Meat

CRACKLY PORCHETTA AND SWEET GORGONZOLA SANDWICH

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I want to tell you about my trip back in New York in extensive details, I really do.  But I’m jet-lagged… drowsy… sleepy but awake… awake but not really… and the only words I can pound out of my marshmallow of a brain right now, repeating itself in an almost undetectable frequency, are these:

I’m sorry, Di Palo’s.

If you also don’t know what Di Palo’s is, then maybe I’ll feel a little better about myself, but it’s the iconic Italian grocer standing on the same corner in Little Italy for more than 80 years which, for some unforgivable reasons, I had failed to visit in the entire seven years I lived in New York.  But this time around, a friend brought me to its doorstep and introduced me to its porchetta sandwich smeared with dolce gorgonzola…  Ridiculous, just ridiculous, as if the sheer volume of Italian salami’s and cheese it carried wasn’t enough to make me weep in regret, but I had to walk away with an audible sandwich?  Yes, audible, as in even with just one bite, I could hear the sound of the chips-like skin crack under the pressure between my teeth, and tasted its fatty, savory and sticky meats mingle and be with the gentle funk of sweet Italian blue cheese.  Right then and there, walking down the contagiously energetic sidewalks of New York in my joyous steps, I knew I had to recreate the recipe for you.

So here it is, as the ultimate redemption for never visited Di Palo’s in all my times living in New York, a seriously, seriously tasty sandwich.  Just checking out the photo with the knife sticking out and the photo after that, you know how good the skin cracks.  And if you think you see a nipple or two while browsing through the photos, yes they are.  Just bonus materials, you’re welcome.

I promise, hesitantly, that I will talk more about my time in New York, no matter how complicated the mixture of emotions were.  But right now, let’s just get the pork on.

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AS THE ULTIMATE REDEMPTION FOR NEVER VISITED DI PALO’S IN THE ENTIRE SEVEN YEARS I LIVED IN NEW YORK…

AND YES, THOSE ARE NIPPLES.

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FRANCE PART I, and Lyonnaise sausage w/ warm beans and sage butter

All the best things in life are clichés.

Paris, is a cliché.

I’ve fought consciously throughout my adult life not to fall for it, or at the very least, say it out loud, fearing I’ll sound like a girl wanting to model or a guy in a sports car.  It oozes unoriginality.  But in the end, excuse mine if you will, as we sat predictably at an open cafe at 6:30 am, watching this city in beige and pastel grey slowly waking up in a wash of golden summer lights, acutely aware of its both corny and extraordinary allure.  Paris, I succumbed, is Paris for a reason.

But I knew that four years ago, when I visited Paris for the time time.  This time, I wanted more.

I wanted more not from Paris, but from the country that it has instilled great bewilderment for inside my mind.  If that was Paris, then what is France?  An embarrassingly stupid question no doubt, for a pre-middle age woman to ask but frankly, I’m too old to pretend that I’m better.  If I were destined with death-by-sugar then fuck it, bring out the ice cream-truck, and I want her every single available flavors including the weird ones against my best judgement.  Not just to see her polished beauty but – almost out of both cynicism and total respect – I wanted to slowly cruise through her central veins, starting from Paris, then Burgundy, Lyon, Luberon, Marseille, then along her riviera that ends in Nice.  What would I find on a road trip in France?  Perhaps a side of her that looks no different than places just off of the New Jersey turnpike (and yes there are).  Or perhaps more beautiful cliches?  Those perfectly imperfect ancient villages and chateaus freckling along her cheeks.  Would I be able to have one?  To find it unmistakably amidst all, to go back to it again and again?  My favorite freckle of hers?

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SUMMER PHO BO ROLL

In the walk of a cook who fancies herself a genius, there is no pain more excruciating than to realize when someone else has out-genius her.  If you were one of “her” (not saying that I am)(I mean genius?  Who?  Me?), careful, because this is gonna hurt.

This guy, Tyler Kord, who wrote this book, A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches, is really pissing me off.

