Guest blog post by Haley Green
In the past 12 months the organization has hosted a series of Zoom events such as quiz night, wine tasting, book club, and most recently a baking class hosted by Susie Whitfield, founder of The Cotswolds Baking Workshop.
All set up and ready to go
Prior to the event, I received a list of equipment and ingredients I would need, along with the recipes and directions for the mini salted caramel brownie bites, amaretti biscuits and a luscious passion fruit curd. Read the full blog post here.
Check out AWC member Haley Green's blog and gallery of life in London at postcardsfromlondon.co.uk/.
In November and December 2020, the AWC dedicated its annual Holiday Charity Appeal to one of its longtime charity partners — the Soup Kitchen at the American International Church of London. Members raised a total of £7,238 in record time — enough to cover one month of hot meals (160 meals/day, 6 days a week) plus operating costs for the kitchen.
After achieving its initial goal of £1,800 (covering one week’s meals and operating costs) in just a few days, the AWC’s Community Outreach and Fundraising teams upped the ante two more times. Club members planned tie-in activities such as a virtual Thanksgiving Happy Hour and Bake-Off and created an American/British cookbook as a special giveaway to donors.
As part of its core commitment to community service, the AWC has supported the Soup Kitchen with teams of in-person volunteers twice per month for more than 10 years. During the pandemic, members have assisted with fundraising instead to meet the operation’s ever-growing needs. With a small staff and hundreds of volunteers each year, the Soup Kitchen of the American International Church provides nutritious food, mental health support, clothing and friendship for the homeless, elderly, lonely and vulnerable throughout the city. Learn more at soupkitchenlondon.org and awclondon.org.
Whitney Edwards, AWC London club president, spoke to the BBC World News on Thanksgiving to discuss how our club has been gathering virtually to celebrate holidays and to keep spirits up during the pandemic. Read about our AWC Thanksgiving events here and check out the video segment below to hear how our international community of women has provided support and friendship during a difficult year:
For many Americans in London, November finds us pining for pumpkin pie, family gatherings and turkey dinners with all the fixings. Lucky for newcomers, veteran AWC members are always happy to share tips for where to find American staples like cranberry sauce and canned pumpkin in London specialty shops or complete takeout turkey dinners. (Since most people in England eat turkey for Christmas lunch, most butchers and supermarkets stock them in mid-December and not before.) For many years, members of the AWC have enjoyed a traditional Thanksgiving feast at the historic Benjamin Franklin House near Trafalgar Square. But this year was different, with COVID restrictions nixing all in-person social events. Instead, we celebrated the holiday with three different virtual events.
We had originally planned to do this guided tour in person the weekend before Thanksgiving. But when lockdown went into effect, our Blue Badge guide adapted the walking tour to a virtual format that allowed us to tour the same area, while also covering extra ground.
Why Rotherhithe? Because, as we soon learned, the voyage to America really began in this small port on the Thames in South London. (In fact, there are more Mayflower memorials there than anywhere else in Britain.) Rotherhithe has a long ship-building and maritime history. Christopher Jones, the captain and part owner of the Mayflower, lived here, as did many of the crew.
So why do most of us associate the Mayflower with Plymouth? Because two months later, after several delays, that’s where they departed from on the transatlantic leg of the journey.
Fun facts we learned:
The night before Thanksgiving, we had another Zoom event to lift our spirits. Members were invited to share creative cocktail recipes and to show off appetizers or baked goods they’d made beforehand using one or more traditional Thanksgiving ingredients: cranberry, pumpkin, corn or maple syrup. Check out the winning recipe below — pumpkin bread shaped like the state of Ohio!
To relieve the boredom of a long weekend during lockdown, we also organized a virtual pub quiz for members and their partners. A favorite activity during non-lockdown times, the bimonthly Pub Quiz was easily adaptable and our quizmaster led us through all the steps and kept things lively and fun. The winning team — “The Leftover Turkeys” — took the prize: Boxes of Girl Scouts cookies (Thin Mints)!
To cap off our week of festivities, our club president was interviewed on the BBC World News to share how Americans were celebrating Thanksgiving during lockdown in London. Here's the clip from our public American Women's Club of London page on Facebook:
By Lena Sharp
Growing up in Singapore, I’ve always been fascinated by the many colourful festivals celebrated in that tiny, yet culturally rich South-East Asian island all year round – one of the loveliest being the Mid-Autumn Festival.
