Afternoon Tea: A Comedy of Errors

Last weekend, two of my best friends from New York came to visit us in Oxford. I wanted to make sure Chelsy (my former roommate) and Rosa (my Pretty Little Liars watching buddy) got the full English experience, so on Sunday afternoon, we went to afternoon tea in Woodstock (a tiny village in the Cotswolds.)

After a day of playing in Blenheim Palace, we headed to the MacDonald Bear Hotel to check out their comfy-looking Churchill Lounge, but ended up in the hotel's empty downstairs bar, drawn in by the roaring fireplace. #perfect

But our elegant and relaxing tea soon spiraled into a comedy of errors. Don't worry--it wasn't a complete disaster. The whole experience left us in stitches and made for one of our most memorable moments yet.

Here are the highlights:

The tranquil room immediately changed on us--After we secured a quiet and warm little table in the corner near the fireplace, the fire went out and the tables around us started filling up with rowdy people getting drinks from the bar.

Our food didn't come on a sandwich tier--When you think of traditional afternoon tea, the first thing that comes to mind is the pretty little display the food comes out on. Instead, our waitress just kind of shoved plates of scones and sandwiches on our table. Sad faces all around. What are our followers on Instagram going to think? :(

Whatever. We didn't get sandwich tiers but we're still smiling.

Our waitress mixed up the teas--She placed a pot of tea in front of each of us and put another pot in the center of the table saying it was hot water. Poor Rosa started pouring her tea while talking to us and didn't realize she had poured a whole thing of water in her cup! Then, after she got rid of the water and began pouring her real tea, the lid fell into the pot! We tried to figure out how that even happened--none of us could even fit our lid in our pots if we tried. Rosa has mad skills.... As I was feeling sorry for her that her lid was compromised, we both realized we had the wrong tea. So, we traded, and I was now assigned to the pot with no lid. Womp womp....

What It's Like to Attend a High Table Dinner in Oxford

This was definitely an experience of a lifetime! Christopher's boss invited us to a High Table dinner at Trinity College. I'd heard about these events from a few people I'd spoken with: "Oh, it's a must if you can go to one." So, I was obviously excited when I heard we had the opportunity to attend.

What it is: a very old tradition that takes place at some prestigious universities (including Oxford and Cambridge) where students and fellows of the college eat a fancy dinner together. The fellows and their guests (that's us!) sit at a high table--literally, it's raised on a platform--while the students sit at large family-style tables perpendicular to the High Table. (Think Hogwarts' Great Hall.) Everyone dresses formally and the fellows wear their academic robes.

Standing in front of a portrait of the founder of Trinity College.
The dinner begins after those at the High Table walk in. A loud bang happens and all the students stand up immediately. A prayer is said in Latin and then the food and drinks start coming out.

Thanksgiving in Oxford

When we were gearing up to move to Oxford, I had a timeline in my head of when I'd start getting homesick. It was right around Thanksgiving. I imagined sitting in my apartment eating something not usually found on the Thanksgiving table like steak and ale pie instead of turkey, and FaceTiming with everyone back at home wishing I was there to clink my glass with them in person. But the day has finally come and so far, so good!

We actually hosted our first Thanksgiving on Saturday. Our sweet neighbors Aleks and Greg embraced the tradition with us and I think it will be one of our most memorable days this year. It was quite a process getting everything we needed for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in Oxford. I had to make a few trips to different grocery stores and place an online order to ensure we could get everything. And we still had to improvise on some things (Stove-Top is not a staple in the UK apparently….)

Even though we were in another country, we managed to keep most of the tradition associated with Thanksgiving:

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade -- I found last year's entire episode on YouTube so I played it while we prepared the food that morning.

Turkey -- I don't remember turkeys being this inexpensive in America. Most of the ones I found here were around £40 ($63) but I managed to find a small frozen turkey for £12 ($19) that was the perfect size for four of us. Christopher did an excellent job roasting it!

Sides -- I had to buy imported French's onions to make the green bean casserole, but I'm happy to say it turned out exactly how it does back home. The stuffing was a little harder. We used actual bread mixed with seasoning but it turned out pretty good. We also made sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy, and those delicious Red Lobster biscuits.

Pumpkin Pie -- We gave Greg and Aleks Christopher's mom's recipe and they made the most beautiful one complete with homemade whipped cream (because Cool Whip doesn't exist here.)

Video: Looking Back On My First Job

Just wanted to share something I did as part of's video series "Dreamjobbing With…." I got to talk about my first job and that time I basically stalked my favorite magazine editor and made her my mentor :) I feel honored to be included in this series.

You can find out more about the concept of Dreamjobbing in my interview with the co-founder of the site.

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The Coolest Thing We Did In Barcelona

I first heard about EatWith while interviewing a travel blogger for a freelance story I was working on (it'll be published soon--I'll share when it is!). The concept's so cool--it's like an Airbnb for meals--so I decided to try it out on our trip to Barcelona. Basically, you go to the site, enter the name of the city you're traveling to, and you'll find a list of locals offering to cook for you in their home. The fee is small compared to the experience you get. There are even some listings that feature meals with Michelin starred chefs for less than $100.