Okay, fine, go have a super successful and ever-expanding sandwich shop all over New York City as if that was a dream of mine or whaaaatever.  Dream-stealer….  And then sure, why not, go publish a refreshingly hilarious and strivingly honest cookbook that touches subjects beyond the otherwise self-absorbing stand-alone topic of foods, as if that was my personal 2014 2015 2016 resolution that is wilting faster than baby spinach in a hot skillet.  Face-rubber….  But I don’t care, see, don’t care!  But above all of his dream-stealing and face-rubbing behavior, which I have generously forgiven and let go, none has made me scream more in agony when I saw this recipe on page 168…

Pho mayo.

I’ll spare you the whole pretense of “I couldn’t imagine what it would taste like until I put a spoon in my mouth…blah blah blah blah blah”.  Truth was, the minute I read through the recipe, I knew it would work.  The combination of flavors and seasoning just made sense, guaranteeing, even just on paper, a creamy concoction that would embody all the magical essence of a bowl of pho.  Pho, in mayo form.  This realization sent my body into a self-strangling twist on my stone-cold kitchen floor, thinking, no, bleeding from the eternal question that haunts all mankind – Why, why wasn’t I the one who come up with this?

But I wasn’t.  So that’s that.  And by the way, this fabulous creation of what I call Summer Pho Bo Roll, is not in his book.  Yeah, I took his pho mayo… used it to generously coat a truck-load of thinly sliced beef short ribs, bean sprouts and finely chopped Thai basil, then stuffed them into a hoisin sauce -smeared potato roll, topped with chopped onions and a revengeful squeeze of Sriracha sauce.  It’s like eating a bowl of pho bo (by the way, the word “pho” on its own just means “rice noodle”.  Pho bo (bo means beef) is what you are actually referring to), but no cooking!  And it’s summer-friendly!

Dat’s right, Tyler, I stole your pho mayo.  Now you know what it’s like to be hurt.

I’M REALLY MORE LIKE ACHILLES IN THAT… I CAN MAKE MAYONNAISE BEND TO MY WILL USING ONLY MY MIND BECAUSE ACHILLES COULD DO THAT.  HOMER DOESN’T REALLY GET INTO IT THOUGH.

– TYLER KORD

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that spicy, sour Thai street noodle

 

Just came home from an extra long weekend-getaway from Bangkok, my second time visiting this feasting sanctuary and wow, it is even better than I remembered.  I’m not going to play expert and include a traveling guide with this post because when it comes to Bangkok, I’m not, yet.  But I will however, include some links (with or without photos) to some of the memorable moments we experienced on this trip.  It’s not a lot.  After all, it was a 2 1/2 day quickie.  Plus a noodle recipe that brings me back whenever I miss that city, which is to say, always.

JUST STICK WITH

THE DON AND THE HOLY FOURSOME

 

 

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PORK OFFAL SOUP WITH FLAT RICE NOODLE

TOM YUM SOUP WITH RICE VERMICELLI

SIAM PARAGON – shopping mall with an entire floor of food paradise

KITCHEN SUPPLY STORE WITH UNIQUE FINDS

THAT SPICY, SOUR THAI STREET NOODLE:

Before you say anything, you’re right, this isn’t authentically anything.  It isn’t a particular Thai dish, doesn’t even have a real title (the fact of the matter is, I didn’t have a clue what most of the dishes we ate were called), but what it is, is a recollected combination of flavours that brings me back to that plastic stool and folding table on a hustle-and-bustle street-corner in Bangkok, hitting the right notes.  The aromatic broth… the strings of supple and chewy rice vermicelli… the crunch somewhere in between… the zing, what’s that?… but wait there comes the heat, then savouriness, sweetness, one after the other, tangled but distinct at the same time, intriguing but too consuming to investigate.  That memory, to me at least, is not an absolution, but a chest of vibrant paints and crayons that splatters beautifully over a blank canvas, different every time but always a balance in perfection.

I went with a cheated version starting with store-bought chicken stock which I then built flavours on top.  But you can of course, applauded, start with pig bones, beef bones, or any combination of broth-builder that you prefer, keeping in mind that as long as you get a grip on the major aromatics and template of flavours, chances are, your noodle just can’t taste bad if not delicious.  Aromatics like lemongrass, galangal, pandang leaves, star anise, kaffir lime leaves… they are, together, a proven equation for a damn good reason.  But what the hell is the “template of flavours” you ask?  Which brings me to say…

Just stick with The Don and The Holy Foursome.