During my short trip to Singapore this autumn, I was fortunate to have caught glimpses of streets decked out in glowing lanterns and lantern-walking events. I even shared a box of beautifully packaged mooncakes with a gathering of friends.
But what exactly is the Mid-Autumn Festival? Where did it originate? And what do these colourful lanterns and mooncakes have to do with it? It all began in ancient China, as a festival of thanksgiving to the gods during harvest time in the mid-autumn, when the moon was at its brightest.
The story has evolved since. Several lunar legends surround this thanksgiving celebration, one of the most notable being that of the legendary Chang Er, the wife of an evil king who saved her people from his tyranny in an act of bravery during this season.
In so doing, Chang Er died and ascended to the moon – and has since been worshipped as the Moon Goddess. Hence the connection between the Mid-Autumn Festival and all things lunar – from the ‘moon-like’ glow of lanterns at night, to the popular celebration of mooncakes.
These round ‘moon-like’ cakes consist of a sweet lotus filling within a pastry case. Modern variants come in the form of ‘snow skin’ cases with a variety of fillings – from chocolate to champagne truffle – to suit the modern palate.
According to Chinese folklore, mooncakes were first created during a Mid-Autumn Festival at the end of the Yuan Dynasty (1280 – 1368 BC) to help free China from Mongol rule. The Chinese organised an uprising by sending messages hidden in mooncakes to rebel forces who then overthrew the Mongols.
Mooncakes have grown in popularity in modern times to become the highlight of this ‘magical’ festival. The modern-day celebration is less bound up in folklore and superstition. Instead, it is a celebration of friendships and family reunions – centred around this delectable cake symbolising unity and completeness.
By Lonnee Hamilton
My husband Tony and I have been cycling together for more than 10 years. What started out as me huffing and puffing around the Rose Bowl in our hometown of Pasadena, California, has become somewhat of an international adventure for the both of us.
My first bike was a Trek hybrid (kind of a cross between a road bike and a beach cruiser; more comfortable than a road bike) — and though I sold it a few years back, it is still one of my favorite bikes. I started cycling because I needed a way to exercise that was not running. I hate running with a passion, and cycling fit the bill. I encouraged Tony to get his own bike and join me, which has since led him down the path to bike obsession (be careful what you wish for), but it’s all good.
We have cycled in L.A., Ojai, Palm Springs, Santa Barbara vineyards and San Francisco, to name a few places. And since moving to the UK four years ago, we have cycled in Cap Ferret on the southwest coast of France and in Paris and Amsterdam; on The Isle of Wight and Whitstable in England, and throughout London with trips to Richmond, Greenwich and Hackney Wick, among others. I’m a slow cyclist, so our cycling is more cycle touring.
Of all the places we’ve cycled, London is one of the most challenging for me. City traffic, traffic on the left-hand side of the street, and not really knowing traffic rules here at all definitely keeps you on your toes. But with time, I have become more and more comfortable cycling in London, so here are a few tips for you to get started:
If you go on longer trips, there are bound to be mishaps, accidents, and things that need to be fixed on the bike. Someone in your group should know how to change a tire, for example. I don’t want to go into too much detail about our cycling dynamics… but let’s just say it’s not me. A cycling toolkit is a must.
At first, it’s terrifying to cycle on the city street with a London double-decker in close pursuit. My first ride in Central London I freaked out so much it was weeks before I would try again. London traffic is intense, but drivers for the most part are very aware of cyclists, and bus drivers even more so. Just follow basic traffic laws, don’t be a cycling jerk, and don’t make sudden changes in riding movement and you will be fine.
Seriously, your head versus a cement curb... who do you think is going to win?
Don’t be shy. Use your hand signals to let drivers behind you know if you’re going to be turning left or right. I know I appreciate it when a cyclist uses their hand signals when I’m behind the wheel. The UK hand signals are a little different from the US ones, but all you really need to know is to indicate a turn.
Lonnee is the Club Relations director of the AWC. She owns real estate company London Realty International.
UK Cycling Hand Signals
How to Cycle in London
National Cycle Network Routes
– by Kathryn Gerken
It was a sunny, yet crisp, day in February. We were new to England and wanted to explore some iconic sites. We decided to take a train from King’s Cross to Dover, which took less than two hours, to see the famous white cliffs and Dover Castle. Like many castles, Dover Castle is built on a hill. In fact, it is built on a cliff overlooking the English Channel to France. The ramparts were begun in 800 BC and the castle took shape over 900 years.
