New kids on the block

I have found my fix for when I’m not at The Hoxton.

You might know by now that I am a big fan of The Hoxton, the open-lobby hotel with three establishments in London and several outposts in other parts of the world. The views of their outpost in Williamsburg, NY, are breathtaking. 

However amazing the establishment may be, I cannot always spend as much time there as I would like. Surrogates are required even in a pandemic to give this millennial access to coffee, juices and smoothies, brunch food options, and a semblance of remote office space.

I am for this reason glad that I’ve found a surrogate in the vicinity. Music & Beans is a local coffee shop that won me over this summer by popping up on Green Lanes and putting a humble breakfast pita on the menu. The key ingredient, tahini, has made me visit the joint specifically for this dish several times now, which in my books means this place matters. Good coffees, very good hot chocolates, pastries and brunch food on the menu, as well as the space for remote work, a local star is born through Music & Beans. These are some very cool new kids that have arrived on the block and I like them.

Jenny

From The Block 

“You’re the girl who’s studying Brand Management, right? Good luck!”

“Thanks!” 

One of the perks of the lockdown, and there haven’t been that many, has been the opportunity to know my local area and my neighbours better. 

There are five parks nearby, and I could easily knock myself out looping through all of them for my daily dose of physical activity if I wanted to. There are the streets and houses that I admire on my way to the high street, particularly the house with a beautifully manicured garden and minimalistic interior design that I frankly wish it were mine. 

There are three off-licence shops nearby. The first one – kind enough to store Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food for me; I can always rely on them for my sugar fix. The second one – the de facto choice for all sorts and the third. The third sets you back as much as Waitrose. 

There are several pets nearby that bring me tremendous joy every time we meet. The best of them is Rascal, a gorgeous black cat that lives up the street opposite the park. He is kind enough to play, warm enough to cuddle, smart enough to know he should not cross the street and stay on his side of the road instead. There is the group of dogs whose owners take them out for company and exercise so religiously around the same time every day, you could set your clock to them. 

There are the locals that I have got to know since March. The employees at the GP surgery who walk around the park to clear their minds and stretch their legs at lunch, the father and daughter who go for laps of the park together, the double-arm amputee gentleman whose daily routine includes laps of the park, too.  

There is the gentleman who saw me reading in the park several weeks ago and asked me the subject of the book under my nose. I saw him sipping his tea out of a real cup on a bench this morning and then saw him again sitting on a different bench this afternoon as I was reading out of the same book. He got up and started walking away, turned around and asked: “You’re the girl who’s studying Brand Management, right? Good luck!” “Thanks!”

I hope I see him again tomorrow. I would like to know his name. 

SMA, a disease in need of awareness, families and infants in need of support.

I’ve written another article about SMA and SMA Type 1 inspired by Robert Grabazei, his story, and the story of so many other babies that I have watched on YouTube and the Internet lately.

You can find it on LinkedIn.

Let’s support local restaurants as they reopen.

I have been fortunate enough to make amazing memories and experience great moments in restaurants over time. From the restaurants in Bucharest, where I celebrated birthdays, friendships, and local musicians, to the restaurants in New York and on the Eastern coast of the United States, where I discovered cuisines from all around the world and tastes I had not experienced, to London and its surrounding counties, where restaurants have equally delighted me and kept me occupied. And how could I ignore the restaurants of Naples and Florence, where I found not only amazing food and the passion that went into putting it on the table, but also how to enjoy it while dolce far niente, a priceless feeling in life. 

Restaurants are not just places where I have had superb meals. They have opened up the world to me physically and sensorially, given me access to the wider community and made me feel part of the local and international fabric. 

I am grateful to the restaurants in my corner of the world in London that have worked continuously throughout the lockdown. They made me feel like the world retained a grain of normality at times when things felt really dark. Sometimes their take-out teams were the only people I would have face-to-face interaction with for several days in a row. Keeping at it while the whole world was standing still must not have been easy for them either. 

I have already gone back to some favourite places since they have opened – Gordon’s Heddon Street Kitchen, Hot Stone in Chapel Market, and discovered new legendary places at Riddle & Finns The Lanes and The Salt Room in Brighton this weekend, too. 