On every tables of every noodle-stalls in Bangkok, almost always and if not you’re entitled to get angry, are a fixed collection of condiments, the paints and crayons if you will, which ultimately determines the flavour profile of every individual bowl of noodles, different and deeply personal to every patron’s preferences.  I call them, The Don and The Holy Foursome:

The godfather himself, kiss his hand, is a bottle of fish sauce – SAVOURINESS.  Then, toasted and crushed chili flakes – HEAT.  Blended fresh chili in vinegar – ACIDITY.  Toasted and crushed peanuts and fried garlics – AROMAS and CRUNCH.  A jar of sugar – SWEETNESS.

Always.  Always.  Respect them, but be playful.  I always like mine with high pitch in heat and acidity, with a good dose on aromas and crunch, then subtle on sweetness, but I’ve also seen others dousing sugars over their noodles like it’s breakfast cereals.  And, of course, a dash of The Don is always an offer you can’t refuse.

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THAT SPICY, SOUR THAI STREET NOODLE

Serving Size: 6~8 depending

Ingredients

    TOASTED CHILI FLAKES:
  • 3 tbsp chili flakes
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • BLENDED CHILI VINEGAR:
  • 5~6 (21 grams) mix of red and green Thai chili
  • 1/2 cup (110 grams) white rice vinegar (not Japanese sushi vinegar)
  • 1 tsp light brown sugar
  • FRIED GARLIC AND ROASTED PEANUTS:
  • 1 head garlic, peeled and finely minced
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup roasted peanuts
  • THE BROTH:
  • 7 cups (1750 grams/ml) chicken stock
  • 3 lemongrass, roughly chopped
  • 1" galangal, roughly chopped
  • 2 frozen pandang leaves, roughly cut
  • 2 " cinnamon stick
  • 4~5 kaffir lime leaves, torn
  • 1 large handful of cilantro stems
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 tbsp garlic oil
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce
  • 8~10 Asian pork or beef meatballs
  • MINCED LEMONGRASS CHICKEN:
  • 2 (340 grams) skinless boneless chicken legs
  • 1 (30 grams) lemongrass, white parts only
  • 1 tsp chopped ginger
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1/8 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2~3 kaffir lime leaves, torn
  • TO ASSEMBLE:
  • rice vermicelli, variety depends on your preference
  • Thai basils and bean sprouts
  • sugar and fish sauce to season
  • MSG

Instructions

  1. MAKE TOASTED CHILI FLAKES: Mix chili flakes and vegetable oil together in a skillet until it resembles wet sand. Set over medium heat, stirring constantly, until they turn darker in color and smells fragrant. Transfer immediately into a bowl to cool (it will burn quickly and become bitter).
  2. MAKE BLENDED CHILI VINEGAR: Over stove-flames or with a torch, char the skins of the chilis until completely blackened, then scrap away the black skins and seeds with a small knife and discard. Blend the chilis with vinegar and sugar in a blender until coarsely pureed. Set aside until needed.
  3. FRIED GARLIC AND TOASTED PEANUTS: Combine finely minced garlic and vegetable oil in a small pot over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the garlics start to turn light brown in color (this will take a few minute)(*don't let them turn dark brown or they'll be bitter*). Drain immediately through a fine sieve and let cool. Reserve the oil. Once the garlics are cooled, pound them together with roasted peanuts in a mortar until coarsely ground.
  4. MAKE THE BROTH: Blend a couple cups of chicken stock with lemongrass, galangal and pandang leaves until coarsely blended. Transfer into a large pot with the rest of the chicken stock, along with cinnamon stick, kaffir lime leaves, cilantro stems, star anise, reserved garlic oil, dark soy sauce, ground white pepper, light brown sugar and ground black pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30 min, then add the fish sauce and meat balls, and cook for another 10 min.
  5. Meanwhile, make the minced lemongrass chicken: Cut the chicken into small pieces then set aside. In a food-processor, blend lemongrass and ginger until finely chopped. Add the chicken, fish sauce, ground white and black pepper, and pulse until the mixture is finely ground (like sausage consistency). Add 2 tbsp of the reserved garlic oil into a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the kaffir lime leaves and cook until fragrant, then add the chicken-mixture, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, and cook until slightly browned on all edges. Set aside until needed.
  6. TO ASSEMBLE: On the table, arrange a bottle of fish sauce, a small jar of light brown sugar, toasted chili flakes, blended chili vinegar, fried garlic/roasted peanuts, and a couple bunch of fresh Thai basils.
  7. Cook the rice vermicelli according to instructions and divide into bowls, with a small handful of bean sprouts and a good pinch of MSG (that's how it's done, ok? that's how it's done). Pour the broth into the bowl through a fine sieve, then add a couple of meatballs and a good large spoonful of minced lemongrass chicken into each bowls. Adjust your own season with the condiments then slurp.

