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A marathon trip to London

Written by Chaz on 26 November 2012

In early September, my mother and I joined my aunt Jan, uncle Ash and cousin Maggie on a whirlwind trip to England for my second cousin Stuart’s wedding. Though we were only on the other side of the pond for about three days, we managed to see, do and eat quite a bit — and, of course, we attended a lovely wedding.

I arrived early Thursday morning from Boston and met my aunt, uncle and cousin for a winding trip through the English countryside on several buses and trains to the small town of Guildford, our home base for the first few days of our trip. My mother’s flight had hit some snags, putting her arrival a few hours later — hours that I put to good use catching up on sleep.

After we were all arrived, rested and cleaned up a bit, we walked down to Guildford’s high street and met Cathie, my mother’s cousin and mother of the groom, for a light lunch. We were all ravenous, not having eaten since our flights, and I enjoyed a beautiful and tasty sandwich of brie, grapes, walnuts and greens.

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We spent the remainder of the afternoon walking around the town, the highlight of which is the ruins of an old castle. On the castle grounds, we found some exciting rounds of a game called “bowls” taking place. After our exploration, we met the British wing of our family for a great dinner in Guildford and retreated to our hotel.

IMG_7188IMG_7203IMG_7210My aunt Jan, cousin Maggie and I.

Never ones to let an opportunity pass by, my mother and I rose early the next morning and boarded an early train to London to see the Queen’s jewelry, on exhibition in conjunction with her diamond jubilee. This was not the so-called crown jewels, but rather the jewelry the Queen herself actually wears for important events.

Our train into the city was full of British schoolchildren in uniforms. Basically it was the Hogwarts Express. Before long, we had arrived at Victoria Station, just a short walk from the palace.

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The state rooms and the diamond exhibition were stunning. Unfortunately, photography was prohibited, but we saw quite a few huge rocks, including the tiara and necklace the Queen wore in her diamond jubilee portrait. The tour ended with a walk through the palace grounds.

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A short train ride later, we were getting ready for the wedding, which was followed by toasts, dinner and dancing. It was a terrific night with our English family.

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On Saturday, we packed up and returned to London, where we were spending the weekend. After dropping our things at our hotel, we tubed to the Thames’ south bank, where my mother and I explored the Real Food Market at Southbank Centre. We composed our lunch out of several cuisines from the market’s many stands.

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We walked along the river to the Tate Modern, where we saw the Munch exhibit — which, strangely, was almost entirely on loan from the Munch Museum in Oslo, which I had seen three years prior, to the point where I wondered if the museum in Oslo could even still be open. Returning to our hotel, we got in a short rest before leaving London again to join our family for a relaxed dinner in Teddington, home of the newlyweds.

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We rose early again on Sunday to meet my second cousin Elise and her husband Nadson to see the Paralympics marathon. Though the London Olympics had ended before our visit began, the Paralympics were still going on, so we were able to get a taste of the event that had captured the world’s attention a few weeks earlier. The route went right by our hotel in front of Buckingham Palace.

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As we walked back to our hotel across Green Park, we caught the wheelchair heat of the race. The whole event was very inspiring and captured the best of the Olympic spirit.

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Bidding farewell to Elise and Nadson, we picked up our things from our hotel and met Ash, Jan and Maggie at upscale department store Fortnum & Mason‘s Fountain Restaurant for brunch. I enjoyed a delicious pea soup while my mother opted for eggs benedict.

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After brunch, we took a cab to the train and were shortly on the train speeding toward Heathrow. It was a terrific short trip to England, and it was especially wonderful to be able to see our British relatives again — not to mention the sights we fit in between the festivities!

A different Thanksgiving flavor

Written by Emmy on 8 January 2012

Thanksgiving is firmly an American holiday. No one else celebrates it and to all other nations, it’s just a random Thursday in November. So then you might wonder how the Liss family wound up in the international terminal of JFK the night before Thanksgiving. Well, along with turkey and parades, the other important feature of Thanksgiving is family. And since the Liss family was split across two continents this fall, we decided to meet somewhere in the middle. The Pilgrims escaped England and came to Plymouth Rock; we opted to go back.

Given that we were going to London, I did not anticipate the traditional feast of stuffing and cranberry sauce. Everyone at work joked that I would be having fish and chips for Thanksgiving dinner. But when going to London, I would not put British food at the tip-top of my eating to-do list. Sure, shepherd’s pie and bangers and mash may have their moments (not necessarily moments I would opt to take part in), but the real appeal of London eating is the ubiquitous presence of ethnic food from all corners of the globe.

From the moment we landed, that could not have been more apparent. One of our first stops on Thursday morning was Borough Market, where restaurants and chefs from all over the city had set up stalls and were preparing gourmet offerings of all varieties. After sampling several different curries, I selected a Vietnamese spicy chicken dish for lunch. The widespread offerings appeased the various spice thresholds of all members of my family. While I was sweating through my curry, my mom enjoyed a veggie frittata.

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Another Liss had a duck sandwich and we all sampled our fair share of baked goods and cheeses.

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IMG_7539We did plenty of sightseeing and museum-going on our trip to London, but given what blog I’m writing this recap on, I’m really just going to jump from meal to meal. (Which is essentially how we conducted our vacation anyway.)

Our meals really varied in terms of their country of origin. I don’t think two of them overlapped. For Thanksgiving dinner we checked out Gwyneth Paltrow’s favorite French restaurant. She was not there, but her cookbook was very much on display. It was not a venue made for taking food photos, but suffice it to say that we had a very delicious and very atypical dinner for the third Thursday in November.