Aside from the efforts these places have all made to protect their staff and guests from this nefarious virus (i.e. distanced tables, hand sanitising gel aplenty, cashless operations, guest registration, doing their jobs wearing masks and gloves) and all the sacrifices they have endured, I have found brave and professional teams with a smile on their faces and proud chefs keen to prepare fantastic food and to delight their customers. 

“It’s been really busy since we opened again on the 4th of July, it’s good to be back working, interacting with customers and properly earning a living”, said the girl who looked after me at The Salt Room yesterday.

I am glad it’s been busy, and I hope it stays that way. 

If you’re looking for businesses to support as we emerge from lockdown aiming to build a better life, your local restaurants and old-time favourites are a good place to start. And please be brave and venture further out, find new places, dishes and cuisines to experience, people to meet and teams to support. 

They’ll appreciate you not just for your business, but also for your company.

 

The Circle of Life: A Tale of Two Fundraising Stories.

Captain Sir Tom Moore has raised nearly £33m for NHS Charities Together and the funds are going to the frontline workers who are giving so much during the COVID-19 pandemic. He initially set himself the goal of £1m, nevertheless people responded beyond expectations and their generosity helped him achieve a much higher feat.  

Awareness, endearment, relatability, and selflessness have helped his efforts: a World War II veteran walking 100 laps of his garden before reaching the venerable age of 100, helping his nation one more time at a time when one of its most revered institutions is under siege and those who can support it can do so from behind closed doors. 

For the past five months, my heart and mind have been captured by the story of Robert Grabazei, a seven-month old baby born in October 2019 with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) Type 1, a genetic disease caused by the inadequate production of motor neurons, which will take his life before he reaches two and has the chance to genuinely put a foot in front of the other. His life can be improved and saved with Zolgensma, an innovative gene therapy treatment which is at the moment the only chance for babies born with this disease. A one-shot treatment, Zolgensma costs £1.7m. 

I have watched the funds raised for him like a hawk ever since his diagnosis last December and I have been impressed with people’s response. Several weeks ago, Robert’s family raised just over 70% of the funds they need to afford the treatment. I hope the outstanding amount (£0.5m) is arrived at as soon as possible: babies diagnosed with SMA 1 lose the motor neurons they were born with every. single. day. 

Similar to Captain Tom Moore, I believe endearment has played a significant part in people talking about and donating for Robert. I wonder if higher awareness of SMA 1 and its devastating effects would have helped this fundraising effort go further, faster. His parents will undoubtedly succeed in raising the funds they need to save his life, however a longer-term solution is needed for every 1 out of 6,000 – 10,000 babies born globally with SMA 1 who come into this world with a significant price tag on their life and who need these funds within their first six months in order to stand a chance. 

At this point, I only wish Captain Sir Tom Moore could come out of retirement, walk a symbolic lap of his garden and help raise the final leg of the amount Robert needs to take his first steps. I feel like this little guy could use a hero and who better at this moment than a man who has seen, done and achieved so much. 

About SMA 1: Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a group of genetic diseases that cause weakness and wasting in the voluntary muscles of infants and children and, more rarely, in adults. It’s one of the most common genetic conditions affecting children (est. one in every 6,000 to 10,000 babies worldwide is born with SMA).

In more than 95% of cases, SMA is caused by inadequate production of a protein called survival motor neuron (SMN) protein that is essential to motor neurons.

There are four different types of SMA. The classification is determined by the developmental milestones the child has hit by the time of the disease onset. Type 1 (severe) SMA is the most severe and the most common. It is usually evident at birth, or in the first few months afterwards (0-6 months). Symptoms include floppy limbs and weak trunk movement. Children with this type usually have very limited ability to move, a hard time feeding and swallowing, holding their head up, and breathing. Type 1 SMA progresses rapidly, with the weakening of muscles leading to frequent respiratory infections and usually death by the age of 2. Infants with SMA type 1 can never sit. (ref. Cleveland Clinic.org).

There are 366 days in a year and any of these may be used to run an ad.

