sapotes! When I lived in Colombia, the fruit was one of my favourite things and while I realised that ultimately I don’t belong in a tiny mountain village, there are a few things I miss. This is one of them.

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They also had what we called mamones. They are sold in bags along the roadside, especially on the journey to Bogota and you occasionally see the shells and pits flying out of truck windows and littering the ground in traffic jams. You bite into the shell of the tiny round fruit and scrape the small amount of flesh off of the pit in the middle using your front teeth. It’s more a way to pass the time than pass the hunger. Here they are 10 for £10, but they were dirt cheap for huge bags full in Colombia. (Here’s the first three months worth of Little Colombia Observationist if you’re interested. Unfortunately I switched to wordpress.org for the second three months and ended up losing the domain when I came back to London.)

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Around the holiday season, the mulled wine and chestnuts arrive along with a stall selling wreaths. One reason I’m always drawn to markets is that they are almost always lively and colourful. Another reason is for the smorgasbord of smells: the hot apple cider, then the fried dumplings, then the cheese wheels, then the stacks of fudge and the chorizo sandwiches. People tend to be in a bit of a jollier mood too.

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Especially in the Summer, the square fills up with friends chatting and laughing. It’s a brilliant place for people watching. I spent hours there with my parents when they were here on a hot day a few months ago. There’s plenty to do nearby as well so it’s nice to make a day of it. Saatchi Gallery, one of my favourites, is just behind the market. The whole of King’s Road is filled with shops (try Claudie Pierlot – my new favourite), cafes (love Joe and the Juice) and places to eat (Sushinho!). There’s the Curzon Cinema as well. Plus, Hyde Park (and all the museums around Exhibition Road) and Battersea Park are within easy walking distance. (Here’s a little walk around Chelsea post in case you missed it with some other ideas).

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If you have kids, take them to chat with Santa.

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And, if you’re excited about sweet American treats like I am, you’ll be happy to visit the Partridges on the other side of the market. Jorge bought me some mini fruity marshmallows the other day and I picked up some Swiss Miss hot chocolate to accompany them. Mmmm, childhood in a mug.

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Now we just need some snow…Here’s a photo from last year to help you get in the Wintery mood.

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(Catch me on my other blog, Little Observationist, as well.)

Keep On Believing: My Top 5 Record Shops in London

matt-lindleyThis is a guest post written by Matt Lindley. Matt is a London-based music listener and analogue synth fan. He likes physical formats, free-improvisation and folk. You can find him on Twitter @MattELindley.

I don’t often write about music so I thought it would be an interesting topic by  someone who does!

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London is still a great place for buying secondhand vinyl, despite the closure of many record shops, including On the Beat in Soho, where the owner has just put the entire store on eBay. The shops that are thriving tend to be the ones that really understand the needs of the average record buyer these days.

The typical London vinyl addict possibly isn’t looking for a first edition Led Zeppelin VI or Dark Side of the Moon LP anymore. They’re after something more obscure, like a lost New Zealand post-punk classic or a Norwegian black metal LP. The shops that cater to their needs by offering a carefully-curated selection of hard-to-find titles and the in-store aesthetics to match will probably live forever.

A visit to a local record shop will always offer much more than buying used vinyl on eBay. It is a place to discover new music, meet like-minded people and try before you buy in a way that you can’t do online. I am sure that music fans will continue to support their local record shops, as long as they believe in them. Anyway, here are five London record shops that are getting it right.

KRISTINA RECORDS
44 Stoke Newington Road, London N16 7XJ
www.kristinarecords.com

kristina-records-dalstonPhoto from Kristina Records website

Kristina Records only opened two and a half years ago – after the supposed death of the high street record store – which goes to show that if you sell the right kind of music to the right people, you will be successful. The shop takes up a small, well-designed space in Dalston (reminding me of Record Grouch in Brooklyn) and mainly sells underground music of all varieties (Minimal Techno, Noise, 80s Industrial, Free-Jazz, American Primitive). The stock is split 60/40 between secondhand and new vinyl and has been well-curated and categorised. It is definitely my favourite place in London for avant-garde and experimental sounds now that Second Layer has closed down.

