Expat Files: DEciding to stay in London

I’ve been wanting to write this one for so long. We are in our seventh year of London life – I actually can’t believe it, we never thought we’d be here longer than two years, yet here we are.

I wrote our story of how we came to England, and how it all worked with visas and everything here. Today, I thought I would write about the reasons that we’ve stayed, through all the doubts and fears and hard times.

The ability to come to the UK from the US is something I still consider a huge privilege. Even through all the paperwork headaches, the constant visa/ID cards/passport woes, I know we are fortunate in that we have two places to call home, each with opportunity and a healthy economy – that is definitely not lost on me!

When we came to London, it took us a full year of living here, then moving to a new neighborhood, to find our footing. Even still, I would say we haven’t fully settled in. I love West London, but we’re not in our forever neighborhood or forever house by any means. I think constantly about moving elsewhere in London (or even outside!) but can’t ever seem to make the decision. We love where we live, and love the life we’ve carved out for ourselves here. The kids are happily settled in school and life is generally good.

Even with all the pros, it isn’t easy to live here. The older our kids get, the smaller our house feels. The more I want to give them the kind of normal suburban American childhood I had with more space to run around, fresh air, ease of transportation with a car instead of walking everywhere, often in the rain and wind.

Yet. We’re still here. And I can’t imagine any other life.

Since I was a kid, I always craved change. I was that child always rearranging my bedroom and furniture in the house to reset perspective. London gives me that every day: there are still so many parts that I haven’t explored, new neighborhoods, new cafes, new parks, new people. This city is constantly evolving and changing, and I find endless inspiration in that change.

What are the things that make us fall in love again and again?

It’s the parks and museums. We have our favorites (V&A for me, Science Museum for the kids, Tate for the mister) and visit often.

It’s the community that we love and have embraced us back.

It’s the food (this is a huge part of it, I won’t lie, haha).

It’s that you can hop on a train and 30 minutes later pop up in the middle of an English village. Add another 30 minutes on the train, you’re in the middle one of the best food market in the world.

It’s the schools that encourage our children to be their best selves and offer world-class educational opportunities.

It’s the lazy summer evenings in the parks with friends. It’s the ability to book a super cheap economy flight to Europe and be on a Spanish beach the next week. It’s the kindness of strangers on the train and in cafes.

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It’s the beautiful houses with character, and the urban gardeners that make London streets as beautiful as they can be.

London gives us so much. It takes a lot, too, don’t get me wrong! But there’s a reason so many people cram into the small flats and don’t mind sharing a seat on the train, or sitting next to a stranger at the park. Never a dull day living in London. If we ever move, I know I’ll come back to this post and cry because this city has made me who I am today and I’ll be forever grateful for how it’s shaped me.

My top 6 brands for rainwear

As I write this, it’s absolutely chucking down outside. We have plans to go shopping this morning for the kids, and rather than scratching plans due to bad weather, we’ll throw on our rain gear and head outside!

After all, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing. So get yourself a sexy raincoat and live a little“. -Billy Connolly.

In the six years I’ve lived here, we’ve learned a bit about dressing for the unpredictable weather.

So, I’m excited to share some of my favorite brands that we’ve used and loved, that have helped to keep us dry in this rainy country and has held up for us throughout the years

Hunter. I’ve been wearing the iconic Hunter boots for years, and putting my kids in them, too. The boots, made of natural rubber, range from tall to ankle boots, and they always have a great color selection. The heritage British brand, founded in 1856, holds two Royal Warrants of Appointment to HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh.

Petit Bateau iconic rain jackets. My kids and my husbands wear these brilliant jersey-lined jackets. They’re definitely an investment, so I tend to buy them big for my kids so they can get a few years use out of them. My husband says its his favorite jacket that I’ve ever purchased for him (granted I don’t buy many clothes for him, he tends to do his own shopping!). They are really well made, and keep you dry as toast in the London weather. Also, they are very cozy as they’re lined with cotton.

Aigle. We love this French brand, my kids have both worn their fabulous boots with the iconic double stripe. The French brand has been around since 1853, and as master rubber craftsmen, they continue to make their boots in France. We love the design and color selection, as well as the durability.

Ilse Jacobson. You may have seen the pretty lace-up rainboots before – these are the lovely rainboots from Danish brand, Ilse Jacobson. The boots are PVC-free, contain no animal by-products, and are made from natural rubber from sustainable harvests. I just love the style of the lace-up boots, and yes there is a pink boot, too!