Browsing through the CNN website, I came across a story reporting that ABC Universal did not run a TV ad for female postpartum pads on the evening of the 2020 Academy Awards. The network labelled the ad “too descriptive and too graphic”; although it asked the manufacturer Frida Mom to edit the ad, these edits were not made and the ad did not consequently run. 

Frida Mom posted the ad on YouTube introducing it as “the ad that did not run during the Oscars”. There is a slightly emotional introduction to the video which almost begs viewers to shed a tear at the fact that the TV network refused to run its work on the night of one of the most televised events in the world. 

I do not find this to be fair.

There are 366 days in a year and 365 other days when Frida Mom could have bought airtime and placed the ad on the network. On any of those 366 days as well as on the night of the Oscars, they could have run with an edited ad and directed viewers to their site to show the entire creative spiel to their direct audience (moms to be, recent moms and their partners). 

It might not have been what they wanted, but it would have got them on TV and generated all this buzz in a less defensive, tear-inducing and victimising manner. Maybe that there were things that the Academy Awards could have done differently and better this year, but refusing to run an ad for postpartum pads with the whole world watching is not to me one of them. 

Hot Stone London, yeah – it’s pretty cool.

I paid a visit to Hot Stone, a Japanese steak and sushi bar at 9 Chapel Market last Friday, prompted by their deliriously sizzling Instagrams and the memories I have of other Japanese restaurants* in London and New York that have delighted and heightened my senses over time. 

In I went for lunch, with a hunger that said I had not had breakfast and an appetite that wanted to try everything on the menu. With the restaurant just open for lunch and filling up with bookings and walk-ins fast, I had the privilege of choosing a table at the front of dining room, although several other guests, in particular two posh lads, let’s say, proved very picky about where they wanted to sit, changed tables a couple of times until they sat close enough to talk straight into my ear and the manager was more than willing to oblige – them.  

Luckily the manager and the waiting staff were very obliging about my entire experience as well, from taking my order and explaining the ingredients of every dish that arrived at the table, to grating fresh Japanese wasabi under my nose and serving me my drinks. On this occasion, I ventured out and ordered some Sake, which promised undertones of strawberry and earthly flavours. I did not sense any strawberry undertones or earthly flavours in my clear glass of Sake, a fact which cemented my instinct that spirits are actually my drink of choice. 

Hello, then arrived the dishes I had ordered – from the Seared Salmon, to the Crunchy Sushi Roll, to the 9 Chapel Market Roll. All made with perfectly cut fresh ingredients and layers and layers of fresh rice and fish, served with fresh soy sauce and freshly grated Wasabi root, mouth-watering and full of flavour. I don’t know what it is about well-crafted Japanese food – every time I have it, visions of Uma Thurman, Kill Bill and Quentin Tarantino flood my mind. I think that is a good thing.  

The Crunchy Sushi Roll competed closely with the eponym dish at Salt + Charcoal, nevertheless it is the sauces, the crunchiness and the actual Williamsburg-nestled location of the latter joint that will keep it in the poll position of my Japanese digs forever and for always and Hot Stone as a really worthy deputy winner. 

Hot Stone is located at 9 Chapel Market, London, N1 9EZ. 

*Akira, Japan House, 101 – 111 Kensington High Street, London, W8 5SA, and Salt + Charcoal, 171 Grand Street, Brooklyn, New York, 11249. 

Jolene.

This Saturday at the recommendation of Monocle I stepped into Jolene in Newington Green and that is when it hit me. Damn, I first thought, this place is so packed you cannot throw a needle. Damn damn, I secondly thought, this place is even better than all else I have seen in South Williamsburg, the seat of my two most favourite eateries in the world.

Does this mean that London has gained an upper hand over New York in my mind? No, but it has surprised me pleasantly over the past four months. Who knew there were so many interesting places in Stoke Newington, Newington Green, London Fields and Notting Hill. 🙂

Jolene is the kind of place where I swear even Cobain would hang out if he were still alive and show up for brunch on Saturday morning. I bet no one would tell him he had to wait to get a table. The crowd is creative, eclectic, millennial, the waiting staff is interesting, the décorum is minimal, yet exclusive, the food is greit.

This place will be around for years.

“You haven’t come this far to stop.”