ONE TO TAKE HOME WITH YOU: Goblin Buio Omega Soundtrack LP (AMS) £26

HONEST JONS
278 Portobello Road, London W10 5TE
www.honestjons.com

Honest Jons
Photo: Honest Jons by flickr_b3rn

Honest Jon’s is a long-standing Notting Hill record shop that specialises in soul, jazz and reggae. It opened in 1974 and offers lovingly reissued global classics alongside a treasure trove of secondhand gems. The Honest Jon’s record label was established in 2001 in collaboration with regular customer and Blur frontman Damon Albarn. It was formed partly out of necessity, as the opportunities to travel to the US, Brazil and Africa to buy rare records became less and less viable. The label issues brilliant, pioneering dance music. For this reason alone, not to mention the great selection of used titles, you should check out this Ladbroke Grove legend.

ONE TO TAKE HOME WITH YOU: Brokenhearted Dragonflies Insect Electronica From Southeast Asia (Sublime Frequencies) £17.99

SOUNDS OF THE UNIVERSE
7 Broadwick Street, Soho, London W1F 0DA
www.soundsoftheuniverse.com

Sounds of the Universe, Record Store Day, Berwick Street, London 20/04/2013
Photo: Sounds of the Universe by David Jones 大卫 琼斯

Sounds of the Universe is my favourite record shop in Soho, specialising in reggae, dub, Brazilian Tropicalia, African funk and other global sounds. Upstairs is devoted to brand new vinyl and CDs while, in true record shop fashion, the downstairs basement is bulging with original vinyl. What makes it worth visiting is the passionate, knowledgeable staff and their dedication to unearthing the best sounds from around the world. Sounds of the Universe is also home to Soul Jazz Records, who have released some amazing crate-digging compilations of dancehall, acid house and German experimental rock over the years.

ONE TO TAKE HOME WITH YOU: Gregory Isaacs Showcase original LP (Taxi) £25

FLASHBACK
50 Essex Road, Islington, London N1 8LR
www.flashback.co.uk

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hoto: Flashback by Eric Huang

Flashback in Islington has been operating since 1997 and has always been about secondhand stock. But since the music industry started to press most new releases on vinyl, they now sell brand new titles as well. New vinyl and CDs can be found upstairs, but the used vinyl in the basement is really where it’s at. This is the place to find lost classics leaning heavily towards the rock/punk/alternative end of the spectrum (my favourite) at reasonable prices. Whether you are after an everyday playing copy of a grunge classic or an £800 pristine first pressing of Shirley Collins’ Sweet England, Flashback should have something for you. This and Haggle Vinyl make Islington a great place to live for record hounds.

ONE TO TAKE HOME WITH YOU: Flaming Lips Clouds Taste Metallic LP (original US green vinyl) £30

RAT RECORDS
348 Camberwell New Road, London SE5 0RW
www.ratrecordsuk.net

Rat Records, Camberwell, SE5
Photo: Rat Records, Camberwell by Ewan Munro

Trading since 1998, Rat Records sells a extensive range of secondhand reggae, soul, punk and classic rock to Camberwell’s eclectic local community. Owner Tom Fisher has been dealing in records for 24 years and seriously knows his stuff. For example, in his record buying time, he has discovered the only vinyl acetate pressing of a collaboration between Mick Jagger and John Lennon. What I like about Rat Records is the fact that they put out fresh stock every Saturday morning, so you can get there early and be sure to bag a bargain. The LPs are rarely priced at more than £8, so you will probably find something below list price, too.

ADDITIONAL INFO:

Record Store Day is an annual event taking place in record shops across the UK every April. Many London record shops participate by offering exclusive vinyl-only releases and putting on in-store gigs and events. Also, if you are visiting the capital from out of town and are looking for accommodation, I’d recommend checking out HotelClub.

A Delivery of American Goodies

It’s Thanksgiving this week – a holiday that brings back fond memories from my childhood of tables full of turkey and family visiting from out of town. It’s one that I tend to forget about these days though. I haven’t had a Thanksgiving in New York since I moved to London in 2007, so the date almost always just fades in with all the others.

