Thursday, July 27, 2017

Your London Guide to Street Markets

I was lucky enough this summer to stay in London for just over 2 months doing some research work and some traveling. Of course I was determined to try all delicious food and get a "taste" of London culture and what better way than to check out all the street markets? I'm not talking just the Borough Market or Camden Market.. I'm talking ALL of them. So here's my little guide for which ones YOU should check out if you're more cut on time.

Before I get started, know that some of these markets can get crowded and with any crowded area in London (or anywhere really), be cautious of pick pockets. Be smart - don't just have your wallet hanging out from your back pocket. Also, always carry around some cash because not all the stalls will accept card (though a fair amount of them do!). And given that it's London weather, a bottle of water and an umbrella never hurt anyone.

1. Borough Market
I'm just going to get the big name ones out of the way. Yes this is the market where there was the shooting (article here if you somehow didn't hear/read about it), but I wouldn't let that deter you from checking this place out - just don't hang around too late at night if you want to stay on the safe side. It's a classic must visit market in London and can get a bit crowded (though not as bad as others) so best to go mid morning. It opens at 10 AM everyday except Saturday (8 AM) and Sunday (closed) and goes until 5 PM (6 PM on Friday). There's tons of little stalls in this underpass market selling mostly food items like cheeses, oils, teas, breads, fruits, and other delicious goods. There's not really any clothing stalls like other markets but there are a few stalls selling little trinkets/goodies/supplies that you can pick up as souvenirs or just for yourself. I'd definitely recommend getting the scotch egg here because it's freshly fried so toasty hot (I'm not a fan of cold scotch eggs) or a doughnut/donut (4-5 different flavors of plump custard/filling filled donuts..delicious!) or SOME sort of baked good from Bread Ahead. Notably, the Roast is also located in the market - this is a slightly upscale restaurant that does (duh) Sunday roast style dishes including roast beef with yorkshire pudding, pork belly (one of their highly rated dishes), and my favorite - sticky toffee pudding (a definite must get if you go here). It's a little pricey so save it for a special occasion if you do plan to go here.
2. Camden Market
Probably the largest market of them all, this spans several streets, and it's open every day from 10 AM - 7 PM. It gets jam packed with people at all times of the day so I'm really not sure when the best time to go is to avoid the crowds. There's basically everything there - clothing, food, jewelry, trinkets, the goods. Like I said, it's huge with lots of small "alleys" of stalls so it's a bit easy to get lost and be on alert for pick pockets. Lots of the stalls seem to repeat what they sell (ie same clothing items) but it doesn't hurt to take a look around. Personally I didn't find anything appealing to buy. There's a lot of different food varieties to choose from also but I think the halloumi fries are quite popular (again, personally they were just so-so for me but they're worth a try I suppose). They have a nice seating area (spots are hard to come by) that overlooks a river (though the river isn't that nice and very algae infested) where there are some boats that you can pay to go on I believe. Camden Market is definitely one you could spend over an hour at and Camden Town (the area the market is located in) has lots of shops on the highstreet where you can buy brand name clothes and other things so you can really spend half your day in this area.
Two things you should notice: the amount of people and the amount of algae in the lake.

Halloumi fries

 3. Portobello Market
Another very popular and large outdoor street market that gets packed early in the morning so again, not sure when the best time to go is besides early. Lots of antique shops line the streets and even more stalls on the streets themselves. You'll see lots of old gems/stones/jewelry, dining ware/teaware/silverware, and just random old things (age does not make them cheap). There are usually some performers on the street which add to the market feel. You'll walk for a couple of streets until you get to the end where there are most of the food stalls and let me tell you, this is probably one of the largest market food courts. They've got tons of stalls with a huge variety of foods and some will even offer your samples which is nice. They've got a pretty hipster seating area in a sand pit and outdoor loos (aka porta-pottys) that you (horray!) don't need to pay for.
People..and more people. Definitely one of the more crowded markets in London!

Seating area where you can enjoy your food
"Gozleme" for only 5 pounds. Super filling as it came with a heaping serving of hummus and salad. Absolutely delicious!

4. Old Spitafields Market
Nice indoor/covered market with wide variety of clothing shops, random trinkets/goodies, jewelry and hair things, leather belts and bags, etc - as well as a good section of food stalls and actual sit down restaurants on the side. It's open 10 AM - 5 PM everyday except Saturday (opens 11 AM). There's a good variety of things you can buy here and I picked up some cute dresses for a reasonable price (2 for 20 pounds). This market wasn't too crowded when I came by early afternoon which was a definite plus and the food had me drooling. Plus it's near the Peticoat Lane Market - a small outdoor street clothing market selling mostly cheap clothes (cash only) but also some other random household tools for low prices - so you can pop over there when you're done at Old Spitafields.