Stutterheim. If raincoats can be cool, this Swedish brand has a corner on the market. Their rubberized raincoats are handmade, unlined, and come in a variety of colors and shapes. I’m in love with this pale pink raincoat and the pink and yellow colorblocked raincoat.

Joules rain boots and jackets. This one is for pattern lovers! Another British brand we love, the boots and jackets provide functional, built-to-last durability married with colorful and fun styles. I love the pretty patterns on their jackets and rainboots, and we’ve used their rainboots a few times to great success.

Our Cotswolds Glamping Holiday

I’m so excited to share a bit more about our Cotswolds summer holiday. We stole a few days in July, set aside the summer camps and work for a few days, and nipped out to the Cotswolds for a little glamping getaway in the tiny village of Evenlode.

Evenlode is a small village in north Cotswolds, just 5 minutes from the ancient market town, Bourton-on-the-Water and 10 minutes from the storybook villages of Upper and Lower Slaughter. Two minutes drive from the village center is Evenlode Grounds, our home for three days, part of Evenlode Farm, a 400 acre secluded farm in the heart of the Cotswolds.

My little animal lovers were in heaven on the Evenlode Farm. Upon our arrivel, our gracious hostess Amanda gave us a short tour of the grounds and introduced us to a few of the cows and horses, who were to be our neighbors during our stay.

Six cabins are perched in a little green valley, overlooking the grazing fields. We spent hours sitting by the fence talking to the animals, watching the cute little calves, and even spotting the occasional fox and hare running through the field.

The small wooden cabin pods are beautifully made, handcrafted and very high quality. Inside, the cabins have all the modern conveniences you need to ensure you are not camping, no, you are glamping, my dear. Soft mattresses, luxury bedding, heated floors, and a fully kitted kitchen and bathroom with hot water for showers. A small TV, and a DVD library ensured we truly were at our leisure to enjoy our holiday. Mom and Dad could catch up on reading while the children ran around the grounds with a football or watched one of the many DVDs on hand.

The little thoughtful touches are what made the stay memorable for us. A small shed onsite contained holiday wonders – from games and DVD’s to borrow, to fresh cakes, treats, and cold drinks on offer every day. The children loved putting pound coins into the small “honesty box” for our marshmallows and kindling wood.

Apart from the gorgeous setting, our favorite part of our stay at Evenlode Grounds: the wood-fired hot tub of my dreams. Next to our cabin, hidden from view of other glampers, sat a beautiful wooden hot tub. We threw firewood in the oven, stirred with the wooden paddle, and let it heat to our desired temperature. It stayed warm for the duration of our stay, with just an extra log or two thrown in every time we got back in.

Our hostess, Amanda, suggested we visit the small village of Snowshill – a very small village that was a filming location in Bridget Jones Diary. The children found a playground, and I wandered around the small village, camera at the ready, capturing the chocolate box cottages and roses dripping from every corner.

Back in the car, a quick five-minute drive took us to the vibrant purple fields of Cotswolds Lavender, a place I’ll remember as realizing the world is quite small. We walked by a few groups of people in the midst of a photoshoot, and one photographer recognized me! It was an out of body experience that I’m still processing, I was actually recognized in the middle of a lavender field in the English countryside. Did I reach peak instagram?

The heat making us wilt like little English roses, and my camera stocked with Instagram-ready lavender field photos, we took refuge in our air-conditioned car and made a 30-minute drive to the falconry center. I would say it was a visit for the children, but if I’m being honest it was just as much for my husband and me. We’ve been to a few bird refuges in the UK, and there is something about them that just brings me joy.

Attending the afternoon birds in flight demonstration was a big hit. We took it in turn holding the cutest little owl. And capturing this moment – my little babe meeting his favorite animal – the fastest animal on planet earth – the peregrine falcon.

Having worked up an appetite, we stopped at a nearby pub for dinner. Spoilt for choice in the area, the Fox Inn at Broadwell or Oddington, or The Kings Head at Bledington all make for a lovely meal.

The heatwave relented in the evenings, and as the sun set, we stoked the fire and took another turn in the hot tub.

I cannot impress upon you how badly I need a hot tub like this in my life 24-7. The children took it upon themselves to ensure the hot tub always at least one swimmer, appreciating its warmth in the cooler evenings.

Never one to let an opportunity pass me by, we picked up a s’mores kit from the honesty shop on-site. Gooey marshmallows, with a kind assist from a fudge brownie, safe to say we were all happy glampers.