Last week Thursday I had an exciting delivery at work in celebration of Thanksgiving – a gift basket from Ocado full of American goodies (perks of being an American expat blogger…)!

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There were Snyders pretzel bites, sesame flatbreads, bagel crisps, Kraft mac and cheese, egg nog, samuel adams (which I’ve donated to Jorge), a Reeses (which went to my colleague Amy)…

American snacks from Ocado

…and my favourite: Lucky charms. Magically delicious. I used to eat these all the time when I was a kid and even now when I go home my mom always has a box on hand for me.

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Now I just need to decide on whether or not I feel like cooking turkey after work on Thursday or if I will just settle in with my box of Lucky Charms and some eggnog…

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How about you? Are you celebrating Thanksgiving in London, my fellow American expats? If you’re not American or British, are there other holidays that you had back home that you celebrate abroad? I’d love to hear about them!

Listen to a Londoner: Suzi Brown

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I received an email the other day inviting me to a little shindig to kick off something called “Mama Brown’s Pop-Up Experience”. The message said it involved fashion, all sorts of art (including”specially curated graffiti”), the offer of some Monday evening drinks, a spot of shopping with local artisan vendors, food (always important) – in particular, home-cooked Middle Eastern treats and some comfy lounge-style sofas.

What could be better apart from the fact that it’s set in the old abandoned Victorian post office on King’s Road that’s always intrigued me and the fact that it’s less than two minutes walk from our flat? Yes, please. Count me in.

So I decided to interview the brains behind this operation to find out what it’s really all about and, well, who exactly is “Mama Brown”? Turns out she’s Suzi Brown and she’s a pretty fascinating person indeed. She’s well travelled, has a light installation in her dining room from a Saudi Arabian artist and she believes in cooking good food and bringing together people from all walks of life. Read on for more.

(Note: These are press photos throughout besides a couple from Mama Brown’s Facebook page, but I’ll be sure to take some to share with you at the event on Monday night!)

Mama Brown's

LLO: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background. What’s your favourite London discovery?
SB: I was born in Baghdad, Iraq, and grew up in Lebanon. When the war started in 1975, I came to the UK to study at Oxford and then went on to Richmond College and earned a BA in Art History. London is now my home. There’s nowhere like it. It is the centre of the modern world, yet it maintains a rich sense of history and tradition. That’s what gives London its edge and that’s why people keep coming back. Just when you think you know it, London presents another side that you never even knew existed. It is then that you realise you’ve only just scratched the surface of this amazing city. Discovery is the norm in this eclectic and international place.

Brooski Jewellery

LLO: The old Victorian post office on King’s Road will host your upcoming event “Mama Brown’s Pop-Up Experience”. What can we expect from the “experience”? What will the atmosphere be like? Also, talk a bit about your choice of venue.
SB: When I first walked into the post office on King’s Road, it was in a sad state –  dirty and grimy, with no source of water or power. But there was something about the space that I knew would lend itself well to what I wanted to do with Mama Brown’s. It was huge, cavernous, and gritty. It was like working with a blank canvass, “tabula rasa“.  We immediately seized the challenge of transforming the space into what it is now. The atmosphere is a bit of London’s East End meets London’s West End. Mama Brown’s is bringing a bit of Shoreditch street flavour to the posh neighbourhood of Chelsea.

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LLO: What prompted you to set up the first Mama Brown’s Pop-Up Experience over the Summer and where was it? What were the highlights? What’s new this time? 
SB: The first Mama Brown’s was at Holland Park. It was hugely successful as it was an intimate setting where art, design, culture and cuisine came together. Apart from the amazing showcase of merchandise that came from all around the world, people were very much impressed by the organic Middle Eastern food that was served fresh every day. That was definitely a highlight.The idea was born through my love of bringing people from all walks of life together at huge communal tables – each person sharing his or her own experiences in life, culture, food and art. But this time, I want to take things even further by making the experience even more memorable, more enriching, more impressively festive. Of course, Mama Brown’s will still have the same heart and soul that made people fall in love with it the first time around, but we have a few more surprises up our sleeves that are sure to delight. There will be more art to admire, more beautiful merchandise and even better food. We are bringing in lots of new vendors whose items you will fall in love with.

