Monday, April 21, 2014

If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you

Just back from a wonderful week in London. We are fortunate to get over there a few times every year, always for different reasons, and always with fantastic times had and special memories made.

This trip was no exception as it was unique in so many ways. First, we were there for the purpose of bringing my nephew to his first Arsenal game, his bar mitzvah gift that it took us a year to plan due to school, his sports and Arsenal's home game schedule. Arsenal did us a favor of staying in the FA Cup competition which allowed us to take him to not one, but two games while we were over; one at Wembley and one at the glorious Emirates stadium. I say glorious with every bit of fact and proof to back it up, as one of the great parts of our visit, generously care of my in-laws, was a Legends tour of the Arsenal stadium with the one and only Perry Groves. Don't know Perry Groves? Yeah, no, neither did I. But in addition to playing for Arsenal during some of their most successful years, he was a candid, funny guy who also gives a great tour, so that's all I really needed to know.
The trip was also unique due to the fact that my sister, her husband and their other two kids decided to join us... I mean why not, we were already taking one of her kids. It just made sense for them to all go together as a family. A third part of this trip that stood out was our location. Normally we have the treat of staying at my in-laws house, making the trip so easy and comfortable (and they have a trampoline!). This time we opted to stay up in London town, which was also a treat for different reasons. Aside from hotel living, which provides the perfect respite from making your bed for a week, the fourth part of why this trip was different to all other trips (aside from falling over Passover, which we all chose to ignore due to our being in another country, an awesome loophole my family has always observed), was our dedication to being the biggest tourists ever and seeing a ton of London, but not too much that we exhausted ourselves. In my humble opinion, we nailed it. We were able to show my nephew the main bits of London he would know and enjoy as well as make his brother and sister's first trip over very exciting.

It was exciting for all of us. In the case of my husband, it was actually his first trip to the Tower of London, a fact I completely understand as I've lived in New York my whole life and have neither been to the top of the Empire State Building nor out to the Statue of Liberty. You just never make the time. The best part of this trip was that not only did we make the time, but so did all of our English family; in-laws, cousins, aunties, siblings... everyone decided to be tourists with us and it made for a very special trip.

That all being said, there are a ton of fun things to do in London. I find it necessary to point out some of the better things we did, for those of you considering a touristy trip to London, as well as point out the completely unnecessary stuff that tourists do and I'm not sure why because they suck and there are way better things to do. But let's start with the good stuff. My favorites being afternoon tea at the Orangery near Kensington Gardens, a boat trip from the London Eye down to Greenwich, the Churchill War Rooms, a day trip out to Hever Castle to visit Anne Boleyn's childhood home (and the site of my engagement), and the lobster roll at Burger & Lobster. For more on that lobster roll, please go to "The best thing I ate this week" at the top of the page and scroll down to April 21, 2014.

It's in London, but it's called Tower Bridge. The English managed to sell an entirely different bridge to someone who didn't know that, which is obviously the buyer's fault, but still, I feel bad. I'd have totally made a mistake like that.
With all the good, surely there had to be some bad... well, not bad really, but some not so good. Not that it was really not so good, more just WTF? Why do people do this? You see, despite my sister, brother-in-law and I all having subjected ourselves to the changing of the guards on previous trips to London, the most recent viewing being 12 years ago, none of us seemed to recall the fact that the changing of the guard is literally the most ridiculous thing you can go and do while in London.** Once we unanimously realized this (about 10 minutes into it), we opted for a nice walk back through Green Park, but I mean, come on, do yourself a huge favor and skip this, as my husband managed to do for 38 years - 28 of them living in London.

We don't understand how the word hasn't gotten out about this yet. This truly isn't something you need to do. It certainly isn't something you want to do. It is, in a word, skippable. You can wander by Buckingham Palace at any other time of day and unobstructedly look through the gates to see the guards at work, you can visit the Horse Guard stables to see the horses, but why anyone (let alone eight of us) would subject themselves to hoards of people, touristy tourists no less, for a crappy view of, well I'm not exactly sure since I couldn't really see anything this time, but if memory serves me correctly, the new guards entering and the old guards leaving after some series of royal guard marching displays... honestly, just fit in an extra high-tea.

Ah, the memories... Buckingham Palace, the backs of people's heads, fences, a pole and I think there are some official Royal guards doing something in the center there. Oh, and traffic driving through every few minutes. Seriously, what's the draw? 
There have got to be 100 better things to do with your time in London. Take in a street performance at Covent Garden, walk around any of the five magnificent parks right in the center of town, go for a spin on the London Eye, hop on one of the double decker bus tours which take a few hours to drive you around the town pointing out buildings and people. In the case of our tour guide, it sounded something like this: "There's that church, which is very much like other churches that were built to look like it." "You may notice a lot of people walking around here because a lot of people work around here. You will most notice this during the hours of 4-6 pm when all of the people are leaving to go home." Yeah... it wasn't exactly mind-blowing, but it allowed us all to tag team nap on and off during those two hours which, on our first day, was the best way to get a lay of the land and also rest a bit.

"Hey kids, Big Ben... Parliament" Yes, you have to drive by here at least once if only to quote European Vacation.
All I'm saying is, skip the changing of the guard. I'm sure you can pull up a You Tube video of it that will capture the essence of all that you are missing. In fact, here, I'll do it for you. Shoot, this is not even a great way for you to spend 7 minutes, 40 seconds of your life. I'll help you again: there's some choice marching around 3:30, and then check out the guy leading the band at 6:40... isn't he fancy?

Go forth and enjoy London. Try to find your favorite sausage roll, ours are at Hand Made Food in Blackheath. Debate the best English candies, because candies from other countries are way more fun than your own, (hello Cadbury Fruit & Nut bars and Haribo Kiddie Mix). Take in a ball game (their balls are mostly soccer balls, so just know that in advance). Visit the Tower of London: see the Crown Jewels- real or not, they are pretty spectacular, and take the tour with the Yeoman so he can fill you full of facts that you instantly forget as soon as you walk out. If you like curry, eat a curry, America just doesn't do them as well, indulge while you're there. Take a picnic into a park and enjoy. Visit museums and load up on culture. Whatever you like to do, do it and enjoy. And now with this extra morning I've saved you, you have that much more to fit in.

**The changing of the guard is the most ridiculous thing you can do in London only on a technicality because the Madame Tussauds wax museum is not only just located in London. I believe that to be the most ridiculous thing you can go and do in any town there is a Madame Tussauds. It would be more interesting to find a stranger on the street that kind of looks like a hipster Ryan Gosling and take a picture with him than going and standing next to what can only be described as a creepy, crappy wax version of a celebrity. You're taking that picture, why? To go home and tell people that you didn't actually see Katy Perry? To go show people how you weren't actually next to Beyonce? To show the folks back home a lumpy, way-too-shiny version of Prince William? Why? I don't get the attraction. At all. Wherever they are located, that is the worst thing you can do in that respective town.

London is expensive... feel free to stick your kid on the street to earn some coins... their coins are actual real money!
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Monday, April 7, 2014

Happy Peppa Day

Saturday was the kid's birthday. With no real advance planning of my own (obviously), she had a totally kick ass day. And so did we. Parenting high fives all around.

A mom at her school knows that she likes Peppa Pig and tipped me off that Peppa Pig had an event coming up at the Scholastic store. Despite my going online to check it out, I managed to miss the bit that says RSVP. Being as I'm prone to that kind of irresponsibility, a few days before the thing I panicked and went back on to double check... needless to say, it was sold out at that point. Someone drops this awesome birthday surprise in my lap and somehow I manage to screw it up... mummy fail. Except I don't always accept defeat at the hands of my own stupidity, so we decided to go check it out anyway. I mean, if you can't get a kid in a Peppa Pig t-shirt, wearing a "birthday girl" headband into a Peppa Pig "Birthday Party" screening, you obviously don't love your kid enough.

We showed up early to find out they had added another screening time - yay! that started 30 minutes before we got there - boo! The good news was that they fit people from the later one into the early one and, bada bing, she's in and we're parents of the year.  The screening, mind you, was a bunch of kids and parents in an auditorium watching episodes that, if you're like us, you've seen about 700 times, but the kid was happy, so we were quite pleased with ourselves. Following the screening was an in-store appearance and hug-a-thon with the real deal Peppa Pig herself and well, let's just say we made her year that morning.
Best birthday surprise ever... shoot, have we set the bar too high? Is next year going to be a huge disappointment now? damn!
After a jam-packed morning like that, we needed lunch stat. We had passed Minetta Tavern on the way down to Peppa and decided to head there for lunch. That is where I had.... drum roll please... the best thing I ate this week. The Black Label Burger at Minetta Tavern.

My husband has been to Minetta Tavern several times. Me, not so much. Without a reservation, the super-nice maitre d' was able to get us a table in a busting dining room (read: kid-friendly), with paper table cloth and crayons for the kid... her best birthday ever continues, and mommy gets to try their burger finally. Win-win.

So, let's talk about this burger. I've heard many tales over the past few years. I've listened to the ongoing debate whether a burger needs cheese to be its best, and I was curious. I am curious no more. I am full, satisfied, but still no closer to answering the cheese question.

It really is a lovely burger. It's rich, full of flavor, cooked well (um, not literally well as in well done, I meant it was cooked really good, but I talk better English than that). Don't ask me to rank it yet... I need to sit on that type of thing for a while and have at least two samplings. My early estimate would put it somewhere in my top ten-twelve. I know top twelve isn't really a thing, but I told you already, it's too early for me to decide. Jeez. Back off.

So, back to the burger... well flavored dry aged prime beef mix topped with onions that are sautéed, caramelized and then griddled in the beef juices just before they get put on top, all on a pillowy brioche style bun which is soft enough to let the burger and onions take center stage, hard enough to not fall apart from all those juices, and sweet enough to complement their rich flavors. Simple, rich, delicious. But I can't say that it wouldn't be better with cheese until I've actually tried it with cheese. I am leaning towards it being better with cheese, because as my brother-in-law James has astutely pointed out many times, "add cheese, make it better." I know that to be true, but I will reserve judgment until my next tasting.

That is the best thing I ate this week. At $28, it's not a cheap burger, but the kid doesn't turn three everyday, so it was a special occasion... that and we were so full we couldn't eat again until late night tacos from La Esquina, so it's kind of a bargain when it counts as breakfast, lunch and supper.

In honor of our morning surprise, we also had a side of their bacon, which is served steakhouse style, thick-cut and charred but not to the point of being crispy throughout, just on the outside. While I noted the irony, what I really noted was how damn good thick cut bacon is. Sorry Peppa.

Oh yeah, and obviously there was cake... a really good chocolate caramel tart with sea salt on top... yum!