5. Columbia Flower Market
This Sunday only market specializes in flowers (hurdur) and antiques. It gets PACKED (possibly because it's only open on Sunday; and I mean packed like on par with, if not worse than, Portobello market) so try to go earlier rather than later. It has a huge variety of flowers for a super reasonable price. You're definitely going to see girls taking photos for Instagram here (see the classic feet and flower pose). Flower stalls line the streets but behind them are a few cafes and dozens of antique shops/boutiques selling various trinkets and random homeware goodies - definitely cute things to check out (but not exactly cheap). There's also a few food stalls at the edge/end of the market area and I picked up two vegan goodies (date brownie and banana bread) which were both absolutely deliccious!

6. Greenwich Market
Probably one of my favorite markets out of them all. It's located right off the road near the Cutty Stark (historic boat), the Prime Meridian (7 pound student ticket, 10 for adults - basically to stand over a line..but hey it's worth it if you want to be east and west at the same time right?), and the Queen's House (free! and really quite nice). The market is partly covered under a building (but not exactly indoors because no doors) with some food stalls outdoors as well, and has a really nice variety of stalls selling clothing, hand made things (cards, hair bands, bow ties, etc), homeware (ie metal wire photo holders which you can customize), and of course food! I saw a lot more vegan food options here than most other markets which was cool (not a vegan myself but I can appreciate it) and I tried the vegan donut from Ruby's which was absolute amazingg!

7. Brick Lane Market
Only open Saturday (11 AM - 6 PM) and Sunday (10 AM - 5 PM), this outdoor street market is filled with stalls selling second-hand/second-ware items as well as some clothing stalls. There's an area of the street that has an opening into an old parking lot looking area with more stalls set up in a flea market fashion (random old trinkets lined on tables). You'll also see some stalls selling fresh produce in buckets for 1 pound per bucket like Whitechapel Market (see below). There's lots of surrounding building walls "decorated" in street art which is quite cool (also near Shoreditch which is known for its street art). The streets surrounding the market are filled with hipster cafes (including the notable Cereal Killer cafe and Sloane Bros froyo), the classic famous "beigel" (aka bagel) shop known as Brick Lane Beigel Bake (there's one right next to it also called Beigel Shop which is also rated well but not as many reviews for it on Google so I think it's not the MOST famous lol), and Indian restaurants known to make amazing curry (I have yet to try but the area itself has lots of local Southeast Asians so I wouldn't be surprised if their restaurants were amazing). The two beigel/bagel shops are known for their salt beef bagel but personally I thought the salt beef wasn't anything out of this world (never had it before so not saying it was bad or anything) and for 4 pounds compared to the other fillings (ie cream cheese, smoked salmon and cream cheese, cheese, nutella) which are only 1-2 pounds, it didn't feel quite worth it. But if you're into salt beef or love meat, it doesn't hurt to try it because let's be honest, 4 pounds isn't unreasonably expensive when you consider London prices - and the bagel dough itself is really nice, soft, and fluffy.

8. Whitechapel Market
This is a street market right next to the Whitechapel tube station. It's not crazy huge or long and doesn't get crowded like the other markets. It's great for cheap ripe produce (and when I say ripe, I mean like eat that day ripe or else it'll go bad). Stalls sell fruit piled in a plastic bucket for 1 pound each and while other markets may have stalls like this as well, Whitechapel's portions (aka fruit per bucket) are the most and best deal. For example, I got 5 large ripe avocados for 1 pound and 9 bananas for 1 pound! There's also lots of clothing stalls selling cheap scarves (1-2 pounds each), dresses, pants, shoes, etc. It's a bit like a market you'd see in Asia but run mostly by Middle Eastern shop owners instead. Definitely a nice place to stop by to get your daily fruit fix. Be mindful that all the stalls are cash only.