Notes

This broth can be built on store-bought chicken stock, or from scratch with pork bones and water.

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HONG KONG’S CURRY FISH BALLS OVER RAMEN

Drifting over moving chaos, under the clouds of settling dusts, weeks… have passed.  It’s been almost a month since my last post, the longest it has ever been.

This posting gap was considerable in blogging years, unplanned nor welcomed, and in many ways in fact, nerve-wrecking.  But I wanted to do the first “official” post properly, to wait, to get all the shit that needs to be done in our apartment, one that we renovated ourselves 6 years ago before moving to Beijing, so I could include a proper introduction of our new life to your all in this post.  Kind of…  Friends, apartment.  Apartment, friends.  Now help yourself at the buffet.

But turned out, as it seems, that there is more work involved behind those House And Garden variety of apartment showoffs that I used to take completely granted for.  After 4 weeks of grinding constructions, big and small, to touch up those little imperfections that, really, bothered nobody but myself… the apartment, is still not there yet.  So I decided not to wait any longer.  This post may not include apartment therapy – maybe in another week – but worry not, it’s still got food.

Now, for the first “official” post marking a new beginning in Hong Kong, I thought it was only fitting that we start with something iconic to this city.

Every city needs a hero.  Best yet, an nourishing one, dependable, non-judgmental, and accessible to all under its shelter, big or small, rich or poor.  One that doesn’t care if you were hustling sober through the high traffics or stumbling drunk on the stone-cold pavement, always and forever, as the city promises, the rescue that is steaming just around the corner.  Dirty water hot dog in New York, jian-bing in Beijing.  Here, this thing called curry fish balls is the food-hero that bonds between Hong Kong’s identity and its people who hold it dearly.

The fish balls, pre-fried, are boiled in a large tank of neon-yellow water which gets replenished as more fish balls are removed from the water, and served with a spoonful of curry sauce and hot sauce to standing customers huddling around the booth.  This boil-and-sauce technique, I suspect, is catering more to a streamlined service with higher turn-overs than say, optimising flavours.  The fish balls, without actually being cooked in the curry, are slightly bland and therefore have to draw all their flavours from the topical sauces instead of being a single, together, perfect entity.  This makes sense for street vendors, of course, especially in this relentlessly expensive city where any means necessary to speed up services are justifiably, if not rudely, executed.  But if we were to recreate this dish at home – and I would argue that it’s in the best interest to honor its complexity – we shall do things a little differently.

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Your Next Perfect Porchetta Sandwich is from Chinatown

I guess I am currently in the middle of what one would call, a blogger limbo.

We have “officially” moved out of Beijing, so to speak.  But in the next 3 weeks when our apartment is under renovation, we are going to be staying in a hotel where the closest thing to a cooking vessel is the bathroom sink with hot tap water (hotel sous vide?).  How do I create something delicious when the mere act of making fruit smoothies posts challenges?  Then I realised, the answer lies just around every corner in this city.

Cantonese-style roast pork.  Something as abundant in Hong Kong as Starbucks are in New York.  This awesome thing, is everywhere.  Even if you didn’t live here, chances are you’ve seen it in your nearest Chinatown, a staple in Cantonese cuisines.