A full day behind us and another one ahead of us, we nodded off, sleeping the kind of sleep you only get away from the city.

In the wee early hours, the children awoke begging to get in the hot tub. Who am I to deny them on their holiday? They each took every free moment as an opportunity to “go for a swim” in the gorgeous wood-fired hot tub. Goggles at the ready. In summer, with the sun rising at 6am, it’d be rude not to have a dip in the hot tub before breakfast.

Finally, I was able to peel them away from their hot tub swim, after promises of ice cream to those who would join me, and our family hopped in the car for a little Cotswolds village trip.

With temperatures on the rise from the heat wave, we explored nearby Bourton-on-the-Water and Upper and Lower Slaughter, wading in the streams to cool down, eating ice creams along the way, making sure to visit the mini-Cotswolds park. But feeling like we were walking on the surface of the sun, it was time to head back to the cabin grounds for some rest and to enjoy our final glamping evening.

A quick shop run to pick up provisions for dinner, it was time to test our survival skills. Eager small ones pitched in to gather kindling and logs (provided by the grounds) and in a matter of minutes, we had ourselves a roaring fire, ready to cook dinner. We took advantage of the fully-kitted cabin kitchens to prepare a glampers feast of hamburgers, kebabs, peppered with fresh salads and the juiciest British strawberries from the nearby Cotswolds chic Daylesford Farmshop.

That night, we settled in for another DVD movie with the kids, and let them stay up late, until the summer sun had fully set. We wanted to show them what a real night sky away from the city could look like. Our city kids were in awe. To be honest – so were mum and dad. It seemed like a fairy had sprinkled a bit of magic dust across the night sky. We stargazed, looked for planets and shooting stars, before finally settling into bed.

We managed one final hot tub dip in the morning alongside some croissants and yogurt, before packing up the car to head back to London. Our time at Evenlode Grounds had come to an end, but hopefully we’ll return again soon.

Thank you to Evenlode Grounds for hosting us, and for the lovely memories. This post is in partnership with Evenlode Grounds. All opinions and thoughts are my own.

What could be better than three courses of dessert?

“Should we go out for dinner?” Perhaps my favorite 6 words in the English language.

There are few greater pleasures in life then leaving the cooking to someone else, tucking into a bit of comfort food, and always, always saving room for dessert.

After a long day of walking across London, playing and running in the parks and chasing after the children, it’s a given that we’re going to go out to a cozy restaurant and finish the perfect day tucking into some comfort food, and today I have a really good one to share with you: ASK Italian.

The menu at ASK Italian changes seasonally, but classics are always high on the list. And that’s true for the new menu this Autumn season.

But the real star of the show this season? The limited-edition three-course dessert menu. I repeat, three courses of desserts.

One thing I’ve learned about Brits is they have a keen sweet tooth! Maybe that’s why I feel so at home in this country as an expat. According to research by ASK Italian almost half of Brits say desserts cheer them up during the colder, darker months – ah yes, I would agree! This three-course dessert came at the perfect time for this cooler Autumn season.

The new three-course dessert menu features a playful twist on classic Italian ingredients like pasta and gnocchi. I promise, this is something you’re going to want to experience for yourself!

Shall we take a look at the 3 desserts?

First, you’ll start with the irresistible chocolate gnocchi.

These Nutella filled bundles come with a little pot of warmed chocolate for dipping. They were gone in a flash.

A great start to this feast of sweets.

Next up, a retro inspired show-stopper – rhubarb and custard ravioli.

These pretty pink pasta parcels are filled with a sweet and sour rhubarb, topped with warmed vanilla custard. Oh la la!

To finish, a refreshing twist on an Italian classic, prosecco sorbet.

A nice spread of chocolatey, fruity, and fresh – and perfect for sharing. The part I’m slightly embarrassed, and slightly proud to tell you? Friends, I ate it all. I have zero regrets. Though you don’t have to be like me, you can share if you’d like. Or be like me and have all three to yourself, no judgement here!

I tried the menu, along with a gaggle of press and the completely lovely @poppy_loves_london at a little dinner party in the Spring Street location of ASK Italian, and oh it was a bit of Pinterest heaven!

The sweetest touches everywhere.

Very sweet. Couldn’t keep me away from the raspberry bonbons!

This limited-edition dessert menu is available at ASK Italian locations across the UK until 24th of October – ask for the menu in your local branch. This, in addition to its new Autumn menu, of course, which is a savory story for another time. But, shall I give you a little sneak peek?