9. Brixton Market/Brixton Station Road Market
Nice market with largely Jamaican, African, and Latin American influences so you can try some more authentic foods here. It's not as clean/tidy as some other markets (lots of meat butcher shops) but don't let that stop you from walk on a bit further where you'll find an indoor market area that's cleaner with mostly sit down cafes and restaurants (so many to choose from!). There's not as many clothing stalls here as it's mostly food but you'll find some cool cultural items at some stalls on the street/road market. There's also the Pop Brixton area which is an outdoor two-story food eating area (more hipster and pricey foods ranging from steak and fries, crepes, tacos/burritos, pizza, beer, etc) with maybe 1-2 vintage selling clothing stalls. There's a nice seating area on the second floor that's covered so you can take shelter there if it's raining.
Inside Pop Brixton
Pop Brixton second floor seating area
Vintage Kilo Sale! This event goes on every so often so check Facebook to see when the next one is. They have multiple locations
10. Bloomsbury Farmer's Market
Thursday only food market (9 AM - 2 PM) located near the University College London (UCL) so you'll see lots of students here. It's well-rated online with lots of reviewers raving about the lunch options but I haven't actually found the time to make my way there so I'll leave this short for now. Prices are said to range from 5-6 pounds which isn't unreasonable and they're said to have a good range of options to choose from. The only downside is that during peak lunch hours, there can be quite long lines and since the market isn't even open for that long, you might find yourself waiting a bit.

11. Broadway Street Market
Really nice outdoor street market for lunch time foods.. which is a shame because I went there around 10-10:30 (and it says it opens at 9) and most of the shops were still getting set up (especially the ones making fresh hot foods). It apparently gets really busy during lunch time so maybe go right before the lunch rush hour or after. There are a really wide variety of foods including savory and sweet (some really nice looking meringues and eclairs and cakes!) as well as shops selling handmade clothing, jewelery, and general things you can give as gifts. Also a few shops lining the buildings surrounding the market that are good for early birds looking for a bite to eat. It's close to Netil Market which is a small market (only about 5-8 small shops in a fenced area) that sells old furniture, bike parts, art pieces, flowers, and some other random things. It opens at 9 AM on the weekdays and 11 AM on weekends but I'd suggest going around 12 or after on the weekend since when I went, they weren't really set-up or open at 11.

12. Roman Way Market
Small outdoor street market selling cheap clothing and random things to use around the house (ie cleaning supplies, plastic tupperwares, etc). There's not a huge selection of things here and only 1-2 stalls selling fresh produce and it's not some market I'd say you HAVE to go to but they do have some stalls selling designer brand name clothes so you might want to pop on by if you're into that. There's a fair amount of restaurant/food shops lining the buildings surrounding the market if you're looking to get a bite to eat (Percy Ingle smells of warm melted butter and fatty goodness - definitely recommend checking out their hot pastries) but none of the usual fresh food stalls you might see at other markets.

That's all the ones I've been to so far. I'll continue to update this with more markets that I go to in the London area but hopefully you've found this helpful and enjoy exploring the London culture as I have. Let me know what markets are your favorites or if I've missed any, which ones I need to add to my list to check out!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

My Harry Potter Themed Party

Being the Harry Potter geek that I am, I had to throw a Harry Potter themed party for Christmas/my birthday last year (yes this is quite an over-due post). I ended up prepping this all by myself (the boyfriend was sick and slept the whole day) so didn't take as many pictures as I should have but it ended up going fantastically and I was really pleased with everything. Of course I have Pinterest to thank (link to my board with my inspirations) for most of the ideas but all in all, it was a lot of fun and now all my friends have a Pottermore account, wand, Hogwarts House, and a Patronus!

If you're into Halloween and have lots of props packed up, you'll have an easy time prepping the house. I borrowed a giant spider from my boyfriend's parents and shoved it right on the floor (was going to hang it but it was 6 ft long body not including the legs) so that was a nice touch. We also had candles lit all around the house (yes fire hazard but they were all safely placed and no kids running around) and I had used red lipstick to write on my bathroom mirror with the signature "The Chamber of Secrets has been opened again..Enemies of the Heir Beware" which was great and spooked some of my friends haha. I also had a corner of the wall decorated for photos

I made a few wands for photos and just for fun and it was actually so much fun to make and decorate them. I used wooden chopsticks as my base and a hot glue gun to create the designs. Definitely be careful - I burned myself a few times. I watched a few Youtube videos (just search DIY Harry Potter wands) and looked up some pictures of main character's wands for inspiration and help but really it's not hard at all and have fun with it! The hardest part was probably painting over the hot glue because sometimes it would rub off? I used acrylic paint so not sure if that made a difference or not (I think that's what most people do). It took multiple coatings (with drying in between) to get the wands to satisfactory state but overall my friends were really impressed and I was really happy with them!
Can you guess which wands were inspired by which character's wands?!
I had a little stand set up to be a photo booth (hence the polaroid camera included) with the wands and the books!
Onto food! I set up a table with drinks and candy all Harry Potter themed. Because my party took place in the late afternoon, our real dinner food was normal pasta and salad but I did set up the dining table pretty nicely as well (unfortunately didn't take a picture of it) with candles and other sorts to make it look like a Harry Potter feast. If you're looking for real Harry Potter food rather than candy and what not, I'd suggest some sort of pie or pot roast in addition to possibly a soup and salad. Real food ideas were harder to come by on Pinterest and online but when in doubt, just go with anything British!