One of the highest rated hosts in Barcelona was Marta, who runs a very famous paella cooking class out of her apartment. We decided to opt for that one and are so happy we did (although I'm sure the others would have been great too!)

I was kind of nervous right before we arrived--going to a stranger's house can be a little creepy, but the guy who told me about this ensured it would be safe and said to just embrace it. At the elevator, we met a friendly-looking girl our age who asked if we were going to the class too. And when we arrived, we discovered a whole group of travelers around our age getting to know each other on the terrace.

There was a couple from California who brought their adorable 6-month old girl. I loved their spirit and attitude. It's like, "yeah, we just had a baby but that won't stop us from having fun." I've got to remember that down the road…. Then there was another couple from the States who knew each other through their brother and sister who had just gotten married. Three people were on solo trips. How awesome to go on an adventure by yourself?! And one guy brought his parents. We'll get back to him in a second….

Marta began the class by telling us a little about herself. She's originally from Barcelona and moved to San Francisco to teach and ended up loving it so much she stayed there for 20 years. When she moved back to Barcelona, she was teaching a vegetarian cooking class when someone asked her if she could teach them how to make paella, thus launching her career as the queen of paella, Spain's national dish.  The one we were making that day was composed of rice, vegetables, broth, meat and seafood (so a little bit of everything, really….)

Then, she gave us all a task. I cut the sausage into bite-sized pieces, and Christopher cut the cuttlefish (which is a big deal because he's not a big fish fan--although, we're definitely changing that one cooking class at a time.)

Weekend Adventures: Barcelona

I think I've found one of my new favorite cities! This past weekend, Christopher and I jetted off to Barcelona to experience delicious food, beautiful architecture, and the amazing Spanish culture.

First stop: our hotel. We found a great deal at H10 Urquinaona Plaza, a modern hotel located in the heart of Barcelona. We were in walking distance to pretty much every stop on our trip, but also right across the street from the metro when we were too tired to walk back. They greeted us with champagne upon arrival (yes, please!), and we centered ourselves and planned our first day on the terrace overlooking the city.

Christopher enjoying the bubbly on the hotel terrace

Our next stop was the Sagrada Familia, the Roman Catholic church designed by famed architect Antoni Gaudí. It's so massive that they started building it in 1882 and it's not set to be completed until 2026. This was one of the most amazing places I've ever seen.

This is the view when you look up while inside the Sagrada Familia. Pretty awesome!
After a brief siesta at the hotel (hey, when in Rome Barcelona, right?), we ventured into the neighborhood of La Barceloneta (near the beach) and found a cute little tapas restaurant called Jai-Ca which was packed with locals, so we figured it had to be authentic. We perched ourselves up on stools at the bar and enjoyed three whole hours of small plates and vermouth. It was probably one of the best meals/dates we've ever had, and it only cost around $40 for the whole night. Highly recommended!

Mmmm… tapas. Delicios!

Writing Among The Dreaming Spires

Happy Friday, everyone! This week has been a very busy one for me--actually all of November has. As you know, I moved to Oxford with the goal of writing a novel. In August I started working on one that's been in the making since I was in college. My friend Megan--who also wanted to write a book--and I decided to become writing buddies, so since August, we've been writing a couple of chapters every other week, emailing them to each other, and meeting up on Skype to talk about them. Writing is a very solo activity so it's nice to have other people involved in some way.

So, when National Novel Writing Month kicked off in November, I decided to participate. The gist of it is that you try to write 50,000 words in a month (my head hurts just thinking about that!). There's a website that you register at and connect with other writers participating in your area. So, I joined the Oxford group and was welcomed with open arms.

They have these things called "write-ins" where you meet up with other members at various spots around town and work on your novels together. I first did one with an American girl around my age and we ended up talking for two out of the three hours we were together. But it was so fun making a new friend, I didn't care that I wasn't moving up my word count. The second one I did was with a woman who has had a lot of experience writing. That day, she was actually working on a scene in her YA novel that involved a teen magazine and she had brought some issues for inspiration. We both felt it was meant to be that I was there that day since I define myself by teen mags.

And yesterday, a group of us ended up at St. Cross Church which was built in 1160 (pictured above)! This write-in was a lot less social and much more productive (the building was so quiet I felt guilty talking.) Since I started writing this over the summer, I'm a little ahead of the goal right now for NaNoWriMo, but I doubt I'll finish it on time--I'm so impressed with anyone who can do that! One of the women in the group wrote 4,000 words in three hours. I was just happy with my thousand!

Right now I'm at 26,000 words, and I think with all of my previous (incomplete) attempts at writing, this might be my best one. I've learned that writing a novel is not easy at all, but doing it with people and support makes it a lot more fun!

Have you ever written a novel? What's your biggest piece of advice? I'd love any tips you can share.

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