Over 50,000 runners took part in the New York Marathon in November 2018. And I was one of them. I had decided to participate the year before, selling myself the event as a sightseeing opportunity: “You’ll see parts of New York you haven’t yet seen!”  That was good enough motivation for me, because to me New York is the greatest city in our modern world and – well, I just have to see it.

The most intense months of training were September and October and I flew to New York in November determined to finish the race.  

Everyone says that running a marathon is physical and mental. It became apparent as I was running how important it was to manage and control the little voice in my head to keep it on my side and help me get the race done.

I began the event on an emotional high, jumping out of my friend’s car and walking to the check-in point. I ran into other marathoners who were walking there and I resonated with their buzz and excitement.

The starting gun went off and I started running down the bridge looking across the water at the city skyline. I saw the Empire State Building in the very, very far distance and thought: “Hm, I need to run all the way up there – and then some.”

The Brooklyn leg of the race was all novel and exciting. Still emotionally high, I ran at my usual pace and took in what was around me. People were lining up the streets and cheering the runners. I thought: “Wow, how nice of everyone to come out on a Sunday morning and support runners they don’t even know!”

I spent a good part of the race reading up the signs that they were holding up – some of the funniest reading that “Toenails are for losers!” and “If Britney made it through 2007, you can make it through 26.2 miles!”

And so I ran happily all the way up to Km 20 in the hipster part of Brooklyn. Past that point, I started to feel tired and my initial excitement turned into doubt. The voice in my head began muttering:  “What have you got yourself into?”, “Maybe you should go home”, “I think I would like to stop for brunch.”

I hit the notorious runner’s wall crossing the bridge from Queens into Manhattan. I had so much lactic acid in my legs that my calf muscles felt like exploding and I wondered whether or not I would be able to use my legs or keep any toenails post-event. I was pissed off for signing up and I wanted to throw a full-blown tantrum – in the middle of a bridge! – but I said to myself: “Keep going you idiot, you haven’t come this far to stop.”

I suffered all the way to the Bronx (roughly Km 32). Gatorade gels, frequent pit stops, several songs on my iPod and the signs that the crowd were holding up kept me through phase. The one that cracked me up the most was held by this guy who had a pint in one hand and the sign in the other – it read: “I’ve turned up because they said there would be beer.”

Finally, I got to the final 7 Km. I most likely ran the way Elaine in Seinfeld used to dance by this point, if you remember her moves. This lady on the sidewalk handed me a fist-full of salt, which I gulped and which saved my life. “God is a marathon runner”, I thought.  

The final 5 Km were the most emotional. No matter how much I ran, I still could not see the finish line and there was always another left or right to take. Finally, I saw the end stretch and dragged myself past the finish line.

I learned a lot from this experience. The most important thing being that if you prioritise your final goal and coach yourself through highs and lows, you can get there!

*Delivered as Speech 6 at Toastmasters London Business School, 13th March 2019.

Too gentle to live amongst wolves.

This is born in my heart, born in the pain of ending one life and beginning another, born in the excitement of continuing the search for life’s meaning. Some people do not have to search – they find their niche early in life and rest there, seemingly contented and resigned. They do not ask much of life and sometimes they do not seem to take life seriously. At times, I envy them but usually do not understand them. Seldom do they understand me.

I am one of the searchers. There are, I believe, millions of us. We are not unhappy but neither are we content. We continue to explore life, hoping to uncover its ultimate secret. We continue to explore ourselves hoping to understand. We like to walk along the beach. We are drawn by the ocean, taken by its power, its unceasing motions, its mystery and its unspeakable beauty. We like the forests, mountains and deserts, and hidden rivers – even the lonely cities. Our sadness is much part of our life as is our laughter.

We searchers are ambitious only for life itself for everything beautiful it can provide. Most of all we want to live and be loved. We want to live in a relationship that will not impede our wandering, nor lock us in prison walls that will take us for that little we have to give. We do not want to prove ourselves to another or to compete for love.

This is for wanderers, dreamers and lovers, for lonely men and women who dare to ask of life’s everything good and beautiful. It is for those who are too gentle to live amongst wolves.

James Kavanagh

San Diego, 1970