On Friday, the fact that we were all mentally in different time zones and in different physical states of exhaustion meant that some of us ate breakfast at 10 am, some of us ate brunch at noon and then we required lunch and afternoon snacks at varying times. It wasn’t the most coordinated or recorded day in eating history, but we managed to tuck in a few good items and explore a few fun London neighborhoods along the way.

At dinnertime we headed to a collection of streets known as Shepherd Market, which are lined with ethnic restaurants from around the globe. We passed Irish, Italian, a Polish-Mexican bistro and several other unexpected nationalities. We settled on Turkish, always a big hit with the Liss family.

This summer exposed me to depths of Southeast Asian cuisine that I never could have imagined and it is definitely one of my favorites, but the only type of food that potentially beats it in my mind is that from the Mediterranean. I love the fresh salads, the mezzes, the heavy use of eggplant and the presence of spices found in few other places than the Mediterranean coasts and the Middle East.

IMG_7550My love for mezze is shared by the entire Liss family and so we went a little aggressive on our appetizers. We started with hummus, which was served with a thick baked bread (as opposed to the pita we typically see in Turkish restaurants in the U.S.); a shepherd’s salad (greek salad sans lettuce); falafel; eggplant roasted with tomatoes; and babaganoush, eggplant dip served with pomegranate seeds. I love babaganoush and on occasion it falls a little flat. This rendition did not disappoint.

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We had ordered full main courses too (isn’t Thanksgiving supposed to be about gluttony?) and I was quite excited about mine. Not surprisingly, I had ordered the item red-flagged as spicy: the chicken meatball pot. My meatballs, which had first been grilled to fiery perfection, were served in a spicy broth alongside several roasted vegetables. The entire dish was delivered to me with a side of rice to serve as a much-needed buffer. All in all, delicious.

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Despite the disclaimer above, you still might be perplexed as to why this post about London features no pictures of the London Bridge or mentions of the changing of the palace guard and only discusses food. Well, actually, you read this blog. So maybe not. But in actuality, the Liss family has been to London before and we have done the famous museums and sights. On this trip, we really tried to take a different approach — one of exploring more untouched neighborhoods and places — and that just happens to coincide well with the general theme of the checkpoint.

On Saturday, we strolled around one of the city’s more hipster neighborhoods and wandered into a department store filled with oddities and funny art installations. Familial hilarity ensued.

IMG_7613Three-fifths of the Liss fam amuse themselves in front of a series of mirror-plated walls.

On the top floor of the department store is an adorable restaurant — adorable both because it is impossibly tiny, with all patrons crowded against one wall at skinny tables, and adorable because of the beautiful fresh foods bountifully on display. Most of the dishes are organic and veggie-heavy and provide a somewhat updated twist on classic British techniques, like stuffing your food into pie form.

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After waiting a while, we squeezed into a table in the back. (We had been ready to give up and try for something else, but a local native who now lives in New York told us that this was his favorite lunch place in the whole city and the spot he always returns to when he comes back to visit.) I tried one of the veggie pies, filled with cauliflower and cheese, and it was delightful.

In my experience, Christmas decorations start springing up in New York right after Thanksgiving. Since Thanksgiving isn’t officially celebrated in London, the holiday season appeared to already be fully in bloom. All of the avenues were lined with beautiful lights and twinkling snowflakes and a Christmas festival had completely taken over one of the major parks. Between meals, we managed to observe some of the local festivity.

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On Saturday night we partook in a little Chinese food, flinging our palettes further around the globe. Chinese food in London is really quite similar to Chinese food in New York, though both are quite different from the native version we saw in Hong Kong. It’s funny how that works.

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Our quick trip to the old continent ended Sunday afternoon in order to get everyone back in place for school and work on Monday. So on Sunday morning we got up early to make the most of the day.

We headed to the Columbia Road flower market, in a neighborhood of East London outside the central city that none of us had been to before. The main avenue of this up-and-coming neighborhood was lined in flowers for purchase. Locals picked up Christmas wreaths, red roses and — my favorite — big, bright sunflowers. Tucked into a back alley we found a local flea market, coffee shop and neighborhood musicians. As tourists, we were definitely in the minority. Most people appeared to be locals partaking in a weekly tradition.

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From the flower market we wandered into other uncharted territories, determined to seek out one final epicurean adventure before departing. We found ourselves in food hall that reminded me almost of the giant food halls we visited in Bangkok. Vendor after vendor was crammed into the covered space, each hawking their products and offering samples. Communal picnic tables could be found in the back for diners of all establishments to use. The only major difference was that in Bangkok, all the vendors were proffering the exact same foods — pad thai, basil chicken and other wok creations. The diversity here in London was a bit wider…

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Chalk it up to the deja vu I was feeling for the Siamese capital, but I made a beeline for the stall titled “Thai Delicious” and made friends with the Thai transplant chef and her British husband. I sampled their wares before going with the green chicken curry, served atop a bed of noodles and accompanied by a do-it-yourself toppings bar. I was quite pleased as I recognized the little peppers Big Mama taught us to add to our sauces for a very particular hint of spice.

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From the market we headed almost directly to Heathrow, ending our whirlwind of a long weekend in London. It may not have been the traditional Thanksgiving, but the five of us were all together, which is in essence the important part of the holiday. So this year it was over French fish and Chinese noodles, but we can always have turkey next year. And as a small token of the tradition we were commemorating by all being together on a random Thursday in November, we did have pecan pie.

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