A lot of the containers I got from Michael's Crafts Store so I'd suggest checking them out if you're looking for some ways to add magic to your party. I got the test tubes ($1 each), light bulb jars ($1.99 each if I recall correctly), mason jars with handles ($2.99 each), and the milk jars (not sure how much these cost, have had them for a while). The Ferris wheel in the back is actually a cupcake holder I bought online from Ebay for less than $20 a while ago. I didn't have time to make cupcakes to actually fill it with but it does spin which is pretty cute haha. The chalk board signs are supposed to be to label cheese I think but their pretty multi-purpose. I got them from Crate and Barrel but I'm sure you can find them online for cheaper as well.
The powdered dung beetles were just jello mix (actually the yellow one was lemon flavored Gatorade powder) that people were to mix/create drinks with. I looked it up and you can use jello mix for this purpose so you can use it as an option if you have jello mix lying around (like I did). If not, you can also just get powdered Kool-Aid or some other powdered drinks and let people have fun! I also made pumpkin juice (see image below; there's only one filled since I had the others in the fridge) using this recipe. It's not bad but you do have stir it frequently or else the pumpkin mix sinks to the bottom. If you're too lazy to click the link (you do have to scroll down through all their photos to get to the recipe), here's the ingredients (just mix it all together)
  • 4 liters apple cider or apple juice (what I used)
  • 1 small (15 oz) can pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 c. sugar (you can add less depending on your preference)
  • 2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (I just mixed cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and clove)
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
Not pictured, but the mason jars with the handles in the back were filled with Butterbeer (what's a Harry Potter party without butterbeer?!) which I made by mixing Root Beer soda (1 L bottle) with a hearty squirt of salted caramel extract (don't shake it to mix it...seems obvious but it went over my head). Then I added a scoop of vanilla ice cream into the jars and poured the soda+caramel mixture in. I can't drink soda but all my friends said it tasted really good so I think it went well? Haha.

A lot of people use Ferrero Rocher as snitches but I didn't have time to make wings and stick them on so I thought, hey golden eggs are a thing and shoved them into a parfait glass I got from a thrift store haha. I didn't take up close pictures of the two jars next to the golden eggs but you can see them on the sides of the photo. The one of the left was filled with gummy worms (Target brand cause I'm cheap) labeled as "dragon worms" and the one on the right had Bean Boozled Jelly Beans (their pretty expensive) on the top layer and then regular knock-off Jelly beans (again Target brand) on the bottom to fill the jar up. Take note that the jar STUNK like smelled SO bad when we opened it and those bean boozled jelly beans do NOT mess around when it comes to the nasty flavors! Had I had more time, I would have created the actual Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans box (here's a template ad another one) and put them in there because I think that's so much cuter. Next time though...!
Of course I had to make macarons with the Harry Potter theme! I used an edible black marker (this is the set I have) to draw the designs and used my basic macaron recipe (blog post here) with some dyed a certain color. I'm pretty proud of my HP font too :) By the way, I got inspiration for these designs from a Pinterest photo I saw so not taking credits!
I also made some chocolate frogs (got a cheap mold for less than $5 on Amazon) and was going to fill one with some ghost pepper shavings..but my mom saw the ghost pepper and freaked out and said it was going to burn a whole in someone's esophagus and threw it out the day before my party. So buying another one wasn't an option so I used some normal hot peppers and hid them in 2 of the chocolate frogs and gave them to my friends. Boy were they surprised haha!

So that about wraps up my Harry Potter party and everything it entailed. I apologize for not having more photos but hopefully this gave you some ideas on how to throw your own Harry Potter party! Have fun with it and embrace your inner wizard/witch! <3

Does Castor Oil Work to Grow Your Eyelashes?? [REAL TEST!]