Typically served with rice, which I’ve always had my doubt on.  I mean, it is a great piece of roast pork, with salty yet juicy flesh and gloriously blistered skins.  But on its own, and paired with yellow mustard, in my opinion, it just isn’t the most flattering companion for steamed rice.   It is however, the most perfect yet most under-utilized sandwich candidate, practically an half-way porchetta sandwich.

Here’s what you do.  You chop up a whole box of these porky awesomeness, then you make a “dressing” out of minced scallions, ginger and red chilis, with pungent savouriness from fish sauce and a tang that cuts through the grease from red wine vinegar.  You let this “dressing” seep through the nooks and crannies of an unapologetic pile of the chopped roast pork, into the thirsty holes of a toasted crusty roll that catches it all.  Then you cap everything up with a few slices of provolone cheese, and you draw your finishing touch with a smear of yellow mustard.

Porky, crispy, drippy and zero-cooking involved.  What can I say?  Hotel meal.

YOU LET IT SEEP THROUGH THE NOOKS OF AN UNAPOLOGETIC PILE OF CHOPPED ROAST PORK, INTO THE THIRSTY HOLES OF A TOASTED CRUSTY ROLL.

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THE PUNCH-IT BURGER AND HOUSTON, WE’RE READY TO TAKE OFF

I’ve waited six years… wow, six… to say this son-of-a-bitch line.

I’ve imagined saying it while beating its saggy ass with a whip rubbed with the most homicidal Mexican chilis as it wriggles in pain.  I’ve imagined saying it while twisting its balls with electrically charged clamps as it howls in my upmost amusement.  I’ve imagined saying it while watching, ever so pleasurably, as its ugliest face twisted angrily into an even uglier version of itself if that’s even grammatically possible.

I’ve imagined, for six years… wow, six… to say this line with a fuck-you.

And now, when the time has finally come, I can only feel it exhaling through the gaps of the keyboard, in a long heavy breath of bittersweet…

We’re leaving Beijing.

Can… can I say that again?

We are.  Leaving.  Beijing.

Yes, leave, move away, to Hong Kong if that’s important to mention, but more importantly the point is, out of Beijing.  I mentioned last week that I have “eeeewge news” to break it to you, but truth is, this is more than news.  It is a long-awaited, mental or physical, release.  Why is it such a big deal?  Well, I know, I know that the context of my predicament hasn’t been thoroughly explained on this blog.  Most of you are probably only aware that One:  I/we live in Beijing, and Two:  I don’t like it.  But why am I here and why don’t I like it, well, is a subject I thought was too boringly political or unappetising to be discussed on a, after all, food-blog.  I thought if I were to really explain it, I’d need a book to do the job.  But now that we’re leaving, I feel like I owe it to its final ending to, at least in a brief effort, paint the short story.

The first part of the question of why we’re here, is much simpler.  We left New York in 2008, Jason, our dog-children Dumpling, Bado and I, for what was thought to be a very logical career opportunity of his.  Our beloved island New York was, at the time, tilting like a breaking iceberg, and so we jumped into a less vogue but sturdier looking boat – China.  We actually lived in Hong Kong for 1 1/2 year  (so technically we’re moving back to HK) before moving to Beijing in 2010.  Then it was without any foresights to say the least, that what came after, the next following six years, was the unhappiest, destructive even, but also self-realising and perhaps fruitful period of my life.

Why do I hate it here?  Why is this “an angry food blog”?  This to me, is a funny question, as if asking why wouldn’t I like a burger soaked in whiskey then force-fed to me in a rubber tube?  I mean, where do I begin and how much time do you have?  There’s nothing wrong with burgers, nor is there with whiskey, but they just don’t mash well together, like me and this place.  Maybe if I was a politically indifferent outcast who enjoys pale skins more than sunlights, and the scent of burning coals in the atmosphere because it marvellously reminds me of BBQ briskets… Maybe if I was a juvenile man-child who sees uncivility as a safe haven to misbehave like an utter douchebag…  Maybe if I simply like being somebody here because I was a nobody back home, or better yet, just plain too self-secured to be emotionally affected by any shenanigans…  Then I believe, I would have a shot of being happy here.  But I’m, unfortunately, not.  I don’t mean it sarcastically.  I’m not “gifted” in that way, to see the vanilla ice cream behind the annoying chocolate chips and be able to happily eat around the obstacles.  They bother me.  Internet censorship bothers me.  Authoritarian politic bothers me.  Pollution bothers me.  Blind nationalism bothers me.  Douchebags bother me, and worse yet, blindly nationalistic douchebags who are happy being douchebags, reeeaaally bother me.  Hey look, I’m sure this city is more complicated and deeper than that, so I guess, I’m just too simple for this city.  I have no problem being too simple for bullshits.  But aside from political factors, and maybe (just maybe) for no faults of its own, Beijing is also where we lost Bado and Dumpling.  Two of the most spirit-breaking episodes of our lives happened here, skin-deep, back to back.  It used to be just an angry place – the good old times – but now it’s a sad place.  And though it might not be fair, but the feeling that we came here in whole and now left in pieces, is a negative association I don’t need.

IN TWO WEEKS TIME, WE WILL BE GONE.

NO, NOT FROM YOU OR THIS BLOG, BUT FROM THE PLACE THAT BROUGHT US TOGETHER, WHERE IT ALL STARTED

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London, barely, plus Yorkshire pudding and my Sunday roast

Some of you may have noticed, that this series of travel-diary/recipe-exploration on the three fabulous European cities I visited last month, is actually going in reversed orders.  Reasonable doubts would suggest that I’m saving London for last, but truth is… it’s because I’m struggling to remember any of it.

Before Lisbon, before Madrid, going backwards in sequence, we actually arrived in London first, this posh and thrilling British gentleman that I’ve always had a crush on from afar.  But turned out, we didn’t arrive alone.  Came with us, was a persistent, cunning and serpent-like seasonal flu which already found us to be very amiable hosts back in Hong Kong, then apparently, took an even deeper liking in the unpredictable and drizzling British weather and decided to extend its stay for our next several miserable days.  What is it that they say here?  Blimey, fucking wanker.  Yes, very well put.  Although, in the flu’s defence, it did embody a certain level of traveller’s enthusiasm and took us for a joyride to all the most notable drugstores that London had to offer (Boots, you’re a doll).  However, beyond which, it showed lacking interests in just about anything else.  Museums?  Charming little street?  No, flu wanted to stay home and suck fingers.  Bloody hell, you bag o’ shite.

(poetry, British profanity is poetry)

So I’m sorry, London (and the ones who fell ill on the tube going from West Kensington to London Bridge on Dec 22nd around 1 pm…  It was me).  Because I could only sort of remember you as a beautifully wetted city of yellow bricks and steels under an eternal overcast, or as least so you were every chance I looked, mostly up from a pile of tissue-ruins through my watery and bacteria-infested eyes.  Were you a bit blurry or was it me?

THIS THING THEY CALL, YORKSHIRE PUDDINGS… THE AIR BALOON-EQUIVALENT OF PASTRY… ONLY THAT IT IS EGGY, CRISPY, FLUFFY AND SO MUCH BETTER THAN I EXPECTED

I did see though, a couple of the important stuffs.  The Borough MarketDuke of York Square MarketSt. John Bread & Wine… made the pilgrimage.  And the more I scratched over the surface of all the excitements, wonderful smells of cheeses and seared meats, captivatingly unique architectures, and the deeply profound culture underneath it all that London has to offer, the angrier I was that I didn’t have the energy to explore further.  So much to see, so little life.  This isn’t an excuse, London!  You weren’t the best mate to help sort out a flu and you bloody well know it!

And here I am, one month later, flu-free and apologetic, I figure the least I could do is not to insult London by pretending that I have anything insightful to say.  In fact, the only tribute I could pay is to say this…  Regardless of the experience I had, immobile or even if it was well explored, I feel London is the kind of city that will always leave me feeling hungry for more.  More to eat, more to see, more to pry out of the maze of bricks and steels, and just when you thought you had it figured out, there it is, another discovery.

I hope I see you again, London.  I know, I will see you again.  But next time, summer perhaps.

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