We navigated through the streets of Dover and wound our way up the hill to the castle. At the entrance, the welcoming staff asked us if we were on holiday or if we might like to purchase an English Heritage Pass. We purchased the pass, knowing that we would at least be back to Dover with any out-of-town guests. Once we stepped through the walls of the castle, we were happy to be able to visit this piece of history anytime.
Not only is there a castle, with all the trimmings, but also the WWII military tunnels inside the cliff face that helped to evacuate the men from Dunkirk. It is a captivating display of tunnels, videos and voices from the past and well worth any time you might have to wait in line.
This is just one of the many sites that are open to visitors around England. Sadly, all were closed during the COVID outbreak, but they have been slowly re-opening. On July 4th, a large portion of the sites were re-opened to visitors, but they are now requiring reservations to enter. With an English Heritage Pass, you are still able to enter for free, but there will be timed entry for all indoor sites.
For outdoor monuments, some — like Stonehenge — have entry requirements, where others do not. Please be sure to check the English Heritage website for the most up-to-date information and make your reservations in advance — even if you have a pass. This is due to the new COVID restriction on entry.
You don’t need to be able to travel to enjoy some of these places. There are a handful that are right in London.
Apsley House, home of the first Duke of Wellington and his descendants, and Wellington Arch are just south of Hyde Park. The Apsley house, which was built in 1771, is home to paintings by Rubens as well as silver and porcelain. The Wellington Arch was originally designed to be a gate leading into Buckingham Palace, but it never came to fruition. In 1815, it was built just to celebrate Wellington’s defeat of Napoleon.
Closer to the Thames, you can visit the Jewel Tower. Built in 1365, this was part of the medieval Westminster Palace that was lost to fire in 1834. Its three-floor exhibit will walk you through the history of how the building was used. Close by is the Chapter House and Pyx Chamber. Built in 1250 by Royal Masons, it was used by the Benedictine monks of Westminster Abby for their daily meetings. The Pyx Chamber has a medieval tiled floor and a stone alter that survived the Reformation.
If you are near Hampstead Heath, take time to visit another English Heritage attraction: the Kenwood House Estate. Entry is free. The house was begun in 1616 by James the First's printer, John Bill, and has changed owners many times and been built to the grand 18th-century style mansion seen today. Home to many rooms of paintings and decor and surrounded by lovely gardens as well as the Heath, it is a nice getaway from central London. Their famous permanent and revolving art collections include works by Rembrandt. The house is currently closed, so please check the website for schedule opening times.
There are so many more sites around England and it's possible to take day trips or weekend overnights to see many of them. The English Heritage website is easy to use and very inexpensive to join. It is a great resource for those who want to learn more about the country that we are sojourning in.
I can’t wait to go back to Dover, but I am also looking forward to exploring more of England this summer on day trips and short getaways. Next stop, the Osbourne House and Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight!
Photos (top to bottom): Dover Castle, Apsley House, Wellington Arch, Jewel Tower
Having served as both Travel Group leader and Director of Activities for the AWC, longtime board member Kathryn Gerken is now Director of Club Meetings. She also runs her US-based travel agency, Gerken Getaways, remotely from London.
Historical novelist Tracy Chevalier, best known for her book, Girl with a Pearl Earring, will join the American Women’s Club of London and guests for an exclusive Zoom event on Thursday, 16 July from 7–8 p.m. to discuss her 2017 novel, New Boy. A creative modern-day retelling of Shakespeare’s Othello, the story incorporates jealousy, discrimination, casual racism, “fitting in” and other timeless themes in an unexpected setting: a 1970s school playground in suburban Washington DC (inspired by her own childhood).
The American-British author will talk about the story, the setting, the creative process, and the topical themes that resonate here and now. The interview-style conversation will be followed by a Q&A with online participants. Free for AWC members, the event is also open to others for a £10 fee. Proceeds from the event will be donated to the author’s chosen charitable organization. Register for the New Boy event here.
On her website, Chevalier explains the connection between the book and her own background:
“Like most students, my own school playground experience was at times fraught. Unusually, I grew up in an integrated neighborhood in 1960s and 1970s Washington DC, and went to a school where the majority of the students were black. So I knew what it was like to walk onto a playground where my skin color was different from many of the others, and the tension that could cause.”
New Boy, Chevalier’s ninth novel, is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, which includes “reimagining” of Shakespeare plays by authors like Anne Tyler, Margaret Atwood and Jeanette Winterson. Her tenth novel, A Single Thread, was published in 2019.
Tracy grew up in Washington DC where her father was a photographer for the Washington Post. She did an English BA at Oberlin College, and moved to London in 1984. She was a reference book editor for several years before turning to writing full-time.
The AWC is a diverse and inclusive community of women, providing international friendship, support and philanthropy throughout London. Founded in 1899, the Club welcomes all US citizens, as well as women of every nationality. The Club provides a busy calendar of social, cultural and educational activities (virtual or in-person), along with opportunities to serve through outreach programs with its partner charities. The AWC is a founding member of the Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas (FAWCO) and a member of the Federation of International Women’s Associations in London (FIWAL). For more information, visit awclondon.org.
By Lena S.
In celebration of International Women’s Day, AWC London is proud to recognise two of their very own alumni who served as early champions of women’s equality — Lou Henry Hoover and Nancy Astor. These trail-blazing women made great strides in various spheres of public life, inspiring generations of women to come.
Humanitarian, Girl Scout Leader, women’s athletics advocate and First Lady of the United States, Lou Henry Hoover (1874–1944) was an avid traveller who loved the great outdoors. It was her childhood fascination for nature that eventually led her to Stanford University where she became one of the first American women to earn a degree in geology. There, she met her future husband: president of the United States, Herbert Hoover. Years later, her cross-disciplinary knowledge of geology and linguistics enabled her to help her husband translate a seminal 16th-century mining document from Latin to English.
Her life of adventure took a dramatic turn when the first World War broke out in 1914. Thousands of Americans were stranded in Europe, including the Hoovers who were based in London at the time. Undaunted by circumstances, Lou rose to the challenge by providing food, shelter, clothing and advice to those in despair, longing to go home. Driven by wisdom and compassion, she leveraged her husband’s position as Chairman of the Commission for Relief in Belgium to establish a California branch of the organisation — thus raising funds for vital food shipments to be sent to America.
Nancy Astor (1879–1964), the ‘first lady of British politics,’ was the first female MP to sit in the House of Commons in 1918. An American citizen who moved to England at the age of 26, she later married Lord Waldorf Astor, an American-born British politician. Glamorous, intelligent and fashionable, she was known for her charming wit and outrageous sense of humour. In spite of her affiliations with the higher echelons of society, she was a true inspiration to women of all ranks, in particular the early suffragettes. In fact, it was through his wife that Lord Astor developed an interest in social reform.
Lady Astor was well known for her sharp exchanges with Winston Churchill in the House of Commons. Churchill was reported to have likened having a woman in Parliament as having one ‘intrude on him in the bathroom’ — to which she replied, “You’re not handsome enough to have such fears.” Though controversial at times, her remarkable achievements as a champion for women’s rights in the dominant ‘man’s world’ of politics earned her a place in The Evening Standard’s list of 15 British women who have truly changed the world.
Top left: Lou Hoover | Source: Hoover Archives
Bottom Right: Nancy Astor | Source: English Heritage UK
AWC "Let's Do Lunch" event features a traditional feast
– Guest post by AWC member, Lena S.
Lo Hei! And a shout out to Eva Chu and Beth Wagner for organising a delightful Chinese New Year lunch at the Royal China, Bayswater to ring in the Year of the Golden Rat.
We began the meal with the lively tradition of yu sheng in which diners rise up to toss a spectacular dish together, using chopsticks and shouting “lo hei!” – a phrase derived from Cantonese, meaning ‘a toss to prosperity’.
According to an age-old legend, this ritual originated in south China, when a young man and his girlfriend found themselves stranded in bad weather and in danger of starving — but by a stroke of good luck, they found a carp and chanced upon a bottle of vinegar. They stripped the carp and combined the two, and lo and behold, this new dish was born!
Yu sheng is the ultimate ‘prosperity’ dish consisting of a colourful medley of fish and shredded vegetables combined with various tangy, piquant sauces, chopped nuts and spices — to create a delightful dish bursting with flavours and textures. The higher you toss it, the more good fortune you’re destined to bring in!
Although this celebratory yu sheng dish has its origins in ancient China, the modern version arose in South East Asia more recently — in places like Malaysia and Singapore, and is enjoyed on any day during the 15-day Lunar New Year period.
In keeping with tradition, AWC’s yu sheng dish at Royal China was served at the start of a multi-course lunch. It was followed by dim sum, lobster noodles and a host of delectable Chinese favourites. Many of us wore red on the day — the colour of happiness and success.
To all those celebrating, we wish you a happy and prosperous Year of the Golden Rat.
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