Being your typical Asian girl, long thick full luscious eyelashes are something I don't have. It's never been extremely bothersome though and I've never felt self-conscious or ashamed of my lashes. Heck, I'm pretty lucky because my lashes are actually a decent length for most Asians and I'm fortunate enough to not have short lashes that grow downward and into my eyeballs (yes that's a thing; it happened to my cousin and also a friend who actually had to get surgery to correct it because they were scratching/damaging her eyes!).

But that's besides the point. After watching numerous beauty gurus talking about RevitaLash or some other lash elongating or thickening product (many of which cost $60 and upward for a small mascara size bottle), I decided to give some DIY products a go. I started with just using my organic lipbalm to "coat" my lashes every night but then I did some research and found that Vaseline can be helpful (some controversy on it though) as well as castor oil. Castor oil seemed to be really highly recommended so I decided to get a bottle of castor oil from Now (pretty reputable brand, highly rated) on Amazon ($9.15 only for 16 oz!). The bottle is HUGE. I'm not sure how I'm going to finish it although I have been able to use up more by mixing a squirt of castor oil with some cheap body lotion and using it on my body.

NOW Castor Oil, 16-Ounce

I've used the castor oil every night (for about 2 months now) and apply just a little (pea size amount) on the tip/edge of my index finger. I put any excess oil onto the back of my other hand and apply the oil to upper lashline (the root of the lashes!) of one eye. I usually swipe the side of my index finger back into the excess I've wiped onto my hand to get some more product and then move onto the other eye. Then I'll use what's left on my finger to coat the bottom lashes. People say you really just need to get the base/root of your eyelashes rather than the whole entire eyelash but I find the oil on my finger tends to hit/coat the whole lash while I'm focusing on putting product on the lash line so basically, I end up coating my lashes as well as the root. Don't think it hurts to nourish the lash tips although if it gets in your eye, it kind of itches but it's not a huge deal (I actually wear night time contacts and haven't had too much problem with the product getting in my eye or irritating my eyes but just a word of note I suppose). Probably the better method to apply the castor oil would be to use a Q-tip/cotton swab but I'm too lazy to buy them/my finger works just fine for me but to each their own.

Now I'm not an ophthalmologist or optometrist so I can't say if this is safe or bad for your eyes/lashes but I haven't noticed any negative side effects in the last 2 months that I've been doing this (ie redness, allergic reaction, etc). The only possibly one downside is that maybe the castor oil clogs my pores because about twice, I've gotten a pimple on my upper cheekbone/under my eye which is pretty rare for me but I'm not sure if that's due to the castor oil. I've also gotten about 2 pimples within my eyebrows which seem to be associated with when I put any leftover castor oil through my brows (thought I'd try to thicken up those too) so I've stopped doing that. I read on a website (here is one site and another site that talks about the comedogenic properties of castor and other oils) that castor oil can clog pores on some people so I'd definitely suggest trying it out for a day or two first before really going for it. Despite possibly getting pimples around my eyes because of the oil, I haven't gotten any pimples on my eyelids or lashline (no styes) and I actually had what I think might have been a milia (keratin filled bump) which you can see in the initial pictures below and it's now gone away possibly because of the castor oil (it gets on my eyelids when I'm applying it, sometimes I rub the leftover/excess around my eyes like eye cream). So as a final warning, just be aware of any skin changes and stop if you think the castor oil is causing negative effects.

Okay so here's some picture results from my last 2 months of using castor oil (what you've all been waiting for).
I apologize for the lighting difference and meh quality but these were taken off my phone with no product on. The top 2 photos were at the start (February 2017) and the bottom 2 photos are now (April 2017). I'm going to continue using the castor oil since 2 months isn't a whole lot of time, and update this as it goes but so far I haven't seen that much of a difference..can you guys? It's definitely a bit disappointing that there's not much change and I actually did some MORE research on castor oil and found that only some people have actually seen eyelash growth with it so maybe it's not as effective as I initially though.

There is an actual medical product that boosts eyelash growth but requires a prescription and is incredibly expensive. It's called bimatoprost (generic) or Latisse (brand name) and has been shown to be extremely effective in lengthening your lashes. I don't plan on getting that though because (1) price and (2) a friend tried it and said after stopping, her lashes seemed stunted in growth (this has been mentioned by others who've used it as well).

So hopefully this was somewhat helpful or interesting to read. I'm sorry castor oil isn't the miracle product (for me at least) but give it a shot if you want - maybe you'll be different? Anyways, what other DIY or actual real products have you guys tried to make your eyelashes grow?