Slow cooked beef shin in chianti sauce might just be the meal of my dreams.

Photo Credit: ASK Italian

Not to mention the grande lasagne. Look at that crispy prosciutto. My mouth is actually watering.

Photo credit: ASK Italian

No time like Autumn to gather around the table with friends and family, let your sweet tooth out for a night, and let your worries melt away as you tuck in and eat like an Italian.

Thank you to ASK Italian for the sweetest night out, and knowing the way to my heart: not one, not two, but three desserts.

This post was written in partnership with ASK Italian. All thoughts and opinions are mine.

Afternoon Tea at the Palm Court, Langham London

Afternoon tea is one of the delights of the British culture. Who wouldn’t like to spend an afternoon sitting with your favorite cup of tea, lovely sandwiches and desserts, and of course the star of the show – the scones.

For those in the know, you’ll already know that scones make or break the tea experience. For me, it is the defining characteristic of a perfect afternoon tea. Nail that perfect fluffy scone, and I’ll be a loyal devotee of yours forever.

Lucky for you, I’ve done the difficult research of finding the best scones in London and I’m pleased to introduce you to the afternoon tea at Langham London! The birthplace of afternoon tea is said to be in the Palm Court in this stately hotel, and perhaps this is how they’ve absolutely perfected the tea in every way.

I’ve experienced their tea a few times, and it is flawless every time. Recently, they introduced a new children’s tea in partnership with Daunt Books. Each child can choose from a selection of books, which serves to both occupy them during the tea, and as a lovely memory to take home.

The childrens tea also features adorable kid-friendly jigsaw sandwiches, desserts, and scones. The menu (for both children and adults) is seasonal and features local harvests, jams, foods across the sweet and savoury courses.

The Palm Court is absolutely stunning, located in the beautiful Langham hotel, just off Oxford Circus. You are absolutely spoiled by the lovely staff, completely taking care of anything and everything you need, which for us always includes a refill of the sandwich tray and scones.

Nothing like an afternoon tea at the Langham London. Don’t miss it if you’re looking for a special experience for a birthday, mothers day, or girls afternoon out!

London is Pink: 5 Pink Cafe’s You Have to Try

One of my favorite things about London is the cafe culture. There is something for everyone, and in the past couple of years, the number of pink cafes is on the rise! There is something irresistible about sitting down for a cake and a tea (or my fave – beetroot latte – yes, it’s pink!) in a palace of pink.

I’ve pulled together a five of the best pink cafes in London. Find a friend and try them out, if you haven’t already!

Palm Vaults

Palm Vaults was my first pink cafe experience, so I always feel a bit nostalgic when I visit. Their menu is delicious – from cakes to smoothie bowls and my favorite avocado toast – everything is vegan. Their pastel cakes are available to order, and they also make lattes in a range of pastel colors. It has a real retro plants on pink vibe, and if it weren’t for the very east London location, I’d think I was in Miami every time!

Peggy Porschen

Ah, Peggy, surely you’ve seen this cafe pop up in your instagram feed! The queen of cake, Peggy Porschen launched the floral facade trend into what we know it as today, and continues to dazzle us with their seasonal installations!

With two locations in Chelsea, I suggest starting at one Peggy, walking Kings road and instagramming your way to the other Peggy. The location closer to Fulham serves a larger menu with really lovely pancakes, while the original location, near Victoria, serves primarily cakes and a selection of teas and coffees.

Saint Aymes

Saint Aymes, in the lovely Connaught Village, changes their exterior faux-floral facade from time to time. Right now, it’s pink and it’s glorious. The interiors are also pink and floral, and they serve chocolates, cakes, and the famed unicorn latte. It’s a must for the instagram-pilgrimage, and its central London location makes it an easy stop!

Farm Girl Cafe

Farm Girl isn’t a pink cafe, per se, but they do have this famous pink table, and that’s good enough for me! The Aussie-inspired cafe features a great selection of brunch and lunch dishes, including some great avo toast.

I love the Portobello Road location – yes, for the pink table – but its also perfectly located next to all the cute colorful houses. (If you need an in-depth insiders guide to pink houses in Notting Hill, find my guide here!).

El&n Cafe

El&n Cafe is basically an Instagram institution now! If you’re looking for pink floral interiors, this is the place to go. With several locations across town, you’re spoilt for choice! The prices are quite high, but think of it as an experience – its like the Disneyland of pink cafes.