Torula Bags

LLO: Tell us about a couple of the stand out vendors who will be there on King’s Road. 
SB: It’s difficult to name only two as all of them are stand outs in my opinion. Each one is bringing in something totally different from the other. What makes Mama Brown’s different and unique is that all these amazing designers, whether they are established or up-and-coming, will be found under one roof.

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LLO: Give us your top choice of gift for holiday shoppers looking to buy something fun at Mama Brown’s Pop-Up Experience for each of the following:
SB:
Mum: A beautiful and ornate cashmere shawl
Dad: A pair of exquisite cufflinks
Brother: A cool, one-off designer shirt
Best girl friend: Gorgeous accessories for everyday
Boyfriend:  A holiday weekend bag or a nice leather iPad cover with his initials

LLO: I hear there will be “specially curated graffiti” on display at the event. What sort of specially curated graffiti? Also, with artist Ben Wilson’s recent chewing gum art trail down King’s Road, do you think Chelsea’s becoming more open minded about embracing street art? Or will it stay in the east?
SB: The space we have was a virtual blank slate and we had to think of ways to aesthetically transform it whilst keeping the edgy character of the place intact. Graffiti is the one art form that we felt would allow us to do this.  But it couldn’t just be any graffiti. The style had to reflect what Mama Brown’s is all about – avant-garde, yet classic; street, yet clean and functional. Yes, we are in Chelsea, yet we are bringing some edge to it. Ben Wilson’s chewing gum art on the King’s Road is a breath of fresh air. It tells us that the neighbourhood can appreciate beauty in all forms.

Year Zero Bag

LLO: What is your favourite piece of art in your private collection?
SB: It would definitely be the Ahmed Mater light installation in my dining room. It is difficult to explain why. Art is art and it speaks to each one of us differently. That’s why art is so special, isn’t it?

Imperial Collection Vodka

LLO: Where does your love of cooking come from? What will we be eating at Mama Brown’s Pop Up Experience?
SB: When you are a mother of five children, you learn how to diversify and experiment when it comes to cooking! Apart from that, I was exposed to some of the best cuisine from an early age, growing up in an Arabic household. I am an avid traveller and I believe one of the best ways to experience culture is through food. I bring the flavours and tastes of my travels to every dinner party I host and to every meal I prepare for my loved ones. Mama Brown’s is a labour of love. What better way to show my guests my appreciation than by preparing some of my best-loved Arabic dishes at Mama Brown’s?

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LLO: What’s your favourite holiday season tradition and why? Any holiday season pet peeves?
SB: It would have to be the time I get to spend with my family over the winter break. We have a tradition of travelling to a corner of the globe that we have never been to. Last year, we spent a glorious three weeks in Vietnam and Cambodia. It was amazing – totally immersing ourselves in a new culture. Apart from spending time lounging on tropical beaches, we did some really interesting things that we’ll never forget, like planting rice in rice paddies. Pet peeves? I abhor packing and tourist traps!

Communal Table

LLO: You’ve been called “London’s ultimate hostess”. That’s a big name to live up to! What are your top three hosting tips for the rest of us?
SB: A big name to live up to, indeed! If I didn’t love bringing people together, I would never do it. I love to host and I do it very frequently – whether it’s a small intimate dinner with my closest friends or a big party until the early hours.

Top three tips:
1. Food made with love. Everyone loves a delicious meal. It’s what people remember most at the end of the night.
2. Introduce new blood. Always make it a point to bring in a few new faces each time you entertain. It makes things more interesting.
3. Create a fun atmosphere with no stress.

Thanks Suzi!

Mama Brown’s Pop-Up Experience is located at 232 King’s Road, Chelsea and will be open to the public from the 26th of November until the 15th of December (Tuesday-Sunday, 10:00